Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Jimmy Carter and the Politics of Apology – by Jacob Laksin
When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jimmy Carter is no stranger to apologies. The former president has spent years making excuses for Hamas, championing the Palestinian jihadists as the embattled victims of Israeli aggression – the group’s exterminationist founding charter and record of terrorism notwithstanding. Now it’s Israel’s turn to profit from Carter’s dubious public relations tactics. After years of demonizing the Jewish state on the world stage, Carter at last has seen the error of his ways. Or so he says: Last week, Carter issued a statement to the Jewish community in which he apologized for his role in tarnishing Israel’s image and, invoking a traditional Jewish prayer, asked for forgiveness.
“I never intended or wanted to stigmatize the nation of Israel, even though I have disagreed with the settlement policy all the way back to the White House,” Carter reportedly said. He also urged that “[w]e must recognize Israel’s achievements under difficult circumstances,” and that “we must not permit criticisms for improvement to stigmatize Israel.”
In completely unrelated news, Carter’s grandson, 34-year old Atlanta attorney Jason Carter, is running for a state senate seat in a suburban Georgia community that just happens to be home to a proportionally small but politically significant Jewish population.
If Carter’s conversion to nuance on the issue he has long viewed through a thoroughly anti-Israel lens seems more than a trifle expedient, it is. This after all is the man whose 2007 book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, notoriously equated democratic Israel with South Africa’s regime of racist discrimination. The author now suggests that he overstated his case, and that he regrets the book’s inflammatory title. Carter remains critical of Israeli settlements, but he now allows that Palestinians aren’t actually suffering under the yoke of racist apartheid. His mistake
For Israel’s supporters, that concession, however self-evident, could still be welcome. Yet it’s difficult to see Carter’s mea culpa as a genuinely good-faith effort to undo the damage his campaigning has done to Israel’s reputation. Most conspicuously, there is the convenient timing of his contrition, which comes as his grandson aims to fill a post vacated by Jewish politician – David Adelman, now the Obama administration’s nominee for ambassador to Singapore – in a district with an influential Jewish community. In such circumstances, having one of the world’s preeminent detractors of the Jewish state as a direct relative is not exactly a selling point.
Even if opportunism doesn’t fully explain Carter’s apology, his second thoughts remain deeply suspect. Just days before airing his regrets, Carter published an op-ed in London’s Guardian that rehearsed many of the anti-Israel tropes for which he now purports to be sorry.
In making a case for a renewed Middle Eastern peace process, Carter excused Arab intransigence (“no Arab or Islamic nation will accept any comprehensive agreement while Israel retains control of East Jerusalem”); whitewashed Palestinian terrorism (Carter made only an oblique reference “Palestinian recalcitrance”); and blamed Israel and Israeli leaders for the failure of past negotiations even as he exempted Palestinians from comparable scrutiny.
Equally deplorable, if typical, was Carter’s one-sided and selective account of the background of the conflict. Though lamenting the “intense personal suffering” of Palestinians living “under siege in Gaza” in the aftermath of last year’s war, Carter never mentioned the relentless eight-year rocket bombardment of Israeli cities and villages that forced the Israeli offensive. Similarly, Carter denounced Israel’s reluctance to allow the shipment of construction materials like cement into Gaza, but failed to note both that Israel has indeed allowed some limited shipment of materials and the reason why it has to screen such shipments in the first place: Construction materials are routinely used by Palestinian terrorists to build rockets and fortifications. In yet another revisionist flourish, Carter accused Israel of destroying Palestinian schools and hospitals with “precision bombs missiles” during the Gaza war, while omitting the critical fact that they often served as havens for Hamas gunmen who tried to exploit the Israeli military’s restraint and its reluctance to strike civilian targets.
But nothing betrayed Carter’s biases as plainly as the one concrete proposal he offered to begin the peace process: urging the United Nations Security Council to pass even more resolutions condemning Israel. It was precisely the kind of stigmatization of Israel for which Carter would reject within days. Apologizing for such attacks apparently did not mean abandoning them.
Unfairly singling out Israel for criticism is not the worst of Carter’s sins. After all, the United Nations, whose Goldstone report is only the most recent example of the agency’s anti-Israel animus, has long made a habit of doing just that. Far more harmful to the interests of enduring peace in the Middle East is the ex-president’s longtime courtship of Hamas terrorists.
Carter has made no secret of that sinister partnership. On his travels to the Palestinian territories, Carter routinely sings the terrorist group’s praises, assuring all who will listen that, were it not for Israel’s belligerence, Hamas long ago would have accepted a ceasefire and laid down its arms. At times, Carter’s apologetics have gone from the merely credulous to the pernicious, as when he claimed that the tunnel networks that Hamas used to attack and kidnap Israeli soldiers were really “defensive” structures.
That the United States and Europe consider Hamas a terrorist group has not dampened Carter’s enthusiasm for the jihadists. In January 2006, he called on the international community to defy laws on terrorism financing and launder money to Hamas in the form of relief aid. Not even Hamas leaders themselves can convince Carter that peace is the furthest thing from their intentions. Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Meshal has never hidden his support for suicide terrorism and has called destroying Israel the “destiny” of the Palestinian people. That didn’t keep Carter from seeking out Meshal for a friendly chat about peace negotiations in the spring of 2008.
If Carter truly feels that an apology is in order, he might consider atoning for his role in promoting a terrorist organization that has murdered thousands of Israelis, brutalized its fellow Palestinians, poisoned the political climate in the region, and destroyed any hope for a present-day peace settlement. But that sorry contribution to the peacemaking that Carter still claims as his life’s work would require something more substantial than a bankrupt and cynically proffered apology.