‘Apartheid’ Book Exposes Carter-Clinton Rift

Clinton: ‘I Don’t Know Where His Information Came From’

By Jennifer Siegel

Published March 30, 2007, issue of March 30, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

For months, the controversy over former president Jimmy Carter’s book has generally been fueled by bitter criticism from the Jewish community. In recent weeks, however, the debate has shown signs of evolving into a personal clash between the country’s last two Democratic presidents.

Earlier this month, former president Bill Clinton spoke out against Carter’s book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” during an appearance before the United Jewish Federation of San Diego County. “If I were an Israeli I wouldn’t like it, because it’s not factually correct and it’s not fair,” Clinton reportedly said.

This appears to be one of the few times that Clinton has taken a public swipe at the book or spoken out directly against his fellow former president on any matter.

In addition to Clinton’s comments in San Diego, the American Jewish Committee released a letter last week from the former president thanking the group’s executive director, David Harris, for speaking out against the book.

“Thanks so much for your articles about President Carter’s book,” Clinton wrote in a handwritten note dated January 11. “I don’t know where his information (or conclusions) came from, but Dennis Ross has tried to straighten it out, publicly and in two letters to him. At any rate, I’m grateful.”

Clinton appeared to be referring to sections of Carter’s book that denigrate the American-backed land-for-peace final settlement offer that Israel made to the Palestinians in 2000. Ross, who served as Clinton’s envoy to the Middle East, has said publicly that maps he published outlining the Clinton proposal were improperly reprinted, and then mislabeled, by Carter. In doing so, Ross said, Carter wrongly suggested that Israel had not, in fact, offered the Palestinians all of Gaza and roughly 97% of the West Bank, but instead small and isolated islands of Palestinian territory.

In his book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” Carter argues that the terms of Clinton’s peace proposal at Camp David in the summer of 2000 were untenable for the Palestinians.

“There was no possibility that any Palestinian leader could accept such terms and survive,” Carter wrote. “But officials statements from Washington and Jerusalem were successful on placing the entire onus for the failure on Yasir Arafat.”

Word of Clinton’s public criticism of Carter comes as the 2008 presidential contenders, including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, battle for Jewish support and money.

According to Democratic Party insiders, however, Bill Clinton’s recent remarks might be better understood as a temporary break in what has been a long and icy détente between two former presidents who share Southern roots, Baptist Christian faith and foreign policy legacies largely staked on the Middle East.

“Clinton and Carter have a long and tortured relationship,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a Washington media strategist who served as director of media planning in the Clinton White House. “They have never been close, but they have tried to stay out of each other’s way out of political respect.”

If Clinton was initially reluctant to speak out publicly about Carter’s book — unlike Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Democratic National Committee Chair Howard Dean — he has not been silent on the issue in private, according to one of his most important backers in the Orthodox community, Rabbi Menachem Genack.

Genack, who heads the kashruth division of the Orthodox Union and is now serving as a finance committee member on Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, told the Forward that Clinton had openly discussed his displeasure with Carter’s book at a New York luncheon for Hillary supporters, held in mid-November. According to Genack, Clinton said that he was at the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations “and this notion that this was Israel’s obstinacy and so on completely conflicted with the reality of the negotiations.”

“He was very uncomfortable with the book,” Genack said.

Both Carter and Clinton doggedly pursued Middle East peace deals during their presidencies and have cited their Baptist upbringings as inspiration for seeking reconciliation between Arabs and Jews. But their personal allegiances to slain leaders, and their experiences at the negotiating table, appear to have driven them to different conclusions about where to cast blame for the continuing conflict.

Carter, in describing the historic peace talks at Camp David that culminated in the groundbreaking Israeli-Egyptian peace deal, has portrayed the late former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat as a visionary and heroic statesman who gave his life for peace, and the late former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin as a difficult interlocutor less prepared to transcend his past as an underground leader of Jewish nationalists.

In sharp contrast, Clinton developed a close personal relationship with Yitzhak Rabin before the Israeli prime minister was assassinated. Years later, after marathon talks at Camp David failed to produce an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, Clinton blamed the stalemate on Yasser Arafat, essentially casting him as a guerilla leader unable to embrace the role of statesman.

Independent of Middle East politics, some of the underlying tensions between Carter and Clinton go back decades.

In his 2004 autobiography, Clinton said that his failed 1980 bid for re-election as governor of Arkansas was damaged by the decision of President Carter to place 20,000 Cuban refugees at a military installation in the state, after some of the refugees had rioted and broken out of the facility as the National Guard looked on.

While Carter and Clinton have both pursued high-profile humanitarian causes as ex-presidents, and plan to participate in a gathering of progressive Baptists early next year, Clinton has often seemed much closer to former president George H.W. Bush, his partner in raising relief funds for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and those of the 2004 tsunami. Several political observers told the Forward that Carter’s outspoken political activism since leaving office has caused friction with Clinton and both Bushes.

“There is kind of this tradition that out of respect for the dignity of the office, presidents finish their terms and then sort of… let their successors have their own time at bat,” said Joshua Muravchik, a resident scholar of the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute who recently published an article in Commentary magazine that is critical of Carter’s conduct as an ex-president. “Every one of Carter’s successors, including Clinton, has resented his meddling.”

Carter publicly opposed the use of force against Iraq in 1990 during the first Bush administration, and personally contacted United Nations member states to urge them not to support the American request for U.N. authorization of military action. In 1994, Carter successfully lobbied President Clinton to allow him to serve as an envoy to North Korea.

Rabinowitz suspects that his former boss decided to break with his “decades-long” approach of avoiding public criticism of Carter because “it all just got to be a bit too much.”

“This wasn’t one misstatement by Carter,” Rabinowitz said. “Needless to say, Carter didn’t let go.”

Find us on Facebook!
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.