Jimmy Carter: “Friend” of Israel and the Jews

by Shai Afsai (September 2012)


During a January 2007 lecture at the University of Georgia, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter lamented the criticism he received following the publication of Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid: “I have been called a liar.  I have been called an anti-Semite. I have been called a bigot. I have been called a plagiarist. I have been called a coward” (“Carter Calls His Mideast Book ‘Accurate,’” Washington Post, 1/21/2007). Setting aside the fourth of these accusations — that of plagiarism — there should no longer remain any doubt as to the accuracy of the others. Despite having successfully propped himself up as a moral authority in the eyes of many Americans, Carter is in fact a liar, an antisemite, a bigot, and a coward. This was true prior to 2007 and remains the case today.

Carter the Liar

Carter has helped spread the lie that Israel held thousands of Lebanese prisoners immediately prior to the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah (the Second Lebanon War), and that this was a cause, if not a justification, for the Hezbollah attacks on Israel that precipitated that conflict. He did so in a Washington Post op-ed written in the midst of the war (“Stop the Band-Aid Treatment,” 8/1/2006). Summarizing the outbreak of the conflict and what he thought must be done to end it, Carter wrote: “Hezbollah militants . . . killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two others, and insisted on Israel’s withdrawal from disputed territory and an exchange for some of the several thousand incarcerated Lebanese.”

This was a remarkable claim, not only because it was entirely false (although others, such as the pro-Hezbollah British politician George Galloway, whose words often dovetail Carter’s, have repeated similar falsehoods), but also because even Hezbollah and the Lebanese government did not charge Israel with holding more than a few Lebanese prisoners. Hassan Nasrallah, for example, in a speech aired on Al-Manar TV (11/25/2005) stated that “some prisoners remained” in Israel following a 2004 prisoner exchange, while Nawar al-Sahili, a Hezbollah Member of Parliament, was more specific, telling BBC News (“Who are the Mid-East prisoners?”) that Israel still held four Lebanese men.

One of these four prisoners was an Israeli citizen of Lebanese origin who had been arrested in Israel and sentenced to six years in prison for spying for Hezbollah. Another “prisoner” was a Lebanese fisherman whose disappearance at sea Hezbollah has decided, on and off, to blame on Israel. Without a doubt, the most prominent prisoner was Samir Kuntar, a popular and celebrated Lebanese hero who, along with three other terrorists, had infiltrated into Israel in 1979. Having crossed the border, Kuntar began by shooting and killing Eliyahu Shahar, an Israeli policeman. He then broke into the home of the Haran family, taking Danny Haran and his four-year old daughter, Einat, hostage. Kuntar later murdered Danny Haran, shooting him in front of Einat, whom he then killed by smashing her skull with the butt of his rifle. Smadar Haran had managed to hide in a crawl space with her younger daughter, two-year old Yael, but she inadvertently suffocated Yael while attempting to prevent the terrorists from discovering them.

These were the prisoners held by Israel prior to the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War, according to both Hezbollah and the Lebanese government. (Four Hezbollah fighters were subsequently taken prisoner during the war itself). Carter, however, charged Israel with holding “several thousand” Lebanese, pronouncing in the fifth paragraph of his Washington Post op-ed that “Israel should withdraw from all Lebanese territory, including Shebaa Farms, and release the Lebanese prisoners,” including Samir Kuntar.

In the third paragraph of his op-ed, Carter notes Hezbollah’s desire that Israel withdraw from the “disputed territory” of Shebaa Farms; by Carter’s fifth paragraph, however, Hezbollah’s desire that Israel relinquish this territory to Lebanon is revealed to be his own as well. According to Carter, Hezbollah’s claims are correct: Shebaa Farms is “Lebanese territory” and “Israel should withdraw” from it. This position is also found in Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” where Carter claims that in May 2000 Israel withdrew “almost completely from Lebanon after eighteen years of occupation, retaining its presence only in Shebaa Farms.”  Carter states this despite the fact that the United Nations has concluded multiple times that Israel withdrew fully from all Lebanese territory in 2000, that Israel no longer occupies any Lebanese territory, and that Shebaa Farms is not considered Lebanese territory according to international law. At a 2002 press conference in Madrid, for example, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan reiterated: “The Security Council itself confirmed in June 2000 that Israel had withdrawn from southern Lebanon in compliance with UN Security Council resolutions 425 and 426.” This fact, however, just like the actual number of Lebanese prisoners held in Israel in 2006, is of no concern to Carter. 

