Saturday, January 20, 2007

More on Carter in the WaPo

Deborah Lipstadt - Jimmy Carter's Jewish Problem -

The writer reflects the thinking of some critics of Carter's book, which is to say they feel that Carter is insufficiently sensitive to Jewish suffering, not least the Holocaust. This is an important claim, and one that needs to be weighed against Carter's sensitivity to Palestinian suffering under occupation. Lipstadt then accuses Carter of anti-Semitism (albeit "possibly unconsciously") because he talks about the political risks of criticizing or even offering a balanced position. Then she suggests that Carter is wrong to suggest that "most" of the criticism of the book has come from "Jewish-American" groups. She may well be right. She lists reviewers who are not affiliated with "Jewish-American" groups to make her point. The reviewers that she cites, are hardly known for adopting balanced positions on the Israel-Palestine conflict, although the degree to which they represent "Jewish-American" organizations is arguable: Alan Dershowitz is known for his vociferous and tireless defense of Israel, Dennis Ross is affiliated with the Washington Institute (which is not known for adopting a critical stance toward Israel), Jeffrey Goldberg usually writes sympathetically about Israel and negatively about Israel's adversaries, and so on. Even so, there has been a lot of criticism of the book from pro-Israeli and "Jewish-American" organizations. This is true empirically. Whether "most" of the criticism has come from such groups is debatable."

"Carter has repeatedly fallen back -- possibly unconsciously -- on traditional anti-Semitic canards. In the Los Angeles Times last month, he declared it"politically suicide" for a politician to advocate a "balanced position" on the crisis.* On Al-Jazeera TV, he dismissed the critique of his book by declaring that "most of the condemnations of my book came from Jewish-American organizations." Jeffrey Goldberg, who lambasted the book in The Post last month, writes for the New Yorker. Ethan Bronner, who in the New York Times called the book "a distortion," is the Times' deputy foreign editor. Slate's Michael Kinsley declared it "moronic." Dennis Ross, who was chief negotiator on the conflict in the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, described the book as a rewriting and misrepresentation of history. Alan Dershowitz teaches at Harvard and Ken Stein at Emory. Both have criticized the book. Because of the book's inaccuracies and imbalance and Carter's subsequent behavior, 14 members of the Carter Center's Board of Councilors [i.e., 7 % of all members of a group of 200] have resigned -- many in anguish because they so respect Carter's other work. All are Jews. Does that invalidate their criticism -- and mine -- or render us representatives of Jewish organizations?

"On CNN, Carter bemoaned the "tremendous intimidation in our country that has silenced" the media. Carter has appeared on C-SPAN, "Larry King Live" and "Meet the Press," among many shows. When a caller to C-SPAN accused Carter of anti-Semitism, the host cut him off. Who's being silenced?

"Perhaps unused to being criticized, Carter reflexively fell back on this kind of innuendo about Jewish control of the media and government. Even if unconscious, such stereotyping from a man of his stature is noteworthy. When David Duke spouts it, I yawn. When Jimmy Carter does, I shudder."

The fact that makes Carter such a formidable voice is that because of his stature he enjoys unusual access to the media. Were the book written with scholarly rigor, with far more extensive evidence, but by a university professor or a talented writer, it is simply doubtful that the author would enjoy even a fraction of Jimmy Carter's air time. This is why the book is so annoying for people who would like to protect Israel from criticism: it keeps the argument in the public eye and suggests that however commendable one might find Israel as a state, its occupation policies raise deep questions fundamental rights and justice.

You are invited to compare the claims raised in the OP-ED to the observations of Yossi Beilin, noted here. Beilin reflects upon the Israeli response, or lack thereof, to Carter's book.

*Carter said:

"It would be almost politically suicidal for members of Congress to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine, to suggest that Israel comply with international law or to speak in defense of justice or human rights for Palestinians. Very few would ever deign to visit the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, Gaza City or even Bethlehem and talk to the beleaguered residents. What is even more difficult to comprehend is why the editorial pages of the major newspapers and magazines in the United States exercise similar self-restraint, quite contrary to private assessments expressed quite forcefully by their correspondents in the Holy Land."

**Carter said:

"Book reviews in the mainstream media have been written mostly by representatives of Jewish organizations who would be unlikely to visit the occupied territories, and their primary criticism is that the book is anti-Israel. Two members of Congress have been publicly critical. Incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for instance, issued a statement (before the book was published) saying that "he does not speak for the Democratic Party on Israel." Some reviews posted on call me "anti-Semitic," and others accuse the book of "lies" and "distortions." A former Carter Center fellow has taken issue with it, and Alan Dershowitz called the book's title "indecent."

"Out in the real world, however, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. I've signed books in five stores, with more than 1,000 buyers at each site. I've had one negative remark — that I should be tried for treason — and one caller on C-SPAN said that I was an anti-Semite. My most troubling experience has been the rejection of my offers to speak, for free, about the book on university campuses with high Jewish enrollment and to answer questions from students and professors. I have been most encouraged by prominent Jewish citizens and members of Congress who have thanked me privately for presenting the facts and some new ideas."

1 comment:

willtotruth said...

Excellent post with a good mix of your reasoned comments and quotes (I tend to write a little looser but I'm ok with it).

I simply cannot understand the anti-Semitism slur nor can I take seriously the kinds of comments Lipstadt quotes from various sources. I've learned to pretty much dismiss Dershowitz as a clown.

The Yossi Beilin article works so well in showing the stark contrast between the internal Israeli discourse on its own affairs and how the U.S. tends to discuss (or more precisely, not discuss) the problems and realities in Israel.

The settlements, the wall, the onslaught in Gaza (and this summer in Lebanon) - why believe Israel's aim is peace? So if a man who clearly cares about the State of Israel and who has practically done more for peace in the region than any other man - if he has some harsh words for Israel and frankly tells it, it must change its direction and perhaps give up on some of its biblical dreams (Greater Israel), I think he states it from a position of caring.

All the critics make me very sceptical as to their motives. I do not find much in them that is willing to be honest about the fact of Israel's current direction aiming at the prevention of a viable, meaningful Palestinian state.