Thursday, December 28, 2006

Jimmy Carter: Saint or Boor?

Opinions of Jimmy Carter seem to run the gamut, especially since he came out with his new book. Putting aside Michael Lerner's opinion that "Jimmy Carter was the best friend the Jews ever had as president of the United States," there is the opinion of Robert Fisk who went through Carter's book in a day and found it to be "a good, strong read by the only American president approaching sainthood." Fisk goes on to touch the usual bases about the Israel Lobby, while at the same time extolling Carter and his book as
an honourable, honest account by a friend of Israel as well as the Arabs who just happens to be a fine American ex-statesman.
Lerner himself goes a bit over the top on this "friend of Israel" theme:
To get that agreement, Carter had to twist the arms of Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. Sometimes that is what real friends do—they push you into a path that is really in your best interest at times when there is an emergency and you are acting self-destructively.

...We know that critique is often an essential part of love and caring.

That is precisely what Jimmy Carter is trying to do for Israel and the Jewish people in his new book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.

...Jimmy Carter is speaking the truth as he knows it, and doing a great service to the Jews.

It’s time to create a new openness to criticism and a new debate. Jimmy Carter has shown courage in trying to open that kind of space with his new book, and he deserves our warm thanks and support.
Introducing Jimmy Carter: the Designated Driver of the Middle East--with a touch of tough love.

Rabbi Shmuley has his own interpretation of Carter: not a saint, but not a sinner either--at least not a malicious one:
Jimmy Carter is not so much anti-Semite as anti-intellectual, not so much a Jew-hater as a boor. The real explanation behind his limitless hostility to Israel is a total lack of any moral understanding.

Carter wants to do what's just. His heart's in the right place. He just can't figure out what the right is. He is, and always has been, a man of good intentions bereft of good judgment. He invariably finds himself defending tyrants and dictators at the expense of their oppressed peoples. Not because he is a bad man, but because he is a confused man.

Carter subscribes to what I call the Always Root for the Underdog school of morality. Rather than develop any real understanding of a conflict, immediately he sides with the weaker party, however wicked or immoral.
This reminds me of a comic strip I saw many years ago--I think it was in The Wizard of Id: A Robin Hood figure attacks a rich man, proclaiming something to the effect of "I've come to take from the rich and give to the poor!" In the next frame, we seem him give the money to a poor peasant, who cannot believe his good fortune as he watches his benefactor ride off. But in the very next we see the Robin Hood character come upon the hapless peasant, once again proclaiming "I've come to take from the rich and give to the poor!"--and taking the money away.

After 1967, once the underdog Israel clearly demonstrated her military superiority over the enemies that sought to destroy her--plus put herself in a situation that allowed the world to label her as an occupational power--Israel lost that underdog status which people like Carter use as their moral compass to guide them in a complex world.

And for Carter, that compass will always point due Palestine--unable to recognize Israel's positive points just as he is incapable of recognizing the Palestinians' negative points. This is consistent with the kind words he has had for Castro, Kim Il Sung, and Marshal Tito--among others.

Another view of Carter is offered by Michael Oren, who describes Carter as someone who sees himself as someone in "full-time Christian service," yet
in revealing his unease with the idea of Jewish statehood, Mr. Carter sets himself apart from many U.S. presidents before and after him, as well as from nearly 400 years of American Christian thought.
While the author Ronald Sanders starts off his book The High Walls of Jerusalem, by tracing the popular interest in England in the Jewish revival in Palestine as part of the events leading to the Balfour Declaration, Oren traces an even longer history of the Christian dream in America to see the Jews return to their land. He provides quotes as early as 1620 showing a strong identification with Jews returning to their homeland. Oren also notes that this went beyond mere talk:
But merely envisioning such a state was insufficient for some Americans, who, in the decades before the Civil War, left home to build colonies in Palestine. Each of these settlements had the same goal: to teach the Jews, long disenfranchised from the land, to farm and so enable them to establish a modern agrarian society.
And this was not something expressed only by religious Americans with flighty dreams of Biblical fulfillment either. A Midwestern magnate by the name of William Blackstone submitted a petition--known as the Blackstone Memorial--in 1891 to President Benjamin Harrison, asking for the creation of an international conference to discuss how to revive a Jewish state:
Among the memorial's 400 signatories were some of America's most preeminent figures, including John D. Rockefeller, J. Pierpont Morgan, Charles Scribner and William McKinley. By the century's turn, those advocating restored Jewish sovereignty in Palestine had begun calling themselves Zionists, though the vast majority of the movement's members remained Christian rather than Jewish. "It seems to me that it is entirely proper to start a Zionist State around Jerusalem," wrote Teddy Roosevelt, "and [that] the Jews be given control of Palestine."
While Carter would claim that it is his religious beliefs that are guiding him in his actions around the world in general, and in the Middle East in particular, Oren demonstrates Carter's estrangement from the long-standing religious ties that bind the US and Israel:
In his apparent attempt to make American Christians rethink their affection for Israel, Jimmy Carter is clearly departing from time-honored practice. This has not been the legacy of evangelicals alone, but of many religious denominations in the U.S., and not solely the conviction of Mr. Bush, but of generations of American leaders. In the controversial title of his book, Mr. Carter implicitly denounces Israel for its separatist policies, but, by doing so, he isolates himself from centuries of American tradition.
And in that isolation Jimmy Carter has found his best friends among the petty tyrants and terrorists of the world.

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Anonymous said...

or senile?

Unknown said...

Actually I vote for Creep

but I have made the case for Dementia