Jimmy Carter, by publishing his book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, walked straight into the buzz saw that is the Israel lobby. Among the vitriolic attacks on the former President was the claim by Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, that Carter is “outrageous” and “bigoted” and that his book raises “the old canard and conspiracy theory of Jewish control of the media, Congress, and the U.S. government.” Many Democratic Party leaders, anxious to keep the Israel lobby’s money and support, have hotfooted it out the door, with incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announcing that Carter “does not speak for the Democratic Party on Israel.”
Carter’s book exposes little about Israel. The enforced segregation, abject humiliation and spiraling Israeli violence against Palestinians have been detailed in the Israeli and European press and, with remarkable consistency, by all the major human rights organizations. The assault against Carter, rather, says more about the failings of the American media–which have largely let Israel hawks heap calumny on Carter’s book. It exposes the indifference of the Bush Administration and the Democratic leadership to the rule of law and basic human rights, the timidity of our intellectual class and the moral bankruptcy of institutions that claim to speak for American Jews and the Jewish state.
The bleakness of life for Palestinians, especially in the Gaza Strip, is a mystery only to us. In the current Israeli campaign in Gaza, now sealed off from the outside world, almost 500 Palestinians, most unarmed, have been killed. Sanctions, demanded by Israel and imposed by the international community after the Hamas victory last January in what were universally acknowledged to be free and fair elections, have led to the collapse of civil society in Gaza and the West Bank, as well as widespread malnutrition. And Palestinians in the West Bank are being encased, in open violation of international law, in a series of podlike militarized ghettos with Israel’s massive $2 billion project to build a “security barrier.” This barrier will gobble up at least 10 percent of the West Bank, including most of the precious aquifers and at least 40,000 acres of Palestinian farmland. The project is being financed in large part through $9 billion in American loan guarantees, although when Congress approved the legislation in April 2003, Israel was told that the loans could be used “only to support activities in the geographic areas which were subject to the administration of the Government of Israel prior to June 5, 1967.”
But it is in Gaza that conditions are currently reaching a full-blown humanitarian crisis. “Gaza is in its worst condition ever,” Gideon Levy wrote recently in the Israeli paper Ha’aretz. “The Israel Defense Forces have been rampaging through Gaza–there’s no other word to describe it–killing and demolishing, bombing and shelling, indiscriminately…. How contemptible all the sublime and nonsensical talk about ‘the end of the occupation’ and ‘partitioning the land’ now appears. Gaza is occupied, and with greater brutality than before…. This is disgraceful and shocking collective punishment.”
And as Gaza descends into civil war, with Hamas and Fatah factions carrying out gun battles in the streets, Ha’aretz reporter Amira Hass bitterly notes, “The experiment was a success: The Palestinians are killing each other. They are behaving as expected at the end of the extended experiment called ‘what happens when you imprison 1.3 million human beings in an enclosed space like battery hens.'”
In fact, if there is a failing in Carter’s stance, it is that he is too kind to the Israelis, bending over backward to assert that he is only writing about the occupied territories. Israel itself, he says, is a democracy. This would come as a surprise to the 1.3 million Israeli Arabs who live as second-class citizens in the Jewish state. The poverty rate among Israeli Arabs is more than twice that of the Jewish population. Those Israeli Arabs who marry Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank are not permitted to get Israeli residency for their spouses. And Israeli Arabs, who do not serve in the military or the country’s intelligence services and thus lack the important personal connections and job networks available to veterans, are systematically shut out of good jobs. Any Jew, who may speak no Hebrew or ever been to Israel, can step off a plane and become an Israeli citizen, while a Palestinian living abroad whose family’s roots in Palestine may go back generations is denied citizenship.
The Israel lobby in the United States does not serve Israel or the Jewish community–it serves the interests of the Israeli extreme right wing. Most Israelis have come to understand that peace will be possible only when their country complies with international law and permits Palestinians to build a viable and sustainable state based on the 1967 borders, including, in some configuration, East Jerusalem.
This stark demarcation between Israeli pragmatists and the extreme right wing was apparent when I was in the Middle East for the New York Times during Yitzhak Rabin’s 1992 campaign for prime minister. The majority of American Jewish organizations and neoconservative intellectuals made no pretense of neutrality. They had morphed into extensions of the right-wing Likud Party. These American groups, to Rabin’s dismay, had gone on to build, with Likud, an alliance with right-wing Christian groups filled with real anti-Semites whose cultural and historical ignorance of the Middle East was breathtaking. This collection of messianic Jews and Christians, leavened with rabid American imperialists, believed they had been handed a divine or moral mandate to rule the Middle East, whether the Arabs liked it or not.
When Rabin, who had come to despise what the occupation was doing to the citizenry of his own country, was sworn in as prime minister, the leaders of these American Jewish organizations, along with their buffoonish supporters on the Christian right, were conspicuous by their absence. On one of Rabin’s first visits to Washington after he assumed office, according to one of his aides, he was informed that a group of American Jewish leaders were available to meet him. The surly old general, whose gravelly cigarette voice seemed to rise up from below his feet, curtly refused. He told his entourage he did not have time to waste on “scumbags.”