Sunday, December 10, 2006
Wayne in ya brain young Carter:
I haven't read Jimmy Carter's Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, and from the reviews it's received, it certainly strikes me as a tendentious, if not malicious, polemic. But. Consider here a point Jeff Goldberg makes in his Washington Post review. Goldberg is commenting here on what he considers Carter's motivations in writing the book:
Why is Carter so hard on Israeli settlements and so easy on Arab aggression and Palestinian terror? Because a specific agenda appears to be at work here. Carter seems to mean for this book to convince American evangelicals to reconsider their support for Israel. Evangelical Christians have become bedrock supporters of Israel lately, and Carter marshals many arguments, most of them specious, to scare them out of their position. Hence [a certain anecdote], seemingly meant to show that Israel is not the God-fearing nation that religious Christians believe it to be.
Sadly, Goldberg doesn't devote space on the question of why Carter might want to cleave American evangelicals from Israel. Based on his review, one explanation might be a deep and blinkered hostility toward Israel, which Carter might consider beneath evangelicals. But given that the book appears to be a plea against the injustice of Israeli expansionism -- which Goldberg is right to point out has waned dramatically in the last five years -- there's another, simpler explanation available. In short, American evangelicals have been a powerful constituency for Israeli irredentism. Operating on a millenarianism as venal as anything motivating the settlement movement, evangelicals have for years demanded that Israel not give up an inch of biblical Israel, despite the moral and strategic disaster of the occupation, lest the messiah be dissuaded from appearing. My ex-boss Peter Beinart once wrote an insightful column about where this all leads:

[F]or Christian conservatives... Israel's interests cannot be defined pragmatically, because Israel's primary function is to clarify a larger worldview. Whether or not most evangelicals truly believe Israel's wars will usher in the Messianic Age, they are theologically conditioned to see its struggle as Manichaean. That's why [prominent evangelical Janet] Parshall believes Israel should annex the West Bank--an idea most Israeli hawks consider self-defeating: It would remove any ambiguity from Israel's claim to the land. As Oklahoma's James Inhofe, one of the Christian Right's closest allies in the Senate, put it last December in a speech entitled "An Absolute Victory": "God appeared to Abram and said, 'I am giving you this land'--the West Bank. This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true."

Christian conservatives dress up their support for Israel in the language of anti-terrorism and democracy. But they pay scant attention to the fight against terrorism in biblically insignificant countries like Sri Lanka, India, and the Philippines. And on Israel's behalf, they propose the most anti-democratic measures imaginable. In truth, there is no secular moral rationale for the Christian Right's support for Israel because, for the Christian Right, Israel's claims are moral only insofar as they are biblical. That runs counter to the mainstream Zionist tradition, one of the great achievements of which has been to establish moral claims to Jewish statehood--claims Israel incarnates as a liberal democratic state--that do not rely on scripture.

And it raises a question that Jewish allies of the Christian Right should ponder: What will people like Armey and Parshall do when Israel takes actions--such as leaving much of the West Bank--that undermine the biblical justification for its existence? Ultimately, if you don't love Israel for what it is, you can't be trusted to love it at all.

Now, it's probably too precious and exculpatory to suggest that Carter in any sense has a deeper love for Israel than most evangelicals. The relevant point is that, if Goldberg is correct that Carter seeks to drive a wedge between Israel and American evangelicals, it's probably because Carter recognizes that the evangelicals, despite their own faith traditions, seek to force Israel into a moral disaster -- one that, it should be remembered, has overwhelming security repercussions for the United States. This doesn't mean one should seek to turn American evangelicals -- or anyone, really -- actively hostile to Israel. But it does mean that evangelicals need to face up to the damage they are doing -- to Israel, to the Palestinians, and to America. Ultimately Israel's decisions are Israel's alone. But the reality is that Israel looks to the United States for a green light in the Palestinian territories, and the political power of the evangelical movement in the United States has kept that green light shining more often than can possibly be justified.

Goldberg writes that "t
he settlement movement has been a tragedy, of course." No, it hasn't been. It's been a vicious colonial enterprise, cynically exploited by Israeli politicians. Even though Goldberg is right to point out that it's exhausted, it's not a spent force, and it would be a mistake to believe that Israel's hold over the West Bank is merely determined by a question of when Israel can responsibly withdraw. It's easy to see why Carter is perturbed by all this, and it's important to say, again and again, that the United States has a first-order security interest in ending the occupation. Goldberg is no friend of the settlements, and if Carter's book is what he says it is, it appears to have gone beyond responsible criticism. But Goldberg might do well to reflect on what the settlements really mean for the United States. It's an issue that makes it hard to get very mad at Jimmy Carter.

--Spencer Ackerman
Apparently the book not very good.

The best thing I've heard about it is that Martin Peretz hates it almost as much as the Iraq Study Group Report, which is really just part of James Baker's "old war with the Israelis and the Jews."

The problem with what you call the American green light is that it distorts Israel's internal politics. If you glance at Haaretz you find that Israeli's have diverse and nuanced views on Arab-Israeli relations.Unfortunately, the perpetual green light in Washington will always embolden and empower the more hawkish currents there.

I think Progressive Zionists realize that although anti-Semites will always hate Israel (regardless it's policies) and although some critics will make impossible demands of the Jewish state, this does not excuse Israel from behaving as decently as it can.

Moreover, is it not possible to recognize - without excusing anti-Semitism - that the policies of the Israeli Right nourish anti-Semitism elsewhere, which in turn buttresses the position of the Right within Israel. [Just as the American Right benefits from the anti-American disdain of the cheese-eating Europeans.]
Blogger The Special | 8:09 PM

Goldberg is no friend of the settlements, and if Carter's book is what he says it is, it appears to have gone beyond responsible criticism

I'm not sure why you would believe anything Goldberg says, let alone his characterization of President Carter's book.
Blogger Matt | 9:58 AM

"I haven't read Jimmy Carter's Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid..."

'Nuff said.
Blogger adaplant | 10:25 AM

Spencer, please read the book and then post about it. I'm intrigued by your plural "reviews". Which ones of those have you read, because there haven't been many?

Or are you referring to the pre-publication (and pre-election) mass distancing and denunciation by Howard Dean, Nancy Pelosi, and other leading Dem lights?
Blogger Nell | 2:53 PM

Nell, you and Adaplant are right, of course: I should read a book I seek to comment on. I broke this rule simply to make a larger point that appeared to arise in Jeff's review. For my plural reviews, you're right as well to call me on that: I read Goldberg's and the WaPo piece on the controversy the book has engendered in the last few days, but not any others. I know, I know: read the effing book before opening my mouth.
Blogger Spencer Ackerman | 3:46 PM