With its recent (and belated) review of Jimmy Carter’s new book, the downstate daily that veteran journalist John Hess used to call “The Nouveau York Times” plumbed new depths of rag-dom.
Carter’s Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid has generally brought out the worst in American journalism, which is pretty lame under the best circumstances. You’d think this book – by a former president who’s won the Nobel Peace Prize, garnered praise worldwide as an election observer and stateside as a benefactor of low-income housing, and on the flip side, jettisoned a strongly pro-military and interventionist record as president in favor of a touchy-feely-preachy image as born-again conscience of the nation – would inspire deep respect, if not genuflection. But no. Carter has really stepped in it this time, mostly because he dared to use the “A” word in his subtitle. References to apartheid, and extended analogies with the South African racist regime, appear frequently in Israeli media, but such daring is not allowed in the US.
Which brings us back to the Times, whose review of the book (12/14) was dominated by concern over the admittedly provocative term. The reviewer used five named sources who trashed Carter – including the centrist Michael Kinsley, the faintly liberal Dennis Ross (who specializes in distorting the record of Clinton-era talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders), and the far-right contortionist Abraham Foxman of the justly discredited Anti-Defamation League (whose latest caper was a covert attack on esteemed historian Tony Judt). And for balance? Well, the reviewer quoted Carter himself.
The review also quoted The Jerusalem Post, surely one of the worst of Israeli papers – certainly overrated among US readers, though in this regard it can be seen as a worthy companion to the NY Times. For a better grasp of informed Israeli opinion, one can turn to Ha’aretz of 12/15 and historian Tom Segev’s largely positive review of the book.
After a few quibbles, Segev, one of the pioneering “new historians” whose reality-based recasting of Middle East history is now unexceptionable, addresses “the uproar… over the word apartheid”:
“That's another thing I would have recommended that Carter forgo, if he'd asked me,” says Segev. “It's not necessary; the situation is terrible as it is.” But Segev’s take on terminology is much different than that of Kinsley, Foxman, et al. “Now everyone's busy arguing about the use of the term `apartheid` instead of focusing on the horrors of the occupation in the territories… But [Carter’s] principal argument is well-founded, and backed up by the reports from B'Tselem, Peace Now, Israeli newspapers and even many articles that appear in The New York Times (as opposed to the theory, which Carter cites, that says Israel's critics are being silenced). Like many others, Carter points out the ongoing and systematic violation of the Palestinians` human rights; the injustices of the oppression perpetuate the conflict. It's bad for everyone, the United States included.”
I believe the apartheid analogy is right on – and that the American people need precisely this kind of wake-up call. Analogies are intrinsically and notoriously inexact, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have great value. For many years the Israeli left has drawn comparisons between Israel/Palestine and the old South Africa – not just with the “A” word, but by using the word “bantustans” to describe the archipelago of West Bank cantons that Israeli and US negotiators want the Palestinians to accept in lieu of a viable, governable state.I’ve long been critical of Jimmy Carter, from way to his left. And frankly, his thesis about Israel/Palestine, as opposed to his book’s bracing title, doesn’t move us leftward enough from the “moderate” consensus. But I’m glad to see the “A” word entering the American lexicon in this context, where it surely belongs.