Israelis, Jimmy Carter and Apartheid

Hebron settlers attack a Palestinian passerby

Jimmy Carter has been branded as everything from an agent of Saudi Arabia to a cyrpto anti-Semite in a campaign of unprecedented hysteria by a Zionist establishment desperate to squelch any discussion in America of the moral implications of Israel’s apartheid policies in the West Bank and Gaza. So what, one imagines, would the same apparatus of Orwellian obfuscation, denial and diversion make of Tommy Lapid. Never mind apartheid, Lapid last week compared the actions of the Hebron settlers who regularly and viciously abuse the town’s Palestinian majority to the behavior of European anti-Semites in the early Nazi era. It’s entirely appropriate that someone draw attention to the vicious racism of the Hebron settlers, but you’d imagine the Alan Dershowitz-Marty Peretz crowd would turn its talk show artillery on anyone comparing Israelis to Nazis and their ilk. Except that Tommy Lapid was a member of Ariel Sharon’s cabinet, and is currently the chairman of the council of Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum.

Like I always said, the U.S. public debate over Israel is so heavily policed by berserk denialists (not of the Holocaust, but of the idea that Israel is capable of oppression) like Dershowitz that it would brand the views of much of the Israeli political spectrum as unacceptable, even “anti-Semitic.” To be sure, if Haaretz was an American paper, the Carter-bashing crowd would have probably tried to shut it down.

Indeed, while most of the mainstream media in the U.S. typically steered clear of any serious discussion of the issues raised by Carter’s title — preferring to cover the events engineered by the Carter bashers such as the resignation of 14 of the 200 members of Carter’s advisory board — there were plenty of Israelis willing to step up to the plate in their own media and confirm, as Yitzhak Rabin’s education minister Shulamit Aloni bluntly stated, that Israel maintains an apartheid regime over the Palestinian territories. And, I think, Aloni nails the reason why the Peretz-Dershowitz crowd, as well as liberal commentators like Michael Kinsley who really ought to know better, went into paroxysms of denial when Carter stated the obvious. She writes:

Jewish self-righteousness is taken for granted among ourselves to such an extent that we fail to see what’s right in front of our eyes. It’s simply inconceivable that the ultimate victims, the Jews, can carry out evil deeds. Nevertheless, the state of Israel practises its own, quite violent, form of Apartheid with the native Palestinian population.

The US Jewish Establishment’s onslaught on former President Jimmy Carter is based on him daring to tell the truth which is known to all: through its army, the government of Israel practises a brutal form of Apartheid in the territory it occupies. Its army has turned every Palestinian village and town into a fenced-in, or blocked-in, detention camp. All this is done in order to keep an eye on the population’s movements and to make its life difficult. Israel even imposes a total curfew whenever
the settlers, who have illegally usurped the Palestinians’ land, celebrate their holidays or conduct their parades.

If that were not enough, the generals commanding the region frequently issue further orders, regulations, instructions and rules (let us not forget: they are the lords of the land). By now they have requisitioned further lands for the purpose of constructing “Jewish only” roads. Wonderful roads, wide roads, well-paved roads, brightly lit at night – all that on stolen land. When a Palestinian drives on such a road, his vehicle is confiscated and he is sent on his way.

On one occasion I witnessed such an encounter between a driver and a soldier who was taking down the details before confiscating the vehicle and sending its owner away. “Why?” I asked the soldier. “It’s an order – this is a Jews-only road”, he replied. I inquired as to where was the sign indicating this fact and instructing [other] drivers not to use it. His answer was nothing short of amazing. “It is his responsibility to know it, and besides, what do you want us to do, put up a sign here and
let some antisemitic reporter or journalist take a photo so he that can show the world that Apartheid exists here?”

