Carter book on Palestine challenged by former colleague
ATLANTA (BP)--A longtime adviser to President Jimmy Carter has made a highly publicized break with Carter over the former president’s latest book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”
Emory University professor Kenneth Stein resigned Dec. 5 as a Middle East Fellow at the Carter Center, the nonprofit organization Carter founded after leaving office in 1981.
“Being a former president does not give one a unique privilege to invent information or to unpack it with cuts, deftly slanted to provide a particular outlook,” Stein said. “Having little access to Arabic and Hebrew sources, I believe, clearly handicapped his understanding and analyses of how history has unfolded over the last decade.”
Stein served as the Carter Center’s first executive director from 1983-93 and directed its first major event in 1983, a Middle East consultation.
Stein told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he decided to resign after reading Carter’s book the last week of November.
Released Nov. 14 by Simon & Schuster, the book is 18th in sales on Amazon.com’s rankings. The site includes 126 reader reviews as of Dec. 7, some praising it and others highly critical of it.
Stein accompanied the president on three Middle Eastern trips in the 1980s and -– according to the Journal-Constitution –- once said of Carter: “He did more to bring Israelis and Arabs together than any other president.”
Founded by Carter and his wife, Rosalyn, in partnership with Emory University, the Carter Center describes its focus as advancing peace and health worldwide. On its website, the center states that it has helped improve life for people in more than 65 nations through such means as disease prevention, resolving conflicts and economic opportunity.
In a Dec. 5 letter to Carter, Stein said the book is not based on “unvarnished” analyses.
“It is replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions and simply invented segments,” Stein wrote in the letter, which also was addressed to Emory University President Jim Wagner and John Hardman, the Carter Center’s current executive director.
“Aside from the one-sided nature of the book, meant to provoke, there are recollections cited from meetings where I was the third person in the room. My notes of those meetings show little similarity to points claimed in the book,” Stein wrote.
If repeated often enough, falsehoods become “meta-truths,” Stein added, which then can become the erroneous baseline for shaping and reinforcing attitudes and drafting policy.
Noting that the history and interpretation of the Arab-Israeli conflict is already drowning in half-truths, suppositions and self-serving myths, Stein said more are not necessary.
While not citing specifics, Stein said “in due course” he would detail these points and reflect on their origins.
Stein’s letter also noted that he had nothing to do with the research, preparation, writing or review of the new Carter book.
“My continued association with the center leaves the impression that I am sanctioning a series of egregious errors and polemical conclusions which appeared in President Carter’s book,” Stein wrote. “I cannot allow that impression to stand.”
In a statement, Carter said he regretted the resignation, calling Stein “one of the finest teachers I have ever known.”
Carter added that the professor had been of great help as an adviser on Middle East affairs during the center’s early years and as a friend.
“If Ken has read my latest book, he knows that, as the book’s title makes clear, [it] is devoted to circumstances and events in Palestine and not in Israel, where democracy prevails and citizens live together and are legally guaranteed equal status,” the former president said.
“I would like to confirm his statement that he was not involved in the writing the text or the choice of a title,” Carter said.
In a Dec. 3 appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” the nation’s 39th president said he was glad the book had stirred 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,” Carter said, according to a story in The Washington Post.
The Post reported that while acknowledging “apartheid” refers to the system of racial segregation once used in South Africa, Carter’s book calls that an appropriate term for Israeli policies devoted to the acquisition of land in Palestinian territories.
According to the book, the “apartheid” occurs through Jewish settlements and Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land on its side of a separating wall it is building.
Although Carter criticizes suicide bombers and others who “consider the killing of Israelis as victories,” his book also criticizes the Israelis who believe they have a right to confiscate and colonize Palestinian land.
The controversy appears to have done little to stem the public’s appetite for the book. In a Dec. 7 report, the Atlanta newspaper said that some 700 people lined up the previous day for a book signing at Books-A-Million in suburban Gwinnett County, northeast of Atlanta.
“I think it is the boldest thing an ex-president has ever done,” Muhammad Aljariri of Jordan told the Journal-Constitution. “He wrote a book about Palestine and the suffering that they have been through. There has not been one day of peace since [President Bill] Clinton left office.”
“It is about time that someone has come out and said that the Palestinian side has always been swept under the carpet,” added Asa Ackall, a native of Ramallah. “This is the first time that somebody has shown proof that there is extremely racist policies against the Palestinians.”
However, Jewish groups are harshly critical of the book.
David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, called its inflammatory title a case of false advertising.
It conjures up comparisons with apartheid South Africa, even though Carter never makes the comparison, Harris said in an editorial written for the Jerusalem Post.
“It thus is startling that a former president who prides himself on his ongoing contribution to world peace would write a crude polemic that compromises any pretense to objectivity and fairness,” Harris wrote.
“Many Israelis, including those that once greatly admired his role in fostering peace with Egypt, may never again trust Carter’s diplomacy, including his vaunted role as an election advisor. He can no longer claim to be an honest broker.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles also criticized Carter for abandoning objectivity and “unabashedly” acting as a virtual spokesman for the Palestinian cause.
Citing four key points in Carter’s book and offering rebuttals to each one, the center encouraged supporters to e-mail messages that it plans to forward to the Carter Center.
“There is no Israeli apartheid policy and President Carter knows it,” the center said in a statement posted on its website.
“We therefore urge you to join with the Simon Wiesenthal Center in respectfully reminding him that the real reason there is no peace in the Middle East is because of continued Palestinian terrorism and fanaticism.”
Jim Sibley, director of the Pasche Institute at Criswell College in Dallas and former director of Jewish ministries with the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board, asked by Baptist Press for comment, stated in an e-mail:
“When Jimmy Carter was first elected president, even those of us who disagreed with him politically could take some measure of pride that ‘one of our own’ had been elected to the nation’s highest office. His presidency, however, indicated that he was not really ‘one of us,’ and his stated positions since then have only confirmed that,” Sibley wrote. “He has not only rejected the inerrancy of Scripture, but expressed doubt about the validity of the miracles in the Bible, denied that faith in Christ is necessary for salvation, and supported ‘abortion rights’ and ‘homosexual rights.’ It comes as no surprise that his latest book should charge the state of Israel with a racist agenda when the radical Islamists are the ones with the racial agenda.
“Whether Carter should be labeled as an anti-Semite I leave to others, but this book certainly seems to be energizing anti-Semites,” Sibley wrote. “The Bible means what it says, and it says there is no other way to be saved than through faith in Christ. It also says God will bless those who bless the people of Israel and curse those who curse them. For Southern Baptists who accept the truthfulness and authority of the Bible, both are statements of God’s truth.”