As Republicans step up their efforts to paint Democrats as increasingly hostile toward Israel, former President Jimmy Carter is releasing a book on the Middle East, titled “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”
Judging from an advance review manuscript of the new work, published by Simon & Schuster and set for release November 14, Carter places the bulk of the blame on Israel for its continuing conflict with the Palestinians. But critics of the former president probably will be most offended by his use of the word “apartheid” in the book’s title and text.
Israel’s current policy in the territories, Carter writes in the book’s summary, is “a system of apartheid, with two peoples occupying the same land but completely separated from each other, with Israelis totally dominant and suppressing violence by depriving Palestinians of their basic human rights.” In a separate passage in the advance draft, the former president stated that “Israel’s continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land.”
In addition, Carter takes what is being interpreted by some critics as a swipe at the pro-Israel lobby. “Because of powerful political, economic, and religious forces in the United States, Israeli government decisions are rarely questioned or condemned,” the former president writes.
Carter’s book comes as the Republican Jewish Coalition is already waging a nationwide media campaign to convince Jewish voters that the Democratic Party no longer can be counted on to provide unflinching support for Israel. (See story on Page A6.) One of the recent RJC ads features a large image of Carter and quotes the former president as saying, “I don’t think Israel has any legal or moral justification for their massive bombing of the entire nation of Lebanon.”
Simon & Schuster spokeswoman Elizabeth Hayes confirmed the substance of the quotes from Carter’s book, but said that the wording could change in the final edition.
With less than three weeks left before Election Day, Jewish Democrats have been quick both to disavow Carter’s views and to assert that Carter is a marginal figure within the party on the issue, despite being a former president and a Nobel Peace Prize winner. At the same time, however, the Democratic National Committee included him in a list of past pro-Israel presidents in an advertisement this week that was aimed at shoring up support among Jewish voters. The ad features a 1977 quote from Carter describing the “special relationship” between the United States and Israel, and saying that “it’s absolutely crucial that no one in our country or around the world ever doubt that our number one commitment in the Middle East is to protect the right of Israel to exist, to exist permanently, and to exist in peace.”
The RJC’s executive director, Matt Brooks, told the Forward that he has yet to see Carter’s new book; however, he seemed confident that it would provide additional ammunition for his organization’s campaign to woo Jewish voters.
“We certainly have not shied away from shining a light on some of his misguided and outrageous comments about Israel in the past, so we certainly have to see what this book holds,” Brooks said. “Obviously we will look to key Democratic leaders and hear what they have to say about it. So far, there’s been nothing but silence on the part of the Democratic establishment in terms of holding Carter accountable.”
The book was originally slated to be released November 1 — six days prior to this year’s congressional elections — but now it will be available in stores November 14, according to Hayes, the Simon & Schuster spokeswoman.
Jewish Democrats say that they were pushing for a later release date. But, according to Hayes, the date was pushed back to allow Carter time to work in more material from last summer’s conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.
Democrats involved in efforts to boost Jewish support were quick to criticize Carter’s views. “I disagree with President Carter fundamentally,” said Rep. Steve Israel, a New York Democrat who is leading the efforts of House Democrats to reach out to Jewish voters and donors. “The reason for the Palestinian plight is the Palestinians. Their leadership has no regard for the quality of life for their people and no capability of providing security or enforcing peace, and they have no one to blame but themselves.”
Israel added that the “book clearly does not reflect the direction of the party; it reflects the opinion of one man.”
“Democrats who support Jimmy Carter’s views on Israel? Now that’s a convention you could hold in a phone booth,” wrote Ira Forman, executive director of the National Democratic Jewish Council, in an e-mail to the Forward. “Jimmy Carter is out of the mainstream of the Democratic Party when it comes to his views on Israel.” Aaron Miller, a former State Department official who has consistently advocated a greater American role in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, said that Carter’s book would not influence key decision makers in the administration. But he added, “the one thing that I assure you is that Carter’s book will be read” by a wider audience.
Carter has a “demonstrated track record of success,” said Miller, now a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, referring to the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty that the former president helped broker at Camp David in 1978. “He’s the only American president that’s succeeded in brokering a permanent status agreement between Arabs and Israelis, the only one, and you know, he deserves an enormous amount of credit for that, whatever his current and latest views are — and I don’t agree with a lot of them, on the Israel-Arab issue.”