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Former President Carter’s Book on Israel “Apartheid” Stirs Widespread Controversy

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
January - February 2007

The book by former President Jimmy Carter, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, has stirred widespread  
The book, notes The Washington Post (Dec. 7, 2006), “traces the ups and downs of the Israeli-  
Palestinian peace process beginning with Carter’s 1977-1980 presidency and the historic peace accord  
he negotiated between Israel and Egypt and continuing to the present. Although it apportions blame to  
Israel, the Palestinians and outside parties — including the U.S. — for the failure of decades of peace  
efforts, it is sharply critical of Israeli policy and concludes that ‘Israel’s continued control and  
colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement  
in the Holy Land. Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League charged that Carter is “outrageous”  
and “bigoted” and that the book raises “the old canard and conspiracy theory of Jewish control of the  
media, Congress, and the U.S. Government.”  
The rabbis of America’s largest synagogue movement canceled a planned visit to the Atlanta-based  
Carter Center in response to the book. The Forward (Jan 12, 2007) reports that, “Last month ... leaders  
of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, a 1,500 member group representing Reform rabbis,  
called off a scheduled tour of the Carter Center after the public reaction to Carter’s book reached a  
fever pitch and an interdenominational group of rabbis expressed disappointment over a meeting with  
the former president.”  
A veteran Middle East scholar affiliated with the Carter Center in Atlanta resigned his position. Kenneth  
W. Stein, a professor at Emory University, accused Carter of factual errors, omissions and plagiarism in  
the book. “Being a former President does not give one a unique privilege to invent information,” Stein  
wrote. Fourteen members of an advisory board to the Carter Center also resigned because of the book,  
saying that they could “no longer in good conscience continue to serve.”  
According to The New York Times (Dec. 14, 2006), “...the bulk of the outrage has come from his  
(Carter’s) use of the word apartheId in the title, apparently equating the plight of today’s Palestinians to  
the former victims of government-mandated racial separation in South Africa. Jewish groups have  
responded angrily, saying that Mr. Carter’s claims are dangerous and anti-Semitic. But Mr. Carter is  
steadfastly defending the book, saying he believes there is a valid comparison between Israelis and the  
white South Africans who oppressed blacks. ‘It was obviously going to be somewhat provocative,’ Mr.  
Carter said of the title. ‘I could have said ‘A New Path To Peace’ or something like that.’ But Mr. Carter  
said he felt apartheid was the most pertinent word he could use, and in retrospect he would not change  
any of the book’s content.”  
Not all Jewish opinion about the book is critical. In a letter to Mr. Carter, Mitchell Plitnick, Director of  
Education and Policy of Jewish Voice for Peace, states: “As American Jews, we’re thrilled to hear a  
former U.S. president speaking with such courage about the suffering and loss of life Palestinians are  
enduring. We are heartbroken that our own government is making this immoral occupation possible ...  
We know some Jewish organizations are upset about what you’re saying, but we wanted you to know  
that a great many Jews in the U.S., Israel and around the world are not represented by these  
organizations. ... We are working to make change in our own synagogues, schools, communities and  
families ...” Among those on the board of advisers of Jewish Voice for Peace are Prof. Avi Shlaim, Rabbi  
Laurie Zimmerman, Professor Daniel Boyarin, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, Tony Kushner and Adrienne Rich.  
Yossi Beilin, a member of the Knesset and chairman of the Meretz-Yahad Party, wrote an article entitled  
“Carter Is No More Critical of Israel Than Israelis Themselves” in The Forward (Jan. 19, 2007): “...what  
Carter says in his book about the Israeli occupation and our treatment of Palestinians in the occupied  
territories — and perhaps no less important, how he says it — is entirely harmonious with the kind of  
criticism that Israelis themselves voice about their own country. There is nothing in the criticism that  
Carter has for Israel that has not been said by Israelis themselves. ... If we are to read Carter’s book for  
what it is, I think we would find in it an impassioned personal narrative of an American former  
president who is reflecting on the direction in which Israel and Palestine may be going if they fail to  
reach agreement soon. ... Somewhere down the line ... the destructive nature of occupation will turn  
Israel into a pariah state, not unlike South Africa under apartheid. ... Carter’s choice is clearly peace,  
and, for all its disquieting language, the book he has written is sustained by the hope that we choose  
peace as well.”  
Reviewing the book in The Nation (Jan. 22, 2007), Henry Siegman, a former national director of the  
American Jewish Congress and now director of the US/Middle East Project, declared: “The reason for the  
controversy was the book’s title more than its content, for it seemed to suggest that the avatar of  
democracy in the Middle East may be on its way to creating a political order that resembles South  
Africa’s apartheid model of discrimination and repression, albeit on ethnic-religious rather than racial  
grounds ... Not the least of the ironies of the controversy ... there appear in virtually all major Israeli  
newspapers and in its other media far more extreme criticisms of the policies of various Israeli  
governments than one finds anywhere in the U.S. Most of Israel’s adversarial editorializing would not be  
accepted in the op-ed pages of America’s leading newspapers.”  
In Siegman’s view, outspoken national Jewish organizations have “never been an accurate barometer of  
the political thinking or behavior of American Jews ... To be sure, the overwhelming majority of  
American Jews care deeply about Israel’s security and wellbeing. But that concern does not translate for  
most of them into mindless support for the policies of Israeli governments that seem to undermine  
Israel’s security. ... Accusations .... that Carter is indifferent to Israel’s security only proves that no good  
deed goes unpunished. Arguably the single most important contribution to Israel’s security by far was  
the removal of Egypt — possessing the most powerful military forces in the Arab world — from the  
Arab axis that was intent on the destruction of the State of Israel in its early years. ... The magnitude of  
that accomplishment places the pettiness of the critics of President Carter and his latest book in proper  
In January, Mr. Carter spoke at Brandeis University of his hurt at the personal attacks that followed  
publication of his book. “This is the first time that I’ve ever been called a liar and a bigot and an anti-  
Semite and a coward and a plagiarist,” said Carter. “This has hurt me.”  
According to The Washington Post (Jan. 24, 2007): “Carter spoke of Israel’s decision to build barriers  
and set aside certain highways for Israelis only as creating a ‘spider web’ that constricts and divides  
historic Arab lands. The West Bank, he said, has become a place of ‘Bantustans, isolated cantons,’  
referring to the territories created for black South Africans under apartheid. He noted that many liberal  
Israelis ... also refer to Israeli policy on the West Bank as apartheid ... Israelis ‘have all used and  
explained the word ‘apartheid’ in much harsher words than mine,’ Carter said ... The former president  
received a mostly polite reception at Brandeis, a nonsectarian college founded by Jews where 50  
percent of the students are Jewish. Students and faculty gave him a standing ovation at the beginning  
and end of his talk. But in between he received a number of tough questions. As a moderator noted,  
‘There are not too many soft matzo balls coming your way.’”

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