Friday, December 08, 2006

Jimmy Carter and the Palestinians

Jimmy Carter has a new book out on the Palestinian situation -- Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. It has been both praised and condemned. Opponents and critics raise the specter of Carter being out of touch, loony, anti-American, anti-Semitic, the worst President ever (GW is making a good run at that title). Carter has been since leaving office a thorn in the side of American presidents, Republican or Democrat. He's his own man and has gone where most ex-presidents never go. He is definitely a gadfly, but much good has come of his work.

The current debate focuses on the use of the word apartheid. Though Carter insists that he is not speaking of Israel proper, he does believe, and I think rightly so, that current Israeli policy in the occupied territories is apartheid like. A wall is being built that snakes through Palestinian territory, Palestinian movement within the West Bank and Gaza is controlled by the Israelis, Palestinian trade is controlled by the Israelis. Whatever word you use for it, the Palestinians live under the thumb of the Israelis. Jewish settlements in the West Bank threaten the viability of a self-governing Palestinian state as well.

Carter defends his book in an LA Times op-ed piece. There he says:

"The ultimate purpose of my book is to present facts about the Middle East that are largely unknown in America, to precipitate discussion and to help restart peace talks (now absent for six years) that can lead to permanent peace for Israel and its neighbors. Another hope is that Jews and other Americans who share this same goal might be motivated to express their views, even publicly, and perhaps in concert. I would be glad to help with that effort."

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun, writes in support of Carter's efforts, pointing out that Carter has been the one US President who has actually delivered for Israel. It may be a minority voice within the American Jewish community, but it proves to be a challenge to those like Alan Dershowitz who consistently charge critics of Israeli policy with being anti-Semitic. Here are the concluding paragraphs of Lerner's response, which are worth considering.

"Jimmy Carter is speaking the truth as he knows it, and doing a great service to the Jews.


"Unfortunately, this peace is impeded by the powerful voices of AIPAC and the mainstream of the organized Jewish community, who manage to terrify even the most liberal elected officials into blind support of whatever policy the current government of Israel advocates. Ironically, this blind support has had the consequence of pushing many morally sensitive Christians and
Jews to distance themselves from the Jewish world, which makes blind support for Israeli policies the litmus test of anti-Semitism. Younger Jews cannot safely express criticisms of Israeli policy without being told that they are disloyal or “self-hating,” and elected officials tell me privately that they agree with Tikkun’s more balanced “progressive Middle Path” which is both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. But we’ve found that even Jews in the mainstream media have
ignored or condemned our new organization, The Network of Spiritual Progressives, which is, among other things, trying to be an interfaith alternative to AIPAC.


"It’s time to create a new openness to criticism and a new debate. Jimmy Carter has shown courage in trying to open that kind of space with his new book, and he deserves our warm thanks and support. "

I am one who, like Lerner, wishes to be both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian. It's a difficult path to walk, and few in the American political scene have been willing to walk it with any consistency. But as the Iraq Study Group report notes, peace in the Middle East requires a resolution to this conflict. That is my prayer and my hope!

1 comment:

Steve said...

Jimmy Carter is certainly his own man, and sometimes that alone is refreshing.