There is an ugly cynicism to the attack on Jimmy Carter that has been launched by Americans who well recognize that the former president's new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, says nothing that has not already been said about the Middle East conflict by Israeli politicians and commentators.
So why is Carter, a longtime friend of Israel and the Jewish people, being smeared as an anti-Semite for suggesting that the occupation by Israeli forces of Palestinian territory inspires troubling comparisons with the apartheid system that white South Africans once imposed on their country's black majority?
One of Israel's most prominent political figures suggests that it has a lot to do with the determination of Carter's critics to allow their emotions to trump the facts.
"The trouble is that their love of Israel distorts their judgment and blinds them from seeing what's in front of them," argues Shulamit Aloni, a veteran of Israel's war of independence who went on to serve in the Knesset and as a minister in several Israeli cabinets. "Israel is an occupying power that for 40 years has been oppressing an indigenous people, which is entitled to a sovereign and independent existence while living in peace with us."
In a defense of Carter penned for the mass-circulation Israeli newspaper Yediot Acharonot, the woman who served as former Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin's education minister wrote that, "Indeed apartheid does exist here."
"The U.S. 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," explains Aloni. "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."
Aloni should be reminded that the battering of Carter has as frequently come from non-Jews as Jews in the U.S. But, with that clarification, her message is one that merits serious attention from Americans who are frustrated by this country's inability to engage in a serious discussion about Middle East policy.
This does not mean that everyone must agree with Aloni's every point.
A recipient of the Israel Prize, the highest honor awarded by her country's government, the internationally-respected parliamentarian has long been a critic of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. Some will disregard her remarks for that reason. Others who respect Aloni's history may disagree with her current critique. But no one who has followed Israeli affairs can doubt that she speaks for a meaningful number of her countrymen and women when she defends Carter.
In fact, the website of the Israeli peace group Gush Shalom recently featured a call for visitors to" "Please consider adding your voices to those who are grateful to Jimmy Carter for writing a brave and important book, Peace Not Apartheid. While the media tries to blank him out, and some would cast aspersions at President Carter for being 'anti-Israel,' in fact the book offers much needed wisdom about how to support a just peace in Israel and Palestine."
Aloni and Gush Shalom certainly do not speak for all Israelis. But their response to Carter's book should be instructive for Americans.
It is not necessary to share all of Aloni's views to recognize that the veteran of the Hagana paramilitary organization that fought for Israeli independence has done a service not only to Carter but to all Americans who would like to see this country engage in an honest dialogue about Middle East affairs.
While Israel enjoys a reasonably vibrant debate with regard to how the Jewish state should relate to Palestine, the United States suffers from a crude and dysfunctional discourse about the same question. The attacks on Jimmy Carter highlight just how ugly and dishonest that discourse has become. Perhaps that is why Shulamit Aloni's pointed response to those attacks is so important. It took an Israeli to remind us of how much more realistic the dialogue could -- and should -- be.
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