Former President Jimmy Carter's new book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, provoked an uproar even before its publication. The reason for the controversy was the book's title more than its content, for it seemed to suggest that the avatar of democracy in the Middle East may be on its way to creating a political order that resembles South Africa's apartheid model of discrimination and repression, albeit on ethnic-religious rather than racial grounds.
Since the appearance of the book coincided with the recent Congressional elections, leaders of the Democratic Party went into near panic and fell over one another disassociating themselves from Carter's book and his criticisms of certain Israeli policies. Indeed, the panic was so intense that so independent-minded a man as Howard Dean, chair of the party, who in the past has had the courage to challenge the conventional wisdom of the party's establishment on a whole range of issues, joined the herd as well.
None of this, of course, is in the least surprising. In the face of overwhelming international criticism of President Bush for his failure to engage in the Middle East peace process and for his unbalanced support of Israel, the Democratic Party's Congressional leadership has managed to criticize Bush for being too soft on the Palestinians and not sufficiently supportive of Israel. So the criticism of President Carter is noteworthy only for what it reveals about the ignorance of the American political establishment, both Democrat and Republican, on the subject of the Israel-Palestine conflict.
I would challenge the incoming Democratic chair of the House International Relations Committee, Tom Lantos (not to mention the outgoing chair, Henry Hyde), to identify the author of the following comment, made at the time when Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was about to bring Rehavam Ze'evi, head of Israel's Moledet Party, into his Cabinet. Ze'evi and his party were advocates of "transfer," a euphemism for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the West Bank and in other parts of "Greater Israel":
The transfer party's joining the government is a profound political, moral and social stain, a dangerous infection penetrating [Israel's] government. Anyone who includes the transfer [party] among the Zionist parties of the coalition is in effect confirming the UN Resolution that says Zionism is racism.
Had an American made such a statement, he would unquestionably have been accused of hostility to the State of Israel, if not anti-Semitism. If the person had been Jewish, he would have been branded a self-hating Jew.
In fact, the author of this statement was Benny Begin, the right-wing son of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, a Likud "prince" who relentlessly attacked the Labor Party for recognizing the PLO, which he insisted, even after Oslo, was nothing more than a terrorist organization. And the man who was described at the time in the Jerusalem Post as "the most vociferous among the cabinet ministers opposing the appointment, saying it was inconceivable that a man with Ze'evi's ideology should serve as a minister," was none other than Ehud Olmert, another Likud prince.
When Olmert, as deputy prime minister in Ariel Sharon's government, proposed that Israel withdraw unilaterally from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, his justification was that given Palestinian demographics, a continuation of the occupation would sooner or later turn Israeli Jews into a minority. He warned that the Jewish State would then find itself under attack from American Jewish organizations that boycotted South Africa's apartheid regime.