Israeli affirmation of Carter’s use of the apartheid analogy, as well as affirmation of the same over the years by such icons of the anti-apartheid struggle as Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu are simply inconvenient truths for those looking to trash Carter for his use of the analogy. But, I think the point here is two-fold — first, as Shulamit Aloni emphasizes above, and which I also argued earlier, a lot of liberal Jewish Americans seem to find it emotionally impossible to accept that Israel can do terrible things. Or, at least, if they see Israel doing terrible things, then those things are immediately blamed on the victim. The idea of universal, timeless Jewish victimhood seems to give Israel a moral free pass in some people’s minds — although the irony is that many of the Israeli liberal counterparts of those in the U.S. that hold these emotionally adolescent views are horrified by them, because many Israeli liberals pay more heed to the ethical injunction at the heart of Judaism to avoid doing unto others that which is hateful unto ourselves.

But there’s also a movement ready to swarm on anything deemed threatening to a Zionist narrative that entirely negates any other and the moral claims of the Palestinians. I can always tell what the talking points that have been issued are by the emails that begin arriving in my mailbox from various Israel advocacy groups, whose lines of argument are then echoed in dozens more from their enthusiasts. They tend to hone in what they claim are “factual” errors in his text to discredit the basic point that Carter is trying to make.

This, from the letter of resignation from the Carter Center board by 14 resignees (none of them, as far as I can see, known for their engagement with Middle East issues):

You wrote that UN Security Council Resolution 242 says that “Israel must withdraw from territories” (p. 38), but you know the word “must” in fact is not in the resolution. You said that since Mahmoud Abbas has been in office there have been no peace discussions. That is wrong. You wrote that Yassir Arafat told you in 1990 that, “The PLO has never advocated the annihilation of Israel” (p. 62). Given that their Charter, which explicitly calls for Israel’s destruction, was not revised until the late 1990s, how could you even write such a claim as if it were credible?

Well, actually, Carter is entirely correct on the first two claims, while on the second (and I haven’t read his text) he’d be correct if he argued that the PLO began moving towards a two-state solution, i.e. recognizing that Israel could not be militarily defeated, some time in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Sure, they only changed their Charter in 1998, but by then they had already formally recognized Israel through the Oslo Accords. To simply cite the Charter of the PLO as the last word on their position, you would have to deduce that Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert can’t possibly have been serious about a two-state solution, either, since the Likud Party platform expressly rejects the creation of a Palestinian state anywhere west of the Jordan River. (And remember, Sharon and Olmert were Likud for most of the period of the “roadmap” etc.)

Carter is absolutely correct that the last serious peace discussions between Israel and the Palestinians were held at Taba in January of 2001, in the last efforts brokered by the outgoing Clinton Administration to bridge the gap after Camp David. The process ended with the election of Ariel Sharon, and the only talks held since were symbolic meet-and-greets held at the behest of the Bush Administration (entirely for purposes of “showing” its Arab and European allies that it was, in fact, still engaged with Middle East peace). Carter is correct to treat these as farcical, as, indeed, does all of the Israeli media, no matter its ideological stripe. Only, it seems, in the fantasy world of the Carter-bashers (and, perhaps, also of Condi Rice and some of her fans) is Israel is engaged in a peace process with Mahmoud Abbas.

Most amusing, though, is the charge that Carter gets 242 wrong by saying it says Israel must withdraw from territories — because it doesn’t say “must”. What’s funny about this is that these people seem to have misunderstood the talking points. Having been a target of the pro-Israel media machine myself on this question, I know that their argument is not over the word “must” but over the word “the”. The Zionists claim the absence of a proper noun in resolution’s call for Israeli withdrawal from territories captured in 1967 means that it does not call for them to withdraw from all of those territories — that it somehow leaves the door open for them to annex parts of the West Bank, or East Jerusalem or whatever. This, too, is specious semantics, because the resolution is premised on its clause upholding “the inadmissability of the acquisition of territory by war,” which would by definition require that Israel accept it has no legitimate claim to keep any of the territories captured in 1967. The Zionists claim that it was a deliberate fudge, but frankly, this is just another red herring: the international consensus on 242 has always been that Israel’s “recognized” borders are those of June 4, 1967, and that was the premise of the Oslo final status talks, too — that’s why the principle of quid-pro-quo land exchanges by negotiation and common agreement was accepted by the Israeli side for any land outside of the 1967 borders that Israel would seek to keep. The semantics are simply designed to confuse the issue. But unfortunately the 14 Carter center “refuseniks” seem to have gotten the wrong end of the stick, saying it didn’t say “must.” The relevant wording in 242, BTW, is that the Security Council “Affirms that the fulfillment of (UN) Charter principles requires the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East which should include … withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict.” Does it say “must”? No, it simply says that a lasting peace requires such withdrawal.

