Monday, November 13, 2006

The President and I

One does not need to read Jimmy Carter's latest book about the Middle East
to know what it says. The title says it all, "Palestine: Peace Not
Apartheid." Nobody will be surprised that this is his latest forum through
which to bash Israel. Carter has done so for the better part of the last
three decades.

I have heard all of Carter's arguments. I will not waste time challenging
his position. He is almost universally wrong and his theories and fantasies
are based on how life in the Middle East should be rather than considering
the reality of how it is.

When I was a student at Emory University, Jimmy Carter was a guest lecturer
in many classes. The insight and stories of a former president would be
interesting to any college student, and Carter's lectures were most
engaging.

In the early 1980s Emory gained international attention with two events.
First was the donation to establish what was until then one of the largest
University endowments ever. Second was the decision by Jimmy Carter to
establish his Presidential Center at Emory. Both of these were good reasons
to pick Emory as an up and coming university with international acclaim.
Emory offered a great education, a vast network of organizations and social
causes, and opportunities to learn and grow in countless ways.

One of my early activities was with a new student newspaper, The Voice.
Early on, the editor published an article where he termed the Carter Center
as "Jimmy Carter's Presidency in exile." The editor questioned, after a
single term that was marked by double digit inflation, an increasing arms
race, and the Iran hostage crisis, what there was for Emory to celebrate by
having Carter make his home there. For expressing his views, the editor was
called to the dean's office and told not to embarrass the President like
that.


After graduating, I participated in a series of alumni Assemblies. These
conferences explored Emory's role within different fields of interest. The
last of those which I attended was entitled "Emory in the World."

The keynote address was delivered by Jimmy Carter. His speech took place
just weeks after returning from a trip to the Middle East during which
Carter visited one Arab capitol after another. The news reports were
centered on his harsh criticism of Israel. Perhaps it would have been
impolite to visit Arab leaders and criticize them to their face, so Israel
became the punching bag. The sole obstacle to peace. Yet, in visiting
Jerusalem, Carter made no mention of successive Arab wars against Israel,
ongoing Arab terrorism, nor the Arabs' near universal rejection of the right
of Israel to exist at all. Instead, Carter used his presence in Israel to
criticize Israel.

His speech at Emory took place during the last week of March.

Despite the title of the Assembly being Emory in the World, Carter devoted a
huge portion of his speech to berating Israel. His rhetoric was most
unfitting a former President, and embarrassing to me and many other alumni
with whom I discussed his remarks.

Following his speech, there was time for one question. Instantly, my hand
was in the air and I was picked. Being well taught by both my parents and
professors, I knew that to challenge Carter on the substance of his
arguments would have been a mistake, and impolite.

There are some things a person never forgets. My question to Jimmy Carter is
one of them.

"President Carter, first I want to thank you for the wonderful memory that I
have from this week in 1979 when you, President Sadat and Prime Minister
Begin stood together to sign the Camp David Accords. That day that changed
my life." Carter's smile was wider than the caricatures of him with his face
on a peanut.

"But President Carter, as a representative of Emory, is it not disingenuous
from an academic perspective to travel throughout the world and suggest that
Israel is the sole obstacle to peace in the Middle East?"

Carter's smile disappeared as fast as my hand had gone up. As much as I
remember my question, I have no idea what his answer was. Yet it was filled
with all sorts of anti Israel rhetoric, and delivered with such anger, that
I indeed felt that he had handed me my head. Yet not only did Carter not
answer my question, but he showed his true colors to a group of intelligent,
educated Emory alumni who saw Carter for what he is.

Today, the Carter Center exhibits President Carter's pride in what he views
as the accomplishments of his short presidency. Indeed there were
accomplishments, and the Camp David Peace Treaty is one of the biggest. Yet
even on the Carter Center's web site, while the rhetoric is not displayed,
the bias clearly is. Under "Israel and the Palestinian Territories," the
Center states that the intended Palestinian capitol is east Jerusalem. It
discusses the demographic and religious make-up of the three million plus
residents of these areas.

Yet under "Israel," there is no capitol, not even an intended capitol. There
is no reference to the fact that Israel is nearly 20% Arab, most of whom are
Moslem. Nor that all Israelis - Jews, Moslems, Christians, Druze, Bahai,
and others are equal under the law. Not a word about Israel's thriving
democracy.

While Jimmy Carter is proud of his efforts to promote democracy, he makes
the irresponsible error to put the sole blame on Israel - the region's only
true democracy - for lack of peace. His angry rhetoric is misdirected and
imbalanced, and only strengthens Arab dictators and terrorists alike in
their fantasy that they will one day drive Israel into the sea.

It is fitting that Jimmy Carter moved the release of his book to the middle
of November. Of course he wouldn't want his hostility toward Israel to take
away votes from the Democrats. The book's release is also sandwiched between
two other relevant dates in the history of the Middle East. November 2 is
the anniversary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration in which the British
affirmed as their policy the establishment of a Jewish state. On November
29, 1947 the UN Partition vote made that a reality. Israel has been fighting
to defend itself from those who would challenge its existence ever since.

Jimmy Carter would do well to learn from these. It is not Israel that
rejected the 1947 UN Partition vote. It is not Israel that attacked its
Arab neighbors in successive wars seeking to destroy them. It is not
Israeli mothers who raise their children to be "martyrs" and murder
civilians. Carter neglects that Israel has the right to exist in peace,
whether as a right from the UN in 1947, or from God to Abraham. Carter's
rhetoric only serves to embolden those who fight against peace, who murder
democrats, and terrorize innocents.

I will not read Carter's new book. I know what it says. I heard it from the
horse's mouth.

Jonathan Feldstein

Living among the obstacles to peace

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