Carter Book on Israel 'Apartheid' Sparks Bitter Debate
Thursday, December 7, 2006
A veteran Middle East scholar affiliated with the Carter Center in Atlanta resigned his position there Monday in an escalating controversy over former president Jimmy Carter's bestselling book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," traces the ups and downs of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process beginning with Carter's 1977-1980 presidency and the historic peace accord he negotiated between Israel and Egypt and continuing to the present. Although it apportions blame to Israel, the Palestinians and outside parties -- including the United States -- for the failure of decades of peace efforts, it is sharply critical of Israeli policy and concludes that "Israel's continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land."
Kenneth W. Stein, a professor at Emory University, accused Carter of factual errors, omissions and plagiarism in the book. "Being a former President does not give one a unique privilege to invent information," Stein wrote in a harshly worded e-mail to friends and colleagues explaining his resignation as the center's Middle East fellow.
Stein offered no specifics in his e-mail to back up the charges, writing only that "in due course, I shall detail these points and reflect on their origins."
A statement issued by the center yesterday in Carter's name said he regretted Stein's resignation "from the titular position as a Fellow" and noted that he had not been "actively involved" there for the past 12 years. Carter thanked Stein for his advice and assistance "during the early years of our Center" and wished him well.
While acknowledging that the word "apartheid" refers to the system of legal racial separation once used in South Africa, Carter says in his book that it is an appropriate term for Israeli policies devoted to "the acquisition of land" in Palestinian territories through Jewish settlements and Israel's incorporation of Palestinian land on its side of a separating wall it is erecting.
He criticizes suicide bombers and those who "consider the killing of Israelis as victories" but also notes that "some Israelis believe they have the right to confiscate and colonize Palestinian land and try to justify the sustained subjugation and persecution of increasingly hopeless and aggravated Palestinians."
Accusing the Bush administration of abandoning the effort to promote a lasting peace, he calls for renewed negotiations on the basis of security guarantees for Israel and Israel's recognition of U.N.-established borders.
Formally published three weeks ago, the book quickly became a bestseller. Carter has been prominently interviewed in the media and has been mobbed at book appearances around the country.
Speaking Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press," he said he was glad the book had raised controversy. "If it provokes debate and assessment and disputes and arguments and maybe some action in the Middle East to get the peace process, which is now completely absent or dormant, rejuvenated, and brings peace ultimately to Israel, that's what I want," he said.
Criticism of the book, primarily from Jewish groups and leaders, began even before it was published, and it became an issue in the midterm elections last month. The New York-based Jewish Daily Forward noted in October that Democrats were trying to distance themselves from its reported contents as Republicans were seeking to widely disseminate Carter's views in an effort to win Jewish votes.
Speaking to the Forward about Carter, Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matthew Brooks said the coalition had "not shied away from shining a light on some of his misguided and outrageous comments about Israel in the past. . . . So far, there's been nothing but silence on the part of the Democratic establishment in terms of holding Carter accountable."
Rep. Steve Israel, a Democrat from New York, told the Forward that the "book clearly does not reflect the direction of the party."
Since then, the controversy has only grown. In a widely published commentary last weekend, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz wrote that Carter's "use of the loaded word 'apartheid,' suggesting an analogy to the hated policies of South Africa, is especially outrageous."
In a statement issued Monday, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles contended that Carter "abandons all objectivity and unabashedly acts as a virtual spokesman for the Palestinian cause."
In a telephone interview yesterday, Stein said that Carter had "taken [material] directly" from a published work written by a third party but that legal action was being contemplated and he was not yet at liberty to make the details public. He said accounts in the book about meetings he had attended with Carter between 1980 and 1990 had left out key facts in order to "make the Israelis look like they're the only ones responsible" for the failure of peace efforts.