In his survey of responses to Carter, Norman Finkelstein includes a useful discussion of politicking over Resolution 242.

In my previous entry on this issue, I warned against a simplistic collapsing of the valid moral equivalence drawn between the condition of the Palestinians and those of black people under apartheid into an erroneous analytical or strategic equivalence — despite the moral equivalence of the colonial style disenfranchisement of black people under apartheid and Palestinians under occupation since 1967, to two situations are quite different. I wrote, last time, that

Israel manages with very little Palestinian labor, and as a result the daily intimacy between black and white South Africans created by their economic interaction even at the height of the apartheid system is largely absent in relations between Jews and Arabs in Israel. In South Africa, the fact that black people were driven off their land forced them into wage labor in a common economy; in Israel-Palestine Palestinians have been forced off their land in order to drive them out of a common polity and economy. That, I believe, means that the solution to the conflict in Israel-Palestine will be quite different to that in South Africa, at least in the near term.

Veteran Israeli peace campaigner and “premature post-Zionist” Uri Avnery offers a thoughtful critique of the idea that the two can be conflated in the realm of practical political responses. For many, it’s a simple step from the apartheid analogy to the idea that Israel should be internationally isolated and sanctioned in order to end the Occupation. That, he says, is a profound misreading of international public opinion, which will never be persuaded to isolate a state still viewed as representing the survivors of the Holocaust. He writes:

It is a serious error to think that international public opinion will put an end to the occupation. This will come about when the Israeli public itself is convinced of the need to do so.

There is another important difference between the two conflicts, and this may be more dangerous than any other: in South Africa, no White would have dreamt of ethnic cleansing. Even the racists understood that the country could not exist without the Black population. But in Israel, this goal is under serious consideration, both openly and in secret. One of its main advocates, Avigdor Lieberman, is a member of the government and last week Condoleezza Rice met with him officially. Apartheid is not the worst danger hovering over the heads of the Palestinians. They are menaced by something infinitely worse: “Transfer”, which means total expulsion.

Some people in Israel and around the world follow the Apartheid analogy to its logical conclusion: the solution here will be the same as the one in South Africa. There, the Whites surrendered and the Black majority assumed power. The country remained united. Thanks to wise leaders, headed by Nelson Mandela and Frederick Willem de Klerk, this happened without bloodshed.

In Israel, that is a beautiful dream for the end of days. Because of the people involved and their anxieties, it would inevitably turn into a nightmare. In this country there are two peoples with a very strong national consciousness. After 125 years of conflict, there is not the slightest chance that they would live together in one state, share the same government, serve in the same army and pay the same taxes. Economically, technologically and educationally, the gap between the two populations is immense. In such a situation, power relations similar to those in Apartheid South Africa would indeed arise.

In Israel, the demographic demon is lurking. There is an existential angst among the Jews that the demographic balance will change even within the Green Line. Every morning the babies are counted – how many Jewish babies were born during the night, and how many Arab. In a joint state, the discrimination would grow a hundredfold. The drive to dispossess and expel would know no bounds, rampant Jewish settlement activity would flourish, together with the effort to put the Arabs at a disadvantage by all possible means. In short: Hell.

The debate doesn’t end there, of course: Avnery’s dismissal of the realistic prospects for a single-state solution is not shared by Ali Abunimah, whose new book argues persuasively that Israeli policies in the Sharon era have essentially completed the elimination of infrastructural basis for a viable two-state solution, and that the two peoples’ fates are now inextricably intertwined.

Both sides of that ongoing debate share a concern to practically redress the injustices Jimmy Carter has highlighted, and both sides raise valid arguments — over which I’m too old and too jaded, to see any necessity to take a “line.” But Carter’s contribution has been to remind Americans why they ought to be having a discussion on their responsibilities in respect of, as he put it, seeking peace for Israel and peace and justice for the Palestinians.

