Since its release more than two months ago, Jimmy Carter's Palestine: Peace not Apartheid has been subject to two basic criticisms: 1 It presents a highly biased rewriting of Arab-Israeli history to support Mr. Carter's view that Israeli aggression is behind all the region's ills, and 2 it carries a tone some regard as anti-Semitic. Of the two critiques, the second is the more serious.
Mr. Carter's defenders have vehemently denied the anti-Semitism charges, pointing out that the former president frequently draws a distinction between what he sees as "two Israels" -- one religious, the other secular. The former represents "the ancient culture of the Jewish people, defined by the Hebrew Scriptures." The latter, he says, operates the military and political machine that denies the "basic human rights" of Arabs in "the occupied Palestinian territories." Palestine: Peace not Apartheid is infused with the conceit that Mr. Carter supports the former while denouncing the latter.
It is an arguable distinction, we suppose. Certainly, it goes without saying that one can be a critic of the Jewish state -- even a strenuous critic -- and not be an anti-Semite. But Mr. Carter has by his own actions given considerable ammunition to his critics.
In December, Ken Stein, the long-time Middle East fellow at Mr. Carter's centre for peace and development in Atlanta, resigned his post, alleging that he had brought several falsehoods in Palestine: Peace not Apartheid to the author's attention, but that Mr. Carter refused to correct them before the book went to press. Mr. Stein, who co-authored an earlier book by president Carter on the Middle East conflict, accused his former friend and boss of "egregious errors of both commission and omission," and of manipulating information, redefining facts, and exaggerating conclusions "to suit his desired ends." Mr. Stein even insisted Mr. Carter had copied large sections of his book from other sources.
Those willing to give Mr. Carter the benefit of the doubt might chalk Mr. Carter's distortions up to his lifelong weakness for liberal foreign policies rather than any specific form of intolerance. But last week, more disturbing information emerged from Mr. Carter's past.
Monroe Freedman, speaking with The Online News Service World Net Daily, claimed that after he had been appointed by Mr. Carter in 1980 to be the first executive director of Washington, D.C.'s Holocaust Memorial Council, he received a note from the president saying the council's board had "too many Jews," and that he should seek to replace some with gentiles. Mr. Freedman also claimed that a senior White House official told him not to appoint a particular historian as a director because the man's name was too Jewish sounding, even though the professor was a Presbyterian. When Mr. Freedman asked to appeal the official's "absurd" decision to the president himself, he allegedly was told not to bother since "it wouldn't matter to Carter."
Also last week, the New York Sun uncovered a U.S. State department document on which Mr. Carter, in his own hand, had appealed for the U.S. government to re-admit Martin Bartesch, a confessed S.S. officer who had been deported to Austria for his war crimes. Mr. Carter argued that the mistakes of one's youth should not plague one all his life, even though the State Department had told the former president it possessed "extraordinary evidence" to the effect that Bartesch had not only been a guard at the Mauthausen death camp near Linz during the Second World War, but that he had been an active participant in firing squads that murdered Jewish prisoners.
It is possible that at 82, Mr. Carter has become even softer in the heart and in the head than he was 30 years ago as president. Perhaps all of this is merely age exaggerating his natural liberal tendencies. We'd like to think the best of this international humanitarian. But regrettably, the pattern of Mr. Carter's behaviour points in the wrong direction.