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Beinart: Some of Carter's Critics Should Apologize While they Can

Note: this text is an excerpt of a transcript of Beinart's video message. The video is available at the source by clicking the button at the bottom of this page. 

Many of you will have seen the news that Jimmy Carter has entered hospice and does not have long to live. And when I saw that I took the opportunity to go back and look at the reception to his 2007 book, Peace Not Apartheid. And I wanna say something about the reception of that book because I want to suggest that in these last remaining days that he has alive, there are some people who should apologize to him. Whether they do so publicly or privately that doesn’t matter so much. But the man is owed an apology, and I hope he gets it before he dies. And I think it would be a very, very healthy salutary thing for that to take place.

Now, Carter’s book, Peace Not Apartheid, is not a perfect book. There are, I think, legitimate criticisms of it. One of the odd things about it is that it uses the word “apartheid,” but it doesn’t spend very much time in the book actually explaining in detail what Carter means by that. But Carter does make it clear that he’s referring only to the West Bank, not to all of Israel. And that actually is striking because now we’re in a situation 15 years later where some the world’s most prominent human rights groups and Israel’s, including in addition of course to Palestinian groups, have not only labeled Israel’s control of the West Bank “apartheid.” But some have gone further than Carter and actually said that Israel is practicing apartheid in the entire territory between the river and the sea because Palestinians don’t have legal equality in any of that territory. And Carter’s book has other flaws. Carter wasn’t a scholar of Israel-Palestine. The book is kind of a bit of a weird mix of argument and kind of memoir. And perhaps Carter could have been savvier going into the political minefield that he was gonna be going into when he wrote that book.

But none of that remotely excuses the I think pretty shameful way that the book was received by many significant people. So first, there were just the outright charges of antisemitism. Abe Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, said that Carter was engaging in antisemitism. Debra Lipstadt, who is now the Biden administration’s global antisemitism envoy wrote a column for The Washington Post entitled, “Jimmy Carter’s Jewish Problem.” Fifteen members of the board of the Carter Center in Atlanta resigned and wrote in their letter, “your use of the word ‘apartheid’ has already energized white supremacist groups.” Again, that’s not an engagement with the legitimacy of the term but just that you’re involved in antisemitism because you have said this thing that some white supremacists may also have said.

And then even beyond the people who didn’t say that Jimmy Carter was an antisemite, there was a remarkably kind of, I would say, condescending and dismissive response to him. So, he was thrown under the bus by leading members of his own Democratic party: Howard Dean, who was then the chair of the Democratic party; Nancy Pelosi, who said, “it is wrong to suggest that the Jewish people would support a government in Israel, or anywhere else, that institutionalizes ethnically-based oppression.” It’s a really bizarre statement if you think about it, right? She’s not saying that the facts on the ground are such that there isn’t ethnically based oppression. Essentially, she’s saying, I like Jews and Jews would never support this kind of thing because Jews are good people. Well, you know Jews are good people, a lot of us, I like to think. But, in fact, any group of people, regardless of their religion, ethnicity, race can be complicit in systems of legalized supremacy. And, in fact, that’s what the facts on the ground clearly showed back then and Nancy Pelosi kind of just didn’t engage with that whatsoever. She just threw Carter under the bus in this very cavalier way. Similarly, Bill Clinton said that, “if I were an Israeli, I wouldn’t like it.” Well, OK, that may well be the case if he were Israeli, but striking that Clinton never asked how he might feel were he a Palestinian, which was typical of the reception of the book, you know. In the mainstream outlets that I looked at I didn’t see a single review by a Palestinian. They were almost all by Jews. And the reviews, again, had this quality where they just dismissed Carter as an idiot without feeling the need to actually engage with the substance of this claim.

Read entire article at Substack