Thursday, December 28, 2006

On Carter on Israel, Palestine, and Apartheid

Any present or past President has got to be used to being scorned, so the hue and cry now erupting over Jimmy Carter's new book on the Israeli-Palestinian misery can't be terribly surprising for him. I haven't yet had a chance to read the book and so am not in a position to endorse or reject or somewhere-in-the-middle it. Still, some of the reaction is so clearly based on attacking Carter himself, rather than the content of his book--indeed it seems to be attacking Carter instead of attacking his arguments--and that's just plain wrong. An example.

Neal Sher's op-ed at the JTA: Global News Service of the Jewish People is a classic attempt at a hatchet job. Sher asserts (without a single example or refutation) that Carter bases his book, at least in part, on factual errors. But much more than that is the strained logic Sher uses to insinuate that Carter is a Nazi sympathizer--which is indeed exactly what he clearly implies. This is a very serious, even dangerous, implication, because exaggerated crying "wolf" over anti-Semitism results in people being likely to ignore true instances of that wretched prejudice.

In order to paint Carter as a Nazi sympathizer, Sher tells the story of the time he was working for the Office of Special Investigations, "the Justice Department's Nazi prosecution unit," on the case of a former Nazi SS officer, Martin Bartesch. (By the way, Sher would subsequently be disbarred from the District of Columbia bar for embezzling money from a Holocaust victims fund. Sher was never criminally charged, but apparently there was enough evidence to cause the DC bar to strip him of his lawyerly status.)

Sher writes that

Bartesch's family and 'supporters,' seeking special relief, launched a campaign to discredit OSI while trying to garner political support. Indeed, OSI received numerous inquiries from members of Congress who had been approached. After we explained the facts of the case, however, the matter inevitably was dropped; no one urged that Bartesch or his family be accorded any special treatment.

Sher makes no implication that these numerous members of Congress have a hidden pro-Nazi aggenda. Yet when Carter does essentially the exact same thing--merely forwarding a letter from Bartesch's daughter with a short added scribble urging OSI to allow for "humanitarian considerations"--somehow Carter is at minimum excessively naive or at most revealing some long-festering, pro-Nazi anti-Semitism.

In September 1987, after all of the gruesome details of the case had been made public and widely reported in the media, I received a letter sent by Bartesch's daughter to the former president.... I was ... taken aback by the personal, handwritten note Jimmy Carter sent to me seeking "special consideration" for this Nazi SS murderer. There on the upper-right corner of Bartesch's daughter's letter was a note to me in the former president's handwriting, and with his signature, urging that "in cases such as this, special consideration can be given to the families for humanitarian reasons."


As disturbing as I found Carter's plea, and although his attempted intervention has always gnawed at me, I chalked it up at the time to a certain naivete on the part of the former president. But now, in light of Carter's most recent writings and comments, I am left to wonder whether it was I who was naive simply to dismiss his knee-jerk appeal as the instinctive reaction of a well-meaning but misguided humanitarian.


The exposure of Carter's views on Israel and the Jewish lobby has shed a clearer light on his attempt to influence me in the Bartesch case. We know from his own confession that he has had lust in his heart. Unfortunately, he has given us ample reason to wonder what else is lurking there.

Apparently Sher wants you to believe that Carter day dreams of saluting "Sig Heil" and goose stepping through the nearest synagogue.

Sher does not say what he did in response to Carter's scribbled note on Bartesch's daughter's letter. While Sher apparently responded to the Congressional inquirers with explanations of why Bartesch's case required serious action, to which the Congress members responded with approval (or dropped the issue without response), did he reply to Carter and offer a similar explanation of OSI's position? If he did not, then doesn't that imply that at the time he didn't take Carter's interest to be serious, that perhaps he interpreted Carter as just doing a minor favor to molify a pleading woman? And if he did respond to Carter at the time, why doesn't he say so, and why doesn't he say what Carter's reaction was? Could it be that Carter accepted OSI's position once he was more fully informed--just as the Congressional interlopers did--but that Sher avoids mentioning this because that would undermine the odious view of Carter Sher is creating in this op-ed?

Either way, it seems that Sher is trying to make a racially-tinged tempest in a teapot in order to create a connection between an apparently offhanded action of Carters twenty years ago and Carter's efforts today to sway public opinion regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. And what about all those other Congress people whom Sher seems to treat as fine and decent citizens despite their initial efforts on Bartesch's case? Is Sher simply waiting for any of them to write something critical of Israel, at which time he will accuse them of having been a stooge for the former Nazi?

