click here to jump to start of article
Join Our Newsletter

Get latest articles and videos with Jewish inspiration and insights​

Jimmy Carter's Jewish Problem

Jimmy Carter's Jewish Problem

Carter has repeatedly fallen back on traditional anti-Semitic canards.


It is hard to criticize an icon. Jimmy Carter's humanitarian work has saved countless lives. Yet his life has also been shaped by the Bible, where the Hebrew prophets taught us to speak truth to power. So I write.

Carter's book "Palestine : Peace Not Apartheid," while exceptionally sensitive to Palestinian suffering, ignores a legacy of mistreatment, expulsion and murder committed against Jews. It trivializes the murder of Israelis. Now, facing a storm of criticism, he has relied on anti-Semitic stereotypes in defense.

When an Ahmadinejad or Hamas threatens to destroy Israel, Jews have historical precedent to believe them. Jimmy Carter either does not understand this or considers it irrelevant.

One cannot ignore the Holocaust's impact on Jewish identity and the history of the Middle East conflict. When an Ahmadinejad or Hamas threatens to destroy Israel, Jews have historical precedent to believe them. Jimmy Carter either does not understand this or considers it irrelevant.

His book, which dwells on the Palestinian refugee experience, makes two fleeting references to the Holocaust. The book contains a detailed chronology of major developments necessary for the reader to understand the current situation in the Middle East . Remarkably, there is nothing listed between 1939 and 1947. Nitpickers might say that the Holocaust did not happen in the region. However, this event sealed in the minds of almost all the world's people then the need for the Jewish people to have a Jewish state in their ancestral homeland. Carter never discusses the Jewish refugees who were prevented from entering Palestine before and after the war. One of Israel 's first acts upon declaring statehood was to send ships to take those people "home."

A guiding principle of Israel is that never again will persecuted Jews be left with no place to go. Israel's ideal of Jewish refuge is enshrined in laws that grant immediate citizenship to any Jew who requests it. A Jew, for purposes of this law, is anyone who, had that person lived in Nazi Germany, would have been stripped of citizenship by the Nuremberg Laws.

Compare Carter's approach with that of Rashid Khalidi, head of Columbia University's Middle East Institute and a professor of Arab studies there. His recent book "The Iron Cage" contains more than a dozen references to the seminal place the Holocaust and anti-Semitism hold in the Israeli worldview. This from a Palestinian who does not cast himself as an evenhanded negotiator.

In contrast, by almost ignoring the Holocaust, Carter gives inadvertent comfort to those who deny its importance or even its historical reality, in part because it helps them deny Israel's right to exist. This from the president who signed the legislation creating the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum .

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?

Carter has repeatedly fallen back -- possibly unconsciously -- on traditional anti-Semitic canards. In the Los Angeles Times last month, he declared it "politically suicide" for a politician to advocate a "balanced position" on the crisis. On Al-Jazeera TV, he dismissed the critique of his book by declaring that "most of the condemnations of my book came from Jewish-American organizations." Jeffrey Goldberg, who lambasted the book in The Post last month, writes for the New Yorker. Ethan Bronner, who in the New York Times called the book "a distortion," is the Times' deputy foreign editor. Slate's Michael Kinsley declared it "moronic." Dennis Ross, who was chief negotiator on the conflict in the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, described the book as a rewriting and misrepresentation of history. Alan Dershowitz teaches at Harvard and Ken Stein at Emory. Both have criticized the book. Because of the book's inaccuracies and imbalance and Carter's subsequent behavior, 14 members of the Carter Center's Board of Councilors have resigned -- many in anguish because they so respect Carter's other work. All are Jews. Does that invalidate their criticism -- and mine -- or render us representatives of Jewish organizations?

When David Duke spouts it, I yawn. When Jimmy Carter does, I shudder.

On CNN, Carter bemoaned the "tremendous intimidation in our country that has silenced" the media. Carter has appeared on C-SPAN, "Larry King Live" and "Meet the Press," among many shows. When a caller to C-SPAN accused Carter of anti-Semitism, the host cut him off. Who's being silenced?

Perhaps unused to being criticized, Carter reflexively fell back on this kind of innuendo about Jewish control of the media and government. Even if unconscious, such stereotyping from a man of his stature is noteworthy. When David Duke spouts it, I yawn. When Jimmy Carter does, I shudder.

Others can enumerate the many factual errors in this book. A man who has done much good and who wants to bring peace has not only failed to move the process forward but has given refuge to scoundrels.

This op-ed originally appeared in The Washington Post.

January 27, 2007

Give Tzedakah! Help create inspiring
articles, videos and blogs featuring timeless Jewish wisdom.
The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 33

(33) tom42, June 8, 2014 3:50 PM

What if....

What if Carter or Clinton were president in the 1933-1945 period instead of FDR?
A bit scary to think about.

(32) Anonymous , July 26, 2012 11:07 PM

Jimmy Carter is actively working against Israel. The Carter Center recieves money from Arab governments. As president, America became weakened and the Soviet Union reached the peak of its power. Is there some requirement that nobel peace prize winners be politically disappointing?

(31) Jill, February 18, 2007 10:08 PM

The Plot Thickens

I just saw a video of past President Carter in which he sounds like he totally contradicts what he once said. He used to be against funding terror organizations but now says Hamas was elected in a democratic election so Canada (which he claims has stopped their funding) should continue funding them.
Hitler was elected too.
No people who are associated with terrorists should have been allowed on any ballot! Isn't there enough oil money to fund them? We should be freezing their funds. Why should USA fund an organization who openly hates it? Carter has made a 360 degree turn and got twisted out of shape in the process.

(30) Anonymous, February 6, 2007 3:26 AM

Excellent article. But doesn't go far enough. You might note that
Arabs actively participated in the Holocaust. The Mahdi ( top muslim
leader) made a number of trips to Nazi Germany, visiting Hitler &
Himler. He recruited thousands of Arabs to serve in a special Arab
SS division & was appointed an SS general. He was very active in
the mideast, promoting the idea that any good muslim should be on the
side of the Axis . This was all ignored & covered up by the US &
other Allies during & after WWII because we needed their
oil. This whole issue is bizarre to me because it seems too
clear cut to even be a debate. I would compare it to myself as an
individual resident of Texas. If one or more persons made repeated &
clear statements that they desired & intended to kill me & all my
family, they would be convicted & jailed. If they then showed up on
my property with weapons & took any hostile action, I could & would
shoot & kill any or all of them. And it is extremely unlikely that
I would even be charged, since it would be clear self defense. How does this differ from Israel's situation ??

(29) Anonymous, February 5, 2007 2:59 AM

My fellow Jews and I see Carter for what he is.Showing his true colors cause age won't aid him to hide his beliefs.

See All Comments

Submit Your Comment:

  • Display my name?

  • Your email address is kept private. Our editor needs it in case we have a question about your comment.

  • * required field 2000
Submit Comment