In addition to advocating for Hezbollah, Carter has also appointed himself an unofficial Hamas spokesperson, attempting to positively portray its Gaza government to the American public. In the past, when the Palestine Liberation Organization’s star was on the rise and its leader alive, he undertook to perform a similar function for Yasser Arafat; lately it has been Hamas’s turn to benefit from Carter’s saintly image and public relations skills. Part of this task involves excusing or denying Hamas’s terrorism. As Joshua Muravchik has pointed out in Commentary (“Our Worst Ex-President,” 2/2007), Carter claims in Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid that Hamas “meticulously observed a cease-fire commitment” and “since August of 2004 has not committed a single act of terrorism that cost an Israeli life.” Hamas, however, has been more honest than Carter about its military activities. “As it happens,” Muravchik observes, “Hamas announces its operations on its websites and elsewhere. In the time frame Carter specifies, Hamas claimed responsibility for fifteen terror attacks that killed 26 Israelis: two young children and eleven other civilians, and thirteen soldiers.”

Even when admitting to acts of violence on the part of Palestinian groups, Carter is so intent on exonerating them from any wrongdoing that his descriptions inevitably descend into a mixture of half-truths and outright inaccuracies. So it is with this account he gave of the June 2006 killing of two Israeli soldiers, the wounding of four others, and the abduction of a sixth (Gilad Shalit, who was held hostage for over five years), near the Gaza Strip: “Another thing I’ve heard Professor [Allan] Dershowitz mention is the holding of the Israeli soldier captured by Palestinians from — by digging a tunnel under the Wall to escape from Gaza — where they captured one, an Israeli soldier, and that’s true” (“Jimmy Carter on Conflict in the Middle East,” NPR interview, 11/27/2006).

Carter (rather incoherently) concedes that an Israeli soldier was captured (“that’s true”), but according to his contorted account, the Palestinian attackers were actually trying “to escape from Gaza,” rather than infiltrating Israel for the purpose of killing and kidnapping. Perhaps because it sounds more severe, he also insists there is a wall between the Gaza Strip and Israel, although the barrier separating the two is a fence.

Carter the Antisemite; Carter the Bigot

Someone who attempts to deny the reality of Jews being killed — whether by the Nazis sixty-odd years ago, or by Hamas in the last few — is an antisemite. It makes no difference if the person making such revisionist statements is a former U.S. President with a Nobel Peace Prize, or a current Iranian President with nuclear ambitions. There is always an ulterior motive for such lying. In the case of Carter’s defense of Hamas, it is part of his attempt to whitewash an overtly antisemitic Islamist group that believes (according to “The Covenant of Hamas,” Articles Seven, Twenty-two, Twenty-Eight, and Thirty-Two) that “The Day of Judgment will not come about until” the killing of the Jews; that the Jews “were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution . . . World War I . . . World War II”; that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is not a forgery, but rather proof of the Jews’ nefarious intentions; and that by their very existence, “Israel, Judaism and Jews challenge Islam and the Moslem people.”  

In response to the charges of antisemitism and bigotry that followed the publication of Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Carter claimed (as he continues to do) that on the contrary, he has been consistently preoccupied with Israel’s well-being and safety: “Well I think if you look at the history of my public career of the last thirty years, the preeminent goal that I’ve had in my mind has been to bring peace to the people of Israel. And I’ve worked on this without cessation during my adult life in politics” (“In Depth with Jimmy Carter,” C-SPAN 2, 12/3/2006). Part of fulfilling this “preeminent goal,” apparently, has been Carter’s declaration on Al Jazeera TV (1/14/2007) that when it comes to Palestinian rockets, which are intentionally aimed and fired at Jewish towns and cities in Israel, “I don’t consider — I wasn’t equating the Palestinian missiles with terrorism.” He followed this exoneration of rocket attacks with a criticism of suicide bombings, though not on moral grounds. Rather, he saw suicide bombings as problematic because they turn “the world away from sympathy and support for the Palestinian people.” Palestinian rockets posed no such problem for the Palestinian cause, and therefore Carter, in his overwhelming concern for the people of Israel, was careful not to pass judgment on their use.

