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June 12, 2007

At Least He Recycles

Jimmy Carter's Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid has a number of factual errors and distortions that in a normal world would disqualify it as a work of non-fiction. (Apparently, the firewall between fact and fiction is a bit porous at Simon and Schuster.)

Nevertheless, Carter’s book does have one redeeming value -- it demonstrates the former president's commitment to recycling. Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid is filled with a number of passages should be somewhat familiar to readers of The Blood of Abraham, also authored by Carter and published by the University of Arkansas Press in 1985.


For example, on page 22 of Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Pres. Carter writes about how he and his wife Rosalyn prepared for their 1973 trip to Israel.

In preparing for this trip, we pored over maps and reviewed both the ancient and modern history of Israel. Our choice of how to spend the ten-day visit was a series of compromises because I was torn between the pleasure of visiting the Christian holy places I had always longed to see and the knowledge that I should concentrate on preparing for another political career. With only a handful of my closest friends knowing my dreams, I was seriously planning a future role as president.

This passage is quite similar to one that appears in The Blood of Abraham on page 21.

In preparing for this trip, Rosalyn and I had pored over maps and reviewed both the ancient and modern history of Israel. I was torn between the pleasure of visiting the Christian holy places I had longed to see as a child and the knowledge that I should be preparing for a future career. (At the time, my plans were known to only a small group of people and would not be revealed for another 18 months, when I announced my candidacy for President of the United States.) So our choice of how to spend the precious days in Israel was a series of compromises.

Carter also recycles his description of poor attendance at religious services at a kibbutz in Galilee. In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid¸ Carter writes:

The next morning was the Sabbath, and at the appointed time we entered the synagogue, said a silent prayer, and then stood quietly just inside the door. Only two other worshipers appear. When I asked if this was typical, Giora [Carter’s guide] gave a wry smile and shrugged his shoulders as if this was not important either way.

In The Blood of Abraham, Carter writes:

It was the Sabbath, and we asked if we could attend the worship service. At the appointed time we entered the synagogue and stood quietly just inside the door. There were only two other worshipers. When I asked if this was typical, our guide gave a wry smile and shrugged his shoulders as if it was not important either way.

Admittedly, if there were substantial differences between the two versions of the same events, it would undermine confidence in Pres. Carter’s ability to recount important facts about the Arab-Israeli conflict. But it is interesting to note the minor changes Carter introduces in his “new” book.

In his 1985 description of standing in the synagogue, he says he “stood quietly inside the door.” In his more recent description, he writes that he “said a silent prayer.” Given the subjective experience of prayer, we’ll have to take Carter’s word for it, but it seems that as time passes, the former president seems intent on burnishing his reputation as a devout Christian.

Carter also recycles his description of a conversation with Prime Minister Golda Meir, during which he raises concerns about the lack of religious fervor in modern Israel. In The Blood of Abraham, the former president writes:

She was not pressed with state business that morning so we stayed for an extended talk. When she asked if we had any concerns, I replied that there was one of a religious nature that I hesitated to mention. I knew that she had been born in Russia and that neither she nor the key members of her cabinet were known to be devout Jews. With a smile she encouraged me to go on, and I told her about the sabbath (sic) service at Ayelet Hashahar and a general absence of religious interest among the Israelis. I commented that during biblical times, the Israelites triumphed when they were closed to God and were defeated when unfaithful. She laughed aloud and agreed with me, but added that this was not a matter of concern to her because there were certainly enough “orthodox” Jews around. She was referring to the religious Jews in the Israeli parliament, who were sometimes a real thorn in her side. She added, “If you attend a session of the Knesset, you will see them in action and will know that they have not lost their faith.” With Israel’s system of elections, which necessitates a coalition of parties to form a ruling majority, the minority religious parties had an influence far exceeding their numerical strength.

Neither Mrs. Meir nor I realized it then, but a member of one of the larger minority parties was destined to play a major role in her country’s history, and much of his political strength would come from his deep fundamentalist convictions, based on a rigid interpretation of scriptures.

Carter describes the same episode in Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid as follows:

With some hesitation, I said that I had long taught lessons from the Hebrew Scriptures and that a common historical pattern was that Israel was punished whenever the leaders turned away from devout worship of God. I asked if she was concerned about the secular nature of her Labor government. She seemed surprised at my temerity and dismissed my comments with a shrug and a laugh. She lit one cigarette from another and then said that “orthodox” Jews still existed and could assume that portion of the nation’s responsibility. She was referring to the religious Jews in the Israeli parliament, who were sometimes a real thorn in her side. She added, “If you attend a session of the Knesset, you will see them in action and will know that they have not lost their faith. With Israel’s system of elections, which necessitates a collation of parties to form a ruling majority, the minority religious organizations had an influence far exceeding their numerical strength.

Neither Mrs. Meir nor I realized it then, but Menachem Begin, the leader of the Herut Party with only 22 percent of the Knesset seats, would be prime minister of Israel within four years…

While Carter does add some interesting details to his description of his conversation with Prime Minister Golda Meir, there are two constants – his willingness, as a Christian, to judge Israel, the Jewish homeland, and its leaders against a metric of religious fervor, and a contradictory disdain for the influence of religious Jews in the Knesset.

Carter also recounts for a second time his participation in a military graduation ceremony at Bethel. While he does not offer a word-for-word recitation of the ceremony in Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, it’s pretty similar – with one added detail: In Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Carter reveals that his handing out Hebrew Bibles to the graduates was “one of the few indication of a religious commitment that I observed during our visit.” Clearly, Carter has a problem with Israel’s irreligious nature and that it has only gotten worse as time passes.

Careful readers will note that in his description of his 1973 trip to Israel, Carter adds another wrinkle to his narrative in Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid when he talks about meeting with Samaritans who “complained to us that there holy sites and culture were not being respected by Israeli authorities—the same complaint heard by Jesus and his disciples almost two thousand years earlier.”

That Carter has recycled passages from his own book isn't that surprising. For example, Psalm 18 appears in its entirety toward the end of II Samuel. The interesting thing about Carter’s recycled passages (and the added detail for which he wracked his memory) is that they all suggest that for Carter, there is a direct line between ancient Israelites, those parochial and stiff-necked people who rejected Christ and harassed the Samaritans, and modern-day Israelis, who won't listen to his advice about how to make peace with the Palestinians.

For Pres. Carter, some tropes are just too good to discard.

Posted by CameraBlog at June 12, 2007 04:17 PM

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