Criticizing an icon

“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.

One thought on “Criticizing an icon”

  1. I was born and raised in Georgia and have followed President Carter’s political activities all my adult life. I write simply as a concerned citizen. President Carter’s “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid” is a serious argument for peace and justice between Israel and the Palestinians. It is recommended reading for all citizens concerned about the issue of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians and the Middle East in general. I think “apartheid” is an appropriate word for what Israel has imposed between the Palestinians. President Carter has said that his argument is not that the Israeli practice is based on a notion of Palestinian racial inferiortiy, but land grab policy. It is ironic, however, that the Israeli government did support the white apartheid government of South Africa, where white supremacy was a core value. I think the American people know that President Carter is deeply committed to peace, nonviolence, and justice. More than any other public leader today, I identify President Carter’s work for peace, nonviolence and justice on the international level with that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Like Dr. King, President Carter’s life too has been shaped by the Bible in a progressive and admirable way. His critics all seem to acknowledge this, but then try to construe this a source of blindness in his understanding of what Israel has done on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza. Also, President Carter is right, despite denials by Ms. Lipstadt and others, that there is a culture of self-censorship and intimidation around the subject of Israel. I think journalists, politicians as well as scholars know this all too well. I hope that all Americans who are committed to peace and justice between Israel and the Palestininans will speak out and appland President Carter for his continuing contribution. I think History will judge President Carter the peacemaker and man of justice that walks among us now. I wish more American politicians, journalists and scholars would find the courage to overcome the intimidation that emanates from old patterns of violence and political domination. In conclusion, I have been deeply affected by the courage exhibited by President Carter in his book and his longstanding struggle for peace and justice in the Middle East. I have been moved to gather the courage and speak out also. I will try to do so with the courage and concern for justice displayed by Dr. Martin Luther King and President Jimmy Carter.

Comments are closed.