Perhaps Jimmy had been listening in his i-Pod to the immortal Peter Tosh anthem “Equal Rights,” which actually name-checked the Palestinians, and proclaims the following:

Everyone is crying out for peace
None is crying for justice
But I don’t want no peace
I need equal rights, and justice

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16 Responses to Israelis, Jimmy Carter and Apartheid

  1. It’s refreshing to see an analysis that recognises the distinction between Israeli policies and apartheid. The distinction between a South Africa style settler colonialism that relies on indigenous labour and the American/Australian version that pertains in Palestine and treats the indigenous population as vermin to be extirminated, is crucial.

    This is one of the reasons Carter’s approach is indefensible. The analogy with apartheid is ok up to a point, but a failure to acknowledge how Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians differs from apartheid is a distortion.

    Another is his insistence that, ‘Israel is a wonderful democracy with equal treatment of all citizens whether Arab or Jew’. Over a million ‘Israeli Arabs’ know that this is a whitewash and all the Palestinians (Ali Abunimah, Jamil Dakwar, Marwan Bishara) who have reviewed Carter’s book have pointed it out.

    The fundamental betrayal, however, is Carter’s support for a two state ‘solution’. Avnery makes a cogent argument against the likelihood of a one state outcome. But to endorse Carter’s approach entails accepting the principle of establishing an ethnocratic state and the concomitant ethnic cleansing of the indigenous population as ‘a rampart of Europe against Asia, an outpost of civilization as opposed to barbarism’, as Herzl put it in Der Judenstadt. It means acknowledging terrorism as a viable strategy for nation building and relegating the victims of the Nakba to permanent exile. And ultimately, no Palestinian state can ever be viable as long as Israel has the capacity to interrupt traffic between Gaza and the West Bank, as it has done continuously ever since it signed the Agreement on Movement and Access where it promised not to fourteen months ago.

  2. Ibn Kafka says:

    Regarding resolution 242, it should also be noted, along the lines of your argument, that the French version of that resolution speaks of Israel having to retire from “des territoires occupés” (“[all] the occupied territories”), and not from “de territoires occupés” (“some occupied territories”). Someone should also check on the other linguistic versions of that resolution (Spanish, Arabic, Russian and Chinese) – btw, legally speaking, all linguistic versions have the same value, which clearly makes the Israeli interpretation of resolution 242 very feeble from a legal point of view.

  3. Tupharsin says:

    Nailed the following to the door of Helena Cobban’s Just World News website:

    There’s another iconic “vignette” up at Tony Karon’s Rootless Cosmopolitan website:

    The caption of the photograph reads: Hebron settlers attack a Palestinian passerby.

    And what do we see in the photograph? A young Jewish woman has sneaked up behind an older Palestinian woman. The young Jewish woman has grabbed the older Palestinian woman’s white head scarf and is yanking on it. A little Jewish boy – he looks about 10 – has also come up from behind the Palestinian woman and he’s kicking her.

    Two or three other “settlers” are visible to the right of the Palestinian woman. Their “body language” also bespeaks hostile intent.

    Directly in front of the Palestinian woman are two Israeli soldiers.

    The Palestinian woman is the still centre of this scene. Her head is turned slightly to the left and ever so slightly down. I looked long and hard at the photograph – there was something about it – and then it came to me: the stillness of the woman, her dignity, her humanity, the way she’s turned her head…I’ve seen that before: Michaelangelo’s Pieta.

    And I’ve seen those “settlers” before as well. In an earlier incarnation. A 1930s one. In Germany. That time around they were brownshirts and “fine, upright, good Germans” taunting, baiting, spitting at and kicking Jews.

    Nothing to add, except the howlingly obvious: what’s taking place in that photograph is utterly vile, utterly despicable, utterly cowardly. And let’s not leave the corollary unsaid: that young Jewish woman and that ten-year-old Jewish boy are also utterly vile, utterly despicable, utterly cowardly.

    Forty years on I’m still carrying around in my head the images of the self-immolated Buddhist monk in Vietnm, and the Saigon police chief blowing the brains out of the captured Vietcong suspect, and the terrified, screaming, naked, napalmed little girl running down the road toward me.

