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Photo: Uri Porat
Jimmy Carter (archive photo)
Photo: Uri Porat
Jimmy Carter under fire
Heated debate over former US president's controversial book continues

Controversy continues over Jimmy Carter's recent book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid" in which the former US President criticizes Israel for what he calls the "continued control and colonization of Palestinian land."

 

The most recent development in the ongoing controversy is the resignation of 14 members of the Carter Center advisory board who worked to build support for the human rights organization started by Carter and his wife.

 

The resignations, announced Thursday, are the latest in a backlash against Carter's book, which has drawn fire from a myriad of Jewish groups, attacked by fellow Democrats and which ultimately led to the resignation last month of long-time Carter Center Fellow Kenneth Stein. In a letter addressed to Carter and distributed to the media, he accused Carter of omission, factual errors, and plagiarism.

 

In his book Carter criticizes Israeli settlement expansion for the failure of the peace process and he is also highly critical of the US role in the Middle East, particularly its history of using veto power on the UN Security Council to block more than 40 UN resolutions critical of Israel. However, the most controversial issue is Carter's choice of title using the term apartheid.

 

In a recent article by Ethan Bronner, the NY Times Deputy Foreign Editor, he described Carter's book as a narrative that is largely unsympathetic to Israel…"and that "whether or not Carter is right that most Americans have a distorted view of the conflict, his contribution is to offer a distortion of his own" Bronner dismissed charges of anti-Semitism but criticized what he called its "narrow perspective."

 

The growing media attention began even before the book's publication in early December. It quickly led Democrats to distance themselves from the book and it was immediately condemned by Jewish leaders and organizations.

 

'How I chose the title'

Speaking about his book in Washington, D.C. in December, Carter explained his choice of title for the book.

 

“Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” was carefully chosen by me. First of all, it's Palestine, the area of Palestinians. It doesn't refer to Israel. I’ve never and would never imply that Israel is guilty of any form of apartheid in their own country, because Arabs who live inside Israel have the same voting rights and the same citizenship rights as do the Jews who live there.

 

The next word is “peace.” And my hope is that the publication of this book will not only precipitate debate, as I’ve already mentioned, but also will rejuvenate an absolutely dormant or absent peace process.

 

The last two words, “not apartheid.” The alternative to peace is apartheid, not inside Israel, to repeat myself, but in the West Bank and Gaza and East Jerusalem, the Palestinian territory. And there, apartheid exists in its more despicable forms, that Palestinians are deprived of basic human rights. Their land has been occupied and then confiscated and then colonized by the Israeli settlers."

 

A heated debate

In a studio debate on the book hosted by Democracy Now! a national, daily, independent news program, Amy Goodman interviewed Gil Troy, a professor of American history at McGill University and author of "Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity, and the Challenges of Today," and Norman Finkelstein, a professor of political science at DePaul University. His latest book is called "Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History."

 

Gil Troy began by saying that Carter's book title is provocative and that it is historically inaccurate. Yet when Carter spoke about his book in Washington he said "he didn't consider the word 'provocative' to be a negative description of his book, because "it's designed to provoke discussion and analysis and debate in a country where debate and discussion is almost completely absent if it involves any criticism at all of the policies of Israel. And I think the book is very balanced."

 

Troy, on the other hand, argued that the title was offensive to South Africans as the word “apartheid” is about white supremacy and a systematic approach of discrimination and racism. He added that the term is also offensive to Zionists and Jews and to anyone else who supports the State of Israel, because in his book Carter does not make a distinction between what goes on inside Israel and in the Territories.

 

He went on to say that Carter failed to show the complexity and failures of both sides and instead gave a one-sided approach, which he says "throws gasoline on the fires in the Middle East."

 

Norman Finkelstein on his part, questioned whether the term "apartheid" is anti-Semitic or contrary to the interests of the Jews, also noting that many mainstream figures and organizations in Israel use the term apartheid themselves to characterize what they term "the Israeli occupation in the West Bank of Gaza," naming B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories as one such organization. He also noted the Haaretz newspaper as routinely referring to the "apartheid-like regime in the Occupied Territories" in its editorials.

 

Troy said that when Israelis use the term, they're being provocative and incendiary but when the former president of the United States and Nobel Peace Prize winner uses the term, it’s much more destructive. He added: "Jimmy Carter, who has shown a capacity for friendship to all kinds of dictators, from North Korea to China to Cuba, all of the sudden seems to have quite a harsh perspective when it comes to Israel."

 

Wall versus fence

Chapter 16 of the book entitled “The Wall as a Prison” is full of misrepresentations, as written by Bronner, who notes parenthetically that only four percent of the barrier being built is actually a wall. Whether it is a fence, a barrier or a wall when Carter uses the term, he opts for the term agreed to by the International Court of Justice as well as the Human Rights Watch, a mainstream human rights organization.

 

In his book Carter maintains that Israel has expropriated about 10 percent of Palestinian land inside the wall, and that Israel will not only control all the Palestinians within the wall, but that Israel has also annexed the Jordan Valley, implying that all Palestinians between the Jordan Valley and the "wall" will also be controlled by Israel, hence the title of the chapter "The Wall as a Prison."

 

Troy noted that both the Israeli Left and Right initially opposed the idea of any kind of wall-fence-barrier, because the Right wanted to incorporate the Territories into Israel while the Left sought a vision of living together in peace and harmony.

 

But the wall-fence-barrier was built within the context of ongoing terror where a systematic campaign inflamed by a political culture on the part of the Palestinians led to hundreds of fatalities. But Carter sees its purpose as "the acquisition of land."

 

In his book Carter says there are two problems in the Middle East: the first is that some Israelis want to grab land, and the second is that some Palestinians react to this with violence. This view is disingenuous, said Troy.

 

"Until we acknowledge the problems on both sides, the weaknesses on both sides and the failures on both sides, we're not going to get to peace."

 

Troy summed up by saying that he would prefer if coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict by Carter and others would assign responsibility to both sides.

 

However, in his book Carter emphasizes that when examining international consensus for resolving the conflict, the burden of responsibility for the failure to resolve the conflict falls on Israel and the United States, and maintains that the main problem lies in Israel's refusal to recognize international law.

 

Meanwhile Carter's book is number five on the Times bestseller list for hardcover nonfiction.

 

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