“It’s hard” Deborah Lipstadt writes in today’s Post, “to criticize an icon.” Not really. It’s only hard if you confuse the icon with the icon’s argument, as she has in an abysmal op-ed that adds nothing of substance to the controversy surrounding Jimmy Carter’s recent book about peace in the Middle East, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. The reason this review adds nothing of substance lies in its insistence on ignoring the kinds of things that make claims such as Carter’s wrong, such as errors of fact and errors of reasoning. On the former Ms.Lipstadt writes, “Others can enumerate the many factual errors in this book.”
But it’s easy to criticize this review. Here are two examples.
Lipstadt criticizes Carter for not discussing the Holocaust in his book about Israel and Palestine. But the President who actually attempted to do something about peace in the Middle East and elsewhere, and the President who signed the legislation creating the Holocaust museum in Washington D.C., does not need to establish his credibility on Holocaust related questions. Besides, his failure to mention the Holocaust in a book about the current state of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians doesn’t constitute some kind of gross oversight–it represents rather a focus on questions relevant to the treatment of the Palestinians, who were not Nazis in a past life. Whatever current idiocy issues forth from the mouth of Iran’s Prime Minister Ahmadinejad or Hamas or Saddam or whoever is a separate matter from the Nazi Holocaust.
Second, Lipstadt damns Israel with faint praise:
>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.
Well, Rwanda was horrible. So probably no. And that’s a dumb thing to say about Rwanda. But it’s dumbness however colossal doesn’t do anything to excuse Israel. She only makes it worse when she mentions Darfur:
>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?
No, let’s say it’s not equivalent–it’s only half as bad. It’s failure not to be as bad as Darfur doesn’t get Israel off the hook, and it doesn’t meant that Carter is wrong to claim that the policies of the state of Israel violate human rights.
It would be pointless here to go into Lipstadt’s accusations of anti-semitism willing or not against Jimmy Carter for his criticisms of the media. I’ll let Eric Alterman do that for me.
And if you read that, you’ll notice that Alterman doesn’t like the book either–but it least he talks about the book: “to tell you the truth, it’s not much of a book. I looked for a segment I could excerpt on my website and couldn’t find anything that was really worthy. It’s simplistic and homiletic and gives only part of the story most of the time. Jimmy Carter is in some ways a great man, and in almost all ways a good man, but he’s not much of a historian.”
**minor edits for clarity–3:08pm.