Monday, January 29, 2007

Hating Jimmy Carter, Living With Apartheid

In an incredible maneuver, Jimmy Carter has managed to drain even more water from the already depleted pool that is his reputation. And how did he manage such a thing? By vying once again for peace in Palestine. In doing so he has become more despised than one of the worst human rights violations in modern times.

Carter, who helped forge the half-successful Camp David accords, opted for a more brusque approach this time, suggesting that the road to peace in the Palestine probably does not involve occupying, and discriminating against an entire population of people. Of course I am referring to Carter's new book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid and the current facts on the ground in the Holy Land.

His book has ignited a firestorm very thin on substance, but fueled with ad-hominim attacks. Carter has been called a racist, a bigot, and anti-Semite. Even when the flack gives way, the current "debate" over Carter's book runs along these lines:

Person A: I saw a man beat another man in the alley.
Person B: He had it coming.
Person A: Maybe, but he still beat the man. Can we agree on that?
Person B: No. But he had it coming.

It's hard to find anyone who does not call Israel's current handling of the Palestinians a hard form of discrimination and segregation. It is not a matter of what the Palestinians did to deserve this, it is that such treatment is simply a violation of basic human rights. That is to say, no entire group of people deserves such treatment. And that is all. There is no way a viable peace process can move forward in Palestine if we can't even acknowledge these basic facts.

Washington Post writer Michael Kinsley has penned the most articulate critique of Carter's book I have found. He claims Carter's use of "apartheid" is wrong, writing, "Apartheid had a philosophical component and a practical one, both quite bizarre. Philosophically, it was committed to the notion of racial superiority."

It is inaccurate to make the argument that Israel's treatment of Palestinians is not apartheid because it is not inherently racist or practical. First, it must obviously seem practical to some people. Second, apartheid, which means apart-hood, is not limited simply to racial motivations. Kinsley goes on to say:
To start with, no one has yet thought to accuse Israel of creating a phony country in finally acquiescing to the creation of a Palestinian state. Palestine is no Bantustan. Or if it is, it is the creation of Arabs, not Jews.
This, of course, is highly debatable. The current Palestinian state has almost no sovereignty at all except for elections. It certainly has been powerless to stop Israel from building settlements on its own territory, and, currently, walls encasing those settlements, beyond the established borders of the Palestinian territories. Finally, he writes:
And the most tragic difference: Apartheid ended peacefully. This is largely thanks to Nelson Mandela, who turned out to be miraculously forgiving. If Israel is white South Africa and the Palestinians are supposed to be the blacks, where is their Mandela?
This misses the obvious point that blacks vastly outnumbered whites in South Africa. When Nelson Mandela, a leader with singular abilities, arose and united them they were then taken seriously. Currently Palestinians do outnumber Jews in Palestine, though barely. As their numbers continue to increase, no doubt it will become harder and harder to ignore them.

Even in this well thought-out peace you can find no facts denying how the Palestinians are treated. Their conditions don't even seem to register and that, of course, is exactly the problem. The argument only centers on semantics, which is irrelevant and insulting. You'd care little about terminology if you had spent your life in a refugee camp. Whether "apartheid" or a friendlier word is used, the facts don't change.

President Carter could have easily avoided such a subject, but he has lent himself this cause. He is not the first person to call the treatment of the Palestinians "apartheid." Notable Jewish writers like Daphna Golan-Agnon, a human rights activist, also employ the term. Happily there is common ground for people on all sides and that is the goal of peace. How will this be accomplished? Will peace be served by denying facts? By attacking the messenger?

No matter which side you are on, apartheid is unacceptable. It is both a human rights violation and a breeding ground for violence and terrorism. It erodes both justice and security. In light of this, it is almost laughable that Jimmy Carter is being vilified because he used a term that can't be refuted. True peace is going to take a lot more effort than that. It'll even take more than the energy now being wasted on hating Carter.

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