Parsing Carter’s apology


At The American Thinker, Ethel Fenig doesn’t quite buy Jimmy Carter’s apology to the Jewish community for stigmatizing Israel, noting that around the same time he was reaching out to the JTA —

–the British Guardian published an op-ed by the very same Jimmy Carter, "Gaza Must Be Rebuilt Now," stigmatizing Israel and blaming the country for causing suffering in Gaza. And rejecting peace (implied in his "apology" when he stated he would "help Israel continue to improve its relations with its Arab populations" but not demanding anything of Arabs/Muslims).

Oh sure, he’ll claim he is being balanced but while he’s shedding crocodile tears at the plight of Gaza, still unbuilt a year after Israel’s defensive war to stop the downpour of death and destruction from the deadly missiles fired from there, he utters not a word about the terror from  Gaza that precipitated it.

Read Carter’s piece and his apology and judge for yourself. I would note that in his interview with me yesterday, he did mention his concerns about the effect on Gazans of the closure imposed by Israel and Egypt, in the course of explaining that he would not stop delivering criticism where it is due. I didn’t include it in the story, but this is what he said:

I have been quite critical of Israel’s not permitting building materials to go into Gaza.

So he’s not exactly a hypocrite, or bipolar, as Fenig suggests. (Hey, it’s the American Thinker.)

On the other hand, she has a point: While Carter strives for balance in the Guardian piece, implicitly blaming each side for the stall in the piece talks (he was tougher on the Palestinians in our interview, accusing them of "recalcitrance" for insisting on a total settlement freeze), he assigns responsibility for restarting the talks to only one party, Israel:

Since Israel has rejected the freeze and the Palestinians won’t negotiate without it, a logical step is for all Quartet members (the US, EU, Russia and UN) to support the Obama proposal by declaring any further expansion of settlements illegal and refusing to veto UN security council decisions to condemn such settlements. This might restrain Israel and also bring Palestinians to the negotiating table.

The striving for balance in naming the responsible parties and acts for the impasse is welcome; but the international community (particularly Arab nations) also have leverage with the Palestinians. I’m not endorsing pressure either way, but surely, if one side is susceptible and deserving, so is the other.

He also does not explain why restraining Israel would necessarily bring the Palestinians to the table; might it not encourage them to hold out for more, as in "Evacuate settlements and we’ll talk"?

UPDATE: Rabbi Brad Hirschfield of CLAL also weighs in at The Washington Post’s Web site:

he remarks should be welcomed especially in light of both the healing they could bring and the deep awareness of Jewish liturgical tradition which they reflect. I wonder in fact how many Jews would reach for the penitentiary prayer, Al Het ,as their model for public apology. Yet here we have a devout Baptist, sufficiently learned and comfortable in a tradition not his own, doing so. That alone is noteworthy.

Like many of Mr. Carters past comments, his words appear well-intentioned and sincerely offered. And yet, like so many of his past utterances, these latest mix profound sensitivity with much potentially unhelpful ideological baggage.

What doesn’t sit well with Hirschfield?

For starters, who is the "we" to whom he refers? If it is only himself, then he should say "I" and be done with it. Doing otherwise distances him from the responsibility he claims to take. On the other hand, if he is speaking for others, it would be helpful to know for whom he speaks. Are his comments also an admission that he has rallied a great many people to a position which he now regrets having taken? If so, that too should be noted.

It’s also somewhat troubling that his comments are offered to the "Jewish community". His past comments, which attacked Israel as an apartheid state and worse, were not problematic because they offended Jews; they were problematic because they were rooted in faulty comparisons and flawed analyses of very complex realities that did not fit with Carter’s idealized understandings of "big bad Israel" and "good little Palestine".

Still, the rabbi sounded an optimistic note:

One hopes that with these newest comments, the former President is moving from a continuous cycle of idealization followed by disappointment to a realistic embrace of the moral complexity of life in Israel. And it could be that his reference to the Al Het signals that move.

Recommended from JTA