Alan Dershowitz has also noted (“Why won't Carter debate his book?” The Boston Globe, 12/21/2006) that Carter considers Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan to be his “personal friend,” and has accepted money as well as an award from him:

This is the same Zayed, the long-time ruler of the United Arab Emirates, whose $2.5 million gift to the Harvard Divinity School was returned in 2004 due to Zayed’s rampant Jew-hatred. Zayed’s personal foundation, the Zayed Center, claims that it was Zionists, rather than Nazis, who ‘were the people who killed the Jews in Europe’ during the Holocaust. It has held lectures on the blood libel and conspiracy theories about Jews and America perpetrating Sept. 11.

And, as The New York Post has pointed out (“Jimmy for Terror,” 1/15/2007), Carter’s idea of bringing peace, as outlined in Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, implicitly allows “the general Arab community and all significant Palestinian groups” to continue “the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism” until “international laws and the ultimate goals of the Roadmap for Peace are accepted by Israel.” When that happens, it may be imperative, according to Carter, that the Arab community and Palestinian groups announce that they will no longer engage in terrorism, but in his book he appears to believe there is absolutely no need to cease killing Israelis by various means before then. Thus, with Carter traversing the globe, writing, lecturing, defending Hamas and Hezbollah, and tirelessly trying “to bring peace to the people of Israel,” those desiring the Jewish State’s destruction and attempting to murder its citizens can be certain of having a well-respected mouthpiece to advance their aims.

Under intense criticism, Carter, during his lecture at Brandeis University (1/23/2007), revised his position on the acceptability of terrorism against Israelis. This was hardly heartening, however, as he refused — and continues to refuse — to admit to a single additional error on his part about Israel, or to any other misleading notions in Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. As reported on NPR (“Jimmy Carter Defends Peace Not Apartheid,” 1/25/2007): “In that [Brandeis] appearance, the former president defended the book’s accuracy, save one passage Carter now calls ‘terribly worded,’ that seemed to justify terrorism by Palestinians on Israeli citizens.” When asked on NPR if the “terribly worded” statement sent him “flipping through the pages of the book to see if there is anything else there that wasn’t expressed the way you had intended,” Carter responded: “I don’t believe so.” Perhaps Carter is incapable of believing otherwise. Like the Hezbollah and Hamas terrorists for whom he is an apologist, and like his personal friend Sheik Zayed, Carter is certain he is doing God’s word by assailing Israel. He differs from them, though, in one essential respect: Carter duplicitously claims that his actions are actually motivated by a desire “to bring peace to the people of Israel.”

Carter the Coward

Rather than engage in any serious public debate or candid discussion in which he might be compelled to admit to at least some ignorance, errors, misstatements, and biased pronouncements about Israel and the Middle East, Carter has chosen to cloak himself in the garments of a martyr. Carter has claimed (“How I See Palestine”/“Speaking frankly about Israel and Palestine,” Los Angeles Times, 12/8/2006):

For the last 30 years, I have witnessed and experienced the severe restraints on any free and balanced discussion of the facts [concerning Israel] . . . My most troubling experience has been the rejection of my offers to speak, for free, about the book [Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid] on university campuses with high Jewish enrollment and to answer questions from students and professors.

Yet, when invited to debate Professor Dershowitz at Brandeis University, a campus with high Jewish enrollment, Carter declared, “I don’t want to have a conversation even indirectly with Dershowitz. There is no need . . . to debate somebody who, in my opinion, knows nothing about the situation in Palestine” (“Carter invite fizzles,” Boston Globe, 12/14/2006). When Carter did finally go to Brandeis, it was on condition that he would not have to debate, and Dershowitz was not allowed into the lecture hall until after Carter’s departure. Nor has Carter since agreed to debate anyone else. As Dershowitz noted then: “Carter’s refusal to debate wouldn’t be so strange if it weren’t for the fact that he claims that he wrote the book precisely so as to start debate over the issue of the Israel-Palestine peace process.”