    I’ve now got another permanent, iconic image. Second one for me from this part of the world. This one joins that horrible sequence of the terrified little Palestinian boy and his dad, trying to shelter behind a barrel. And then both of them slumped over dead a few frames later.


  4. Alex Morgan says:

    Yes, the photo is a tough image. Yet, let us not lose sight of the humanity of all those in that photo. To condemn those kids as “utterly vile” is to fall into the very trap that they find themselves in – the senseless hate of “the other” that’s at the root of all such conflicts since the beginning of time.

    That picture is important precisely because there is such an imbalance of imagery in the Western press, where the violence and hate in the ME seems to be always depicted with a Palestinian face. While somewhat shocking to those of us exposed only to Western media, the picture is not exactly news to the Arabs.

    We are all humans. Can anyone argue that hate – such as depicted in that picture – is not something that every single nation has on its conscience? Israeli or Palestinian, German or Swedish, French or American – we are all capable of such acts.

    Israelis and Jews are simply human. Let us not paint them with a broad brush.

    I’m a strong critic of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, but not for one moment would it occur to me to single them out as unique in their transgressions.

    Some of the most trenchant and determined fighters for the Palestinian cause are Jewish. Never forget that. If only all nations and ethnic groups had more of such individuals whose primary loyalty is to Truth and Justice, the world would be a better place.

  5. stevelaudig says:

    Since when did it become the task of American taxpayers to assure the continued existence of the State of Israel? I object.

  6. Bernard Chazelle says:

    Well said, Alex.

    National Review Online is now saying Carter did it for the money. I think they should get their story straight: was it greed or was it antisemitism? They’ve gotten me confused.

    But, seriously ,people are having a tough time slandering an 82 year old Peace Nobel prize winner who happens to be a former POTUS.

    It’s interesting that the anti-Carter bashing mania is having no traction in Israel. The hysteria is entirely homegrown and rather pathetic. The times they are a-changin and Dershowitz is clearly on the losing side. Unless you’re OJ Simpson, you do not want that charlatan on your side!

  7. LanceThruster says:

    If anyone saw President Carter on C-SPAN a couple of weekends ago, even his friends remained somewhat non-committal regarding his premise (3 of the 4 panelists had not read his book though he pointed out he’d sent it to them early on). The moderator (blow-dry news guy – Brian Williams?) in the earlier segment opened the discussion quoting those who felt the book was anti-Semitic, clueless, etc, etc.

    Carter maintained his affability all through this and responded in a determined and courageous fashion. It is quite telling to see a decent man, whether one fully accepts all his points, get trashed so thoroughly. On the other hand, it is encouraging to see the support he gets from Tony Karon and others who are willing to approach the material fairly and objectively.

    I’m new to your site Tony, but I like and appreciate your coverage of issues.

    Best regards,


  8. K.B. says:

    Perhaps if the American Jews stop interfering with the destiny of the state of Israel, maybe somekind of a peace and agreement could be reached. It is time for the Jews in America to let go of their Biblical dreams and leave the Israelis alone to live in peace with their neighbors. It is very easy for them to sit in their lush and comfortable houses in America and dictate how the Israelis need to run their own government and destiny. Please knock off all that Bible and God rights. It is tormenting the lives of over 3 million Israelis. Enough is enough.

  9. Roey says:

    “The process ended with the election of Ariel Sharon…”
    So, there was no Intifaada before that? Arafat didn’t Declared A Jihad on Israel?
    Look, Tony, Even for a big “PeacNow!” supporter i found this article a bit one sided… I think it’s fair to say that Avneri and his mates are NOT represents most of the Israeli left – who tends to be more pregmatic. The man might be right most of the time… but the fact is – that he allways buys what the Pal-propganda is selling, which alot of the time contains half-truths and lies. Anyway, only last week Avnery wrote on this “apartheid” subject:

    “BUT WHEN we use the term “Apartheid” to describe the situation, we have to be aware of the fact that the similarity between the Israeli occupation and the White regime in South Africa concerns only the methods, not the substance. This must be made quite clear, so as to prevent grave errors in the analysis of the situation and the conclusions drawn from it….”

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