Jimmy Carter: not good enough

I haven’t read Carter’s book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, but judging by his TV appearances there’s a real problem with his analysis—it’s not radical enough. And because the radical analysis is in fact the accurate analysis, the non-radical story Carter tells has some gaping holes in it. For instance, here he is on Hardball back in November:

PRESIDENT CARTER: So the persecution of the Palestinians now in the occupied territories under the occupation forces is one of the worst examples of human rights deprivation that I know. And I think it’s —

MR. SHUSTER: Even worse, though, than a place like Rwanda?…

PRESIDENT CARTER: I’m not going back into ancient history about Rwanda. Right now the persecution of the Palestinians is one of the worst examples of human rights abuse I know, because the Palestinians —

MR. SHUSTER: You’re talking about right now. You’re not talking about, say…

PRESIDENT CARTER: You can talk about Rwanda if you want to. I want to talk about Palestine. What is being done to the Palestinians now is horrendous in their own territory by the occupying powers, which is Israel.

This actually does seem shifty on his part, and leaves him open to criticism like that of Deborah Lipstadt:

Carter’s minimization of the Holocaust is compounded by his recent behavior. On MSNBC in December, he described conditions for Palestinians as “one of the worst examples of human rights deprivation” in the world. When the interviewer asked “Worse than Rwanda?” Carter said that he did not want to discuss the “ancient history” of Rwanda.

To give Carter the benefit of the doubt, let’s say that he meant an ongoing crisis. Is the Palestinians’ situation equivalent to Darfur, which our own government has branded genocide?

Here’s what Carter should have said:

While the situation in Palestine is very bad—far worse than most people in the U.S. know—it’s true it doesn’t compare to the genocide in Rwanda or Darfur.

But Americans should care about it, for several reasons. First, we’re paying for it, unlike Rwanda or Darfur. It wouldn’t happen without us. Second, it’s the source for enormous hatred toward the U.S. in the Muslim world. This means would-be terrorists can think—as Osama bin Laden did with 9/11—that casting themselves as champions of the Palestinians will make them politically popular if they attack the U.S. So it’s really a matter of life and death for Americans.

It’s also important to understand why many in the third world, Muslim and not, feel so strongly about Palestine. Here in the U.S. people often ask exactly the question you just did about why it gets so much attention, when on an absolute scale it’s not close to something like Darfur. No one here ever gives an honest answer, which leads some well-meaning individuals to believe there really is a double-standard for Israel, perhaps due to anti-Semitism.

So let me give an honest answer, even though it’s one many people won’t like. It’s this—in Europe and the U.S., we look at the past few hundred years and see two great evils: fascism and communism. But for most places on earth, there have been three great evils: fascism, communism, and colonialism. The colonization of the world by Europe and the U.S. killed tens of millions, just as many people as fascism and communism. It was just as cruel. If you ever doubt this, read up on what Belgium did to the Congo, or the British to Tasmania.

And whether it’s fair or not, to people in the third world, Israel is a symbol of colonialism. That’s not going to change. And they see it just as the victims of fascism would see a fascist state, or the victims of communism would see a communist state.

I realize it’s very difficult for Americans to get their minds around all this, but we have to, both for our own sake and the sake of the world.

Of course, Planet Earth would have exploded if a U.S president had said that on live national television. So maybe we should be grateful he didn’t. Still, Carter’s case will never be convincing as long as he leaves this out.