Of course, Carter has his apologists as well. “Jimmy Carter is speaking the truth as he knows it, and doing a great service to the Jews,” according to Tikkun editor Michael Lerner. “It’s time to create a new openness to criticism and a new debate. Jimmy Carter has shown courage in trying to open that kind of space with his new book [Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid], and he deserves our [i.e. the Jews’] warm thanks and support” (“Thank you, Jimmy Carter,” tompaine.com, 12/6/2006). Nonetheless, surveying Jimmy Carter’s conduct leads one to the gloomy conclusion that a man may become President of the United States, play a role in finalizing a peace treaty between two warring Middle Eastern countries, win the Nobel Peace Prize, support Habitat for Humanity, and monitor elections across the globe, but at bottom remain dishonest, unscrupulous, and prejudiced. 

Can such a person change? In December 2009, Carter sent a brief message to the Jewish community through the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. He seemed aware of having acted inappropriately and unfairly towards Israel, and suggested he might behave differently in the future:

We must recognize Israel’s achievements under difficult circumstances, even as we strive in a positive way to help Israel continue to improve its relations with its Arab populations, but we must not permit criticisms for improvement to stigmatize Israel. As I would have noted at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but which is appropriate at any time of the year, I offer an Al Het [a request for forgiveness of sin] for any words or deeds of mine that may have done so.

Alas, these soon turned out to be empty words. Carter’s apparent shift was as short-lived as it was surprising, and he soon returned to form, prompting Abraham H. Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League to wonder, “Jimmy Carter: Have You No Shame?” (The Huffington Post, 10/28/2010):

It was only nine months ago that former President Jimmy Carter issued an open letter to the American Jewish community asking for forgiveness for the pain he had caused by his comments which may have stigmatized Israel. Mr. Carter went on to imply that he would avoid in the future the kind of biased remarks about the Jewish state that have been his hallmark for so long.

. . . On Mr. Carter’s most recent visit to the Middle East his actions and comments were so problematic that one would hardly have known that he had publicly expressed contrition only months before . . . The majority and intensity of his criticisms during his visit to the region were directed at Israel. The Israeli blockade of Gaza was deemed illegal and an obstacle to peace and the fact that Hamas remains a terrorist entity committed to Israel’s destruction was not mentioned while he called for its involvement in peace negotiations.

. . . In sum, by any objective measurement, Mr. Carter has gone back on his public word to the Jewish community not to stigmatize the Jewish state.

In an earlier letter written to Carter in February 2010, responding to Carter’s offer to continue discussions with the ADL, Foxman wrote: “I do not believe further discussions between us will be fruitful. I continue to hope the day will come when you have truly repented of your insensitive views of Israel and the Jewish people.” Indeed, one may hope for this, but there is every reason to doubt such a day will come.

More recently, a class action lawsuit was filed in New York against Carter and Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid publisher Simon & Schuster, charging that although it “was promoted by them both as a work non-fiction, deserving of special weight and consideration because of Carter’s standing as a former President . . . the book is filled with demonstrable falsehoods, omissions, and knowing misrepresentations intended to promote Carter’s agenda of anti-Israel propaganda . . .”  Whether or not such a lawsuit is an apt means of exposing Carter’s mendacity, Simon & Schuster’s initial response about the lawsuit to Tablet Magazine (“Carter Sued Over ‘Apartheid’ Book,” 2/2/2011) is disturbing: “This lawsuit is a frivolous and transparent attempt by the plaintiffs, despite their protestations to the contrary, to punish the author, a Nobel Peace prize-winner and world-renowned statesmen, and his publisher, for writing and publishing a book with which the plaintiffs simply disagree. It is a chilling attack on free speech that we intend to defend vigorously.” While Carter is indeed a Nobel Peace prize-winner and a world-renowned statesman, this fact does not, as Simon & Schuster implies, make him or his publisher above reproach. Aside from any lawsuit against him, and any related freedom of speech issues, his prize-winning and statesmanship must not be allowed to obscure the fact that Carter is also a liar, an antisemite, a bigot, and a coward.  He has been greatly honored for the former accomplishments and is now deserving of all the contempt that attaches to the latter grim faults.


Shai Afsai lives in Providence. His article "'The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man': Historical Fabrication and an Anti-Zionist Myth" appears in the latest issue of Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies.

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