In an interview with This Week, anchor George Stephanopoulos on Sunday, former President Jimmy Carter said that his recent book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid has led to the most personal criticism of his life. Carter said that he has been called a “liar,” “anti-Semite,” “plagiarist,” “thief,” “coward”–and yet the 82-year-old remains as focused, passionate and articulate as ever on his reasons for writing the book and what he hopes it will accomplish.
“If I have had one burning desire in my heart and mind for the last thirty years, I would put peace for Israel at the top of the list,” Carter said. “And commensurate with that has to be justice and human rights for the Palestinians next door.” (To readers who would still question Carter’s commitment to Israel, read the article in The Nation by former national Director of the American Jewish Congress, Henry Siegman). Carter hopes his book will precipitate an open debate on the Israel-Palestine conflict and renew the abandoned peace process- certainly, as both Carter and Stephanopoulos noted, it has already accomplished the former.
In Carter’s opinion, the need for this vigorous public debate is all the more crucial since he doesn’t believe the Democratic Congress will take any more of a balanced approach to peace than its Republican predecessor. Aside from “maybe two or three members” Carter believes that our representatives view any position critical of the current conservative Israeli government as “politically suicidal.”
The same humanity which leads Carter to speak out fearlessly about the Middle East has led him to address “diseases that no one else really cares about much, or knows about”–like Guinea Worm (now on the verge of becoming the first disease eradicated in over twenty-five years largely through the work of the Carter Center)–that impact “the poorest, most destitute, forgotten and needy people on Earth.” He stated plainly that the United States needs to increase our foreign aid–“We’re at the bottom of all the developed countries in giving to other people”–and he’s right, as a percentage of GDP we are shamefully stingy.
Finally, Carter gets the importance of global warming as a defining issue of our time–which is a significant reason why he would support formerly elected by popular vote/Oscar winner, President Al Gore in 2008. “I’ve put so much pressure on Al to run that he’s almost gotten aggravated with me,” Carter said, laughing. “He said, ‘Jimmy, I’ll support you. Don’t call.’ But he would be my favorite.”
At a time when there is too little honesty or boldness in our politics, Jimmy Carter speaks his mind, with sanity and humanity. His ideas deserve discussion and debate, not vituperation and ad hominem attack.