One of America’s great healers was driven past me Tuesday on the way to his final resting place: President Ford, his body in a casket surrounded by police motorcades. The elegant hearse was preceded by the current president riding in a black limousine. Hundreds of mourners and onlookers lined the streets, bidding their final farewell to a former president.
So it was for Ronald Reagan.
Before long, another president will go — Jimmy Carter. Now 82, Carter, a deeply religious man, is facing his own mortality and trying to clear his accounts before God. He is a former president, yet he is profoundly human. I had long admired Carter, beginning when I campaigned for him during my high school mock election and when I was one of his students at Emory University.
He now seems to be realizing that there is also a limit to his days on Earth and wants to set the record straight by championing a message that he believes to be egalitarian. In fact, it is just another form of racism.
On New Year’s Eve, a time when many search their inner hearts, a column Carter wrote was published in the religion section of The Washington Post. It was called “Faith, Commitments and Mideast Peace.” What he wrote, perhaps inadvertently, shone a laser beam onto his own soul and may have revealed a new injustice — reverse racism — that has led him to anti-Israel sentiments. He may mistakenly believe his new mission to be a part of his personal redemption.
Carter’s New Year’s Eve piece sums up his political views through the lens of his childhood.
“Our life’s priorities are affected by our personal experiences,” he wrote. “I grew up as a farm boy in the segregated South, and all my early playmates and friends were black. Of the five adults who shaped my life, other than my parents, only two of them were white. My future political commitments were shaped by my aversion to the official discrimination that I condoned in my youth.”
To Carter, everything now may be about purging himself before his God from the racist sins of his youth. But in so doing, he may have unwittingly embraced a new racism in which he views every challenge as a struggle between dark- and light-skinned people, automatically assuming that those with darker skin are the oppressed and those with lighter skin are the oppressors.
Carter pretended to be objective while serving as an elections observer in a messy scandal that helped bring the dark-skinned Hugo Chavez to power in Venezuela in an election fraught with irregularities. I was in Venezuela during those elections and met with Carter again. I was struck by how captivated he was by Chavez’s campaign to bring the darker-skinned “real Venezuelans” to power over the “gringo” oligarchs.
Chavez is now rightfully seen as a thorn in America’s side and a danger to stability worldwide. But with Carter’s help and blessings, he defeated a better-qualified and more experienced light-skinned, blue-eyed candidate, Gov. Henrique Salas Romer. Carter seemed to feel that somehow, solely by virtue of skin color, the people of Venezuela had been liberated.
Carter recently published a book about the conflict in the Middle East in which he uses the word “apartheid” in the title and casts the Palestinians as the wronged blacks of his own youth.
True, many Palestinians are suffering mightily and deserve a better life. But their main oppressors are not the Israelis whom Carter classifies as white racists. Carter’s portrayal of the “Israeli oppressors” vs. “Palestinian oppressed” fails to consider the other side. Israelis also are oppressed, every day of their lives, by the threat of terrorism, by a nuclear Iran vowing to annihilate them, by the murder of innocent Israeli citizens by groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas, and by a historic animosity to Israel’s very existence by regional dictatorships that have the capacity to mobilize armies much larger than the entire population of Israel.
The challenges faced by the typically darker-skinned Palestinians have nothing to do with race or the segregation of Carter’s Georgia childhood. They are largely due to the failures of Palestinian and other Arab leaders to accept a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians live side by side in peace. From the theft of millions of dollars of aid to the Palestinian people by Yasser Arafat, to the second intifada that has only harmed their own cause, the real oppression of the Palestinian people stems not from Israeli racism, but from a Palestinian leadership that has failed its people.
If there is a heaven, I am sure God has a place for Jimmy Carter, who on balance has worked to make the world a better place. However, as Carter faces his final years and eventually his own judgment day, he can clean his accounts for having condoned racism against blacks in his youth. But in so doing, he needs to ensure that he is not espousing discrimination against new groups, whether they are in Latin America or the Middle East.
(Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi is founder and president of The Israel Project.)
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.