Sher goes on to criticize the title of Carter's book. From what Christopher Hedges recently wrote in The Nation about the controversy over the book, Carter explicitly avoids describing Israel itself as an apartheid nation, and reserves the term only for the situation in the occupied territories. Frankly, the facts speak for themselves. Numerous observers of both South Africa and the territories have described the Palestinians as enduring something similar to, some say clearly worse than, the original Apartheid. And for that matter, while the conditions of forceful oppression are largely absent, the legal structure within Israel can--if one feels like doing so--quite reasonbly be described as apartheid-like: laws forbidding inter-religious marriages, laws forbidding ownership of land by non-Jews, laws forbidding many goverment benefits to non-Jews. So yeah, the title is confrontational, but it is not misleading and as for insulting, well, if the shoe fits...

Now, I think any critiques Sher makes must be judged on their merits (and I don't see much merit to those he lists in this op-ed), but for what it's worth, I'd also like to note that he is the former Executive Director of AIPAC, a group not generally viewed as moderate on issues of Israeli-Palestinian peace. In Hedge's Nation piece, he refers to former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the time that Rabin had realized that real efforts towards making peace were necessary. He describes Rabin's attitude towards the Jewish leadership in the U.S. as being expressly NOT supportive of Israel as a whole, but specifically supportive of Israel's hard right.

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.'

Sher was not at AIPAC at the time of this incident (he took the helm a year or two later), so perhaps Rabin would not have considered Sher a scumbag. Since Rabin was murdered by someone who shares the hard-right politics of people like Sher, we'll never know.

Regardless, since Sher refuses to debate with Carter on the substantive issues, will he devote himself fulltime to outing other Nazi sympathizers, like Desmond Tutu?


At 1:02 AM, Anonymous ron said...

As somebody who lived in Israel, I can tell you; lots of links you provide doesn't make sense. there is no way to judge any situation just by looking at one or two cases from dubious sourses.

I was born in Russia and understand how propaganda works. We have seen many " documents" and " documentaries" about America. Thanks God we didn't believe it...Unfortunetely in this country you have open society and there is a way to search and learn about issues from universities, serious researchers and so on, but people prefer to believe to jokers. Of course if you wish to believe propaganda and half truth- you can.
Just wanted to alert you, since i feel you are intelligent to understand. Looks like you formed an opinion and trying to justify it. Once again my recommendation to go to serious sources like Wikipedia at least. Regards.

At 6:32 PM, Blogger jte said...

Ron, thank you for your respectful response. Debates over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict do not always involve respectful communication--I admit that at times I have lost my own temper and said things I shouldn't have.

Anyhow, those of us in America also have learned something about propaganda over the years. One of the categories of propaganda that we have often been subjected to is the idea that Israel is a great democracy, that its government seeks a peaceful resolution to the conflict with its Arab neighbors, and that the occupation of Palestinian land is a necessity forced upon Israel, rather than a chosen situation that it insists on maintaining.

I have also spent a small amount of time in Israel and also in the West Bank and, very briefly, Gaza Strip. I have seen first hand some of the apartheid-like opression imposed by Israel on the Palestinians. I have seen Palestinian ambulances, carrying patients needing medical care, stopped arbitrarily and for long duration by Israeli roadblocks. I have heard Israelis angrily defend the use of torture and declare that all Palestinians deserve to be killed.

I know also that there are numerous Israelis who do not think such things, who honestly desire to live peacefully with Palestinian neighbors. I know that there are Palestinians who are equally filled with hatred towards Jewish Israelis, in addition to the majority who are quite willing to live as neighbors to Israel--but not willing to remain as occupied subjects.

My opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have changed over the years. While writing this post, yes, I was looking for links that could serve as background to my arguments; but I aimed to use sources that were legitimate for what they were supposed to be representing. I don't expect that any one of them would be read as TRUTH.

As for Wikipedia, here's their page on "Allegations of Israeli Apartheid". What I read there looks to be largely in agreement with what I argued in my post. For example, on the question of who and how commonly observers of Israel/Palestine have perceived aspects of apartheid, Wikipedia says:

Commentators who have used the term

* Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, used the analogy on a Christmas visit to Jerusalem, 25th Dec 1989 when he said in a Haaretz article, "I am a black South African, and if I were to change the names, a description of what is happening in Gaza and the West Bank could describe events in South Africa." In 2002, Tutu said that he was "very deeply distressed" by a visit to the Holy Land, adding that "it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa" and that he saw "the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about". Tutu also added that "Many South Africans are beginning to recognize the parallels to what we went through", and stated that a letter signed by several hundred other prominent Jewish South Africans had drawn an explicit analogy between apartheid and current Israeli policies.

* Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States, Camp David Accords negotiator, and Nobel Peace Prize winner wrote a book entitled Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid that criticizes Israel's policies in the Palestinian territories.

* Uri Davis, an Israeli-born academic and Jewish member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, wrote a book Israel: An Apartheid State (1987) that drew parallels between Israel and South Africa.

* John Dugard, a South African professor of international law and an ad hoc Judge on the International Court of Justice, serving as the Special Rapporteur for the United Nations on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories described the situation in the West Bank as "an apartheid regime ... worse than the one that existed in South Africa." Dugard has since become an outspoken critic of the separation barrier and of Israeli practices in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He has also commented on the fragmentation of the West Bank into areas "which increasingly resemble the Bantustans of South Africa".

* Hendrik Verwoerd, the prime minister of South Africa, widely considered the architect of South Africa's apartheid policies, stated in 1961 that "The Jews took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state,"

* Yakov Malik, the Soviet ambassador to the United Nations, accused Israel in December 1971 of promulgating a "racist policy of apartheid against Palestinians.

* Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security Agency (NSA) advisor to President Carter and currently a professor of American foreign policy at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies has said the absense of a resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict could lead to de facto apartheid and "two communities living side by side but repressively separated, with one enjoying prosperity and seizing the lands of the other, and the other living in poverty and deprivation."

Other prominent South African anti-apartheid activists have used apartheid comparisons to criticize the occupation of the West Bank, and particularly the construction of the separation barrier. These include Farid Esack, a Muslim writer who is currently William Henry Bloomberg Visiting Professor at Harvard Divinity School, Ronnie Kasrils, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Arun Ghandhi, Dennis Goldberg, and Breyten Breytenbach. Ronnie Kasrils and Max Ozinsky headed a list of hundreds of Jewish leaders in South Africa who wrote a June 2001 open letter comparing the occupation of Palestinian lands to Apartheid.

Israelis who have compared the separation plan to apartheid include political scientist Meron Benvenisti, Ami Ayalon, Israeli admiral and former leader of the Israel Security Agency, and journalist Amira Hass. Shulamit Aloni, former education minister and a former leader of Meretz, and Tommy Lapid, leader of the liberal Shinui and former Justice minister, used the term "apartheid" when describing a bill proposed by the government of Ariel Sharon to bar Arabs from buying homes in "Jewish townships" within Israel proper.

Michael Tarazi, a Palestinian proponent of the binational solution has argued that it is in Palestine's interest to "make this an argument about apartheid", to the extent of advocating Israeli settlement, "The longer they stay out there, the more Israel will appear to the world to be essentially an apartheid state".

At 9:42 AM, Blogger whodareswings said...

For the record Neil Sher is one of the bigger crooks and dumber and loathesome creatures walking God's earth. He was heavily into the Holocaust compensation racket until he was kicked out of his position for vacationing around the the world (with his wife) on Holocaust compensation monies. It's not without interest what happened to the other heroes of the compensation racket. Rabbi Israel Singer, CEO of the Holocaust industry, squirreled away World Jewish Congress monies in a secret Swiss bank account for his "retirement fund" and ran up a huge expense account in five-star hotels and first class travel, which he had to return after State Attorney-General Eliot Spitzer investigated his shenanigans. Burt Neuborne, the "pro bono" Holocaust huckster who served as lead attorney, was finally given a dressing down by the New York Times after he raked in $5 million from the German case and then asked for another $6 million from the Swiss case, all along having claimed that he was working gratis in memory of his prematurely deceased daughter (a rabbinical student). New York State Comptroller, Alan Hevesi, another heavy-hitter in the compensation racket, just lost his job due to misuse of public funds. And now this revolting rat named Sher has crawled back out of his sewer to besmirch Carter. How much is he getting paid this time around?

-Norman Finklestein

At 12:15 PM, Blogger jte said...

Mr. Finkelstein, if that's really you, you shouldn't be shy about your own writing on the matter. For subsequent readers, here are links to some of Mr. Finkelstein's articles on the Carter brouhaha:

Send in the Clowns

The Media Lynching of Jimmy Carter


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