Carter’s Bitter Pills

Jewish Light Editorial

Speech should be free, but that doesn’t mean free speech is or should be without consequences.

That ought to be fairly obvious to former President Jimmy Carter this week, days after Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined a request to meet with the former American leader.

From the time that Carter helped broker the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty in 1978, his standing as a supporter of Israel has been on a fairly straight trajectory downward.  From his allegations of apartheid to his suggestions that Hamas should no longer be considered a terrorist group, Carter has had no constructive or helpful words to offer Israel for decades.

The problem lies with Carter’s insistence on issuing comparisons, first between Israel and South Africa, and second between Israel and the Palestinian territories and leaders.  

He’s laid the apartheid label on Israel for settlements in the West Bank, and for Israel’s denial of access by Palestinians to certain roads and areas in the territory.  But one does not have to be an unconditional supporter of all settlement activity in the West Bank to understand and reject the basis of Carter’s simplistic and erroneous apartheid rhetoric.  

First, the level of multiethnic, racial and religious diversity within Israel resembles South Africa not even in the slightest.  Anyone who has witnessed Israel in person is aware of how the vast majority of Jews, Arabs, Palestinians and others intermingle on a constant basis in vast stretches of the nation. 

Even if we apply Carter’s allegations to only the West Bank, however, the background looks quite different than it did in South Africa.  These are issues of who has a claim to the land based on history, precedent and law, and the questions are complex and the answers murky. 

Yes,  there must be progress for there to be a workable peace, and we continue to believe that a single state will not harbor an effective solution. But to say that the goal by all in the government is to maintain a “separate but unequal” system is a serious oversimplification and doesn’t jibe with the history of the region.

Carter’s allegations about access and restrictions show a comparable lack of understanding.  Most of the separations, and the installation of the security barrier (not, to be noted, a “wall” — a large majority of it made of chain-link fence topped with concertina wire), were created to reduce physical violence in the form of terrorism and otherwise. The overall level of strife today is nothing like the years of car bombings and rocket fire that previously ensued.

A similarly errant view informs Carter’s impressions of Gaza. He does not get the dynamics of what Hamas is trying to accomplish any more than he is likely to appreciate the 100,000 or so rockets that Hezbollah has reportedly amassed on the northern border of Israel at the Golan. 

Carter and former Irish President Mary Robinson wrote the following in the Guardian last August:

“There is never an excuse for deliberate attacks on civilians in conflict. These are war crimes. This is true for both sides. Hamas’  indiscriminate targeting of Israeli civilians is equally unacceptable. However, two Israeli civilians and a foreign worker were killed by Palestinian fire as opposed to an overwhelming majority of civilians among the Palestinians killed, more than 400 of whom were children.”

Carter (and Robinson) have never been able to explain what mechanisms Israel can or should use to avoid fighting urban battles against an enemy that deliberately embeds its fighters within the civilian population. They can’t provide cogent explanations about the Hamas terror tunnels — yes, the same tunnels that Israel largely dismantled last summer and which are reportedly being rebuilt en masse. 

Moreover, as much work as remains in the West Bank to provide a lasting peace, there’s little question of where there’s been more economic development between the West Bank and Gaza. The former is overseen by a corrupt and inept Palestinian Authority, but one that doesn’t necessarily thwart economic progress while it keeps its hand in the till. Hamas, on the other hand, rules with terror, religious tyranny and an utter inability to support true economic progress. 

Carter, Robinson and their supposedly peace-supporting group of past leaders, the Elders, may have all the best intentions in the world; we certainly believe that they believe they want lasting peace.

But if they continually turn a blind eye to realities on the ground that lead to a lack of safety and security for Israeli citizens, there is no basis for Israel to treat them as partners in progress. That’s undoubtedly what Rivlin’s and Netanyahu’s ministers and security officials advised them in rejecting Carter’s request, and we have to agree. 

What’s your take?  Let us know at stljewishlight or email [email protected].