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Dershowitz vs. Carter in Beantown
"Jimmy Carter is to be congratulated for not having demeaned himself by debating Alan Dershowitz."
William M. Bulger, former president of the Mass. State Senate and University of Mass. (Full text of Bulger’s one-sentence Letter to the_Boston Globe,12/18/06.)
At long last the Boston Globe published an op-ed by former President Jimmy Carter, defending his book "Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid," from the predictable, scurrilous attacks (e.g.,"lie" and "blood libel") by Alan Dershowitz, Abe Foxman and David Horowitz. Quite wisely, Carter used most of his space to reiterate the main contentions of his book, making his op-ed (1) must reading for those who cannot get to the book. In perhaps the most interesting paragraph, Carter links his book to war on Iraq, thus:
"As recommended by the Hamilton-Baker report, renewed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians are a prime factor in promoting peace in the region. Although my book concentrates on the Palestinian territories, I noted that the report also recommended peace talks with Syria concerning the Golan Heights. Both recommendations have been rejected by Israel’s prime minister."
It is not hard to conclude from this that American blood is being spilled in Iraq, in part because of Israeli rejectionism. No wonder the neocons are so disturbed by Carter’s book. It is also remarkable, but not surprising, that Carter has had so few champions of his important book on the "Left."
The precipitating event in the Beantown brouhaha was a speaking invitation to Carter by a professor at Brandeis University, a "traditionally Jewish college." The invitation was issued way back in the middle of November when Carter’s book was publishe. Upon learning that there was opposition on the campus to the invitation, Carter consulted an old adviser Stuart Eizenstadt, now on the Brandeis board of trustees, and good old Stu offered to be an intermediary. But Stu betrayed Carter. (Shades of Menachim Begin.) Eizenstadt contacted Brandeis president, Jehuda Reinharz, and suggested that Carter only be allowed to appear if he debated Alan Dershowitz. A debate "would make this a real academic exercise," Eizenstat enthused to the Globe, adding, "The president of the university is not in the business of inviting someone, even a former president, for a book tour." (Excellent put-down, Stu.) Carter was "stunned by the proposal," according to The Globe, saying: "I don’t want to have a conversation even indirectly with Dershowitz. There is no need to for me to debate somebody who, in my opinion, knows nothing about the situation in Palestine." Now let’s see. Dershowitz is best know for his high-priced defense of Claus von Bulow and O.J. Simpson, and Carter for making peace between Egypt and Israel, a peace agreed to by the Israeli government and defended by such principled defenders of Palestinian rights as the late Edward Said. (That last endorsement may go some way in explaining the neocons’ enduring hatred of Carter.)
The Globe did not cover the controversy in its news section until the debate topic was broached (December 15), ensuring that the content of the book receded far into the background. (Excellent job of distraction, Boston Globe.) The very next day after the news coverage the Globe ran an editorial, charging that Carter, unlike the neocons’ much beloved war criminal, Harry Truman, "can’t take the heat." Another put down by the Globe. And the day after Carter’s op-ed finally appeared on December 20, the Globe ran an op-ed by Dershowitz, again sliming Carter and ensuring that Dershowitz had the last word. In fact the Globe, like the New York Times and other major papers, has not given "Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid," a best-selling book by a former president and Nobel Prize winner, a legitimate review. If that is not testimony to the power of the Israeli Lobby, I do not know what is.
The only opening in this anti-Carter phalanx came from the readers of the Globe themselves in the letters to the editor, which appear to run strongly in Carter’s favor, if one discards the obvious plants. Here are some excerpts from letters of December 18 and 23. They should give some holiday joy to those who have recently felt despondent about the prospects for peace.
"The discussion around Jimmy Carter’s new book needs to move to the central issues. Carter’s detractors and the media have discussed the book’s provocative title but little of its substance. Carter’s book clearly lays out the current conditions in which Israel is constructing a 40-foot wall entirely inside the occupied territories and around settlements that have been constructed in defiance of international law. Americans need to decide whether our policies (or the lack thereof) are in our best interests or Israel’s. Now that Carter has provoked us, let the real conversation begin." D. Weden
"Instead of correcting what he calls Carter’s ‘factual errors,’ Dershowitz attacks the former president, saying that the man who brokered the most significant peace agreement in Middle Eastern history lacks objectivity, is guilty of a conflict of interest and is a bully. Really? The mood in America is changing quickly. American blood is being spilled in the Middle East with no end in sight, and the days when Dershowitz could get away with this type of nonsense are over." J. O’Rourke.
"I’m sure that Brandeis is just trying to be fair by allowing Carter to speak only if he debates Dershowitz. No doubt, also in the interest of fairness, the next time a blatantly pro-Israel book is published, Brandeis will only allow the author to speak if he agrees to debate Noam Chomsky. And if the author refuses, the Globe of course will run a lead editorial accusing him of not being able to ‘take the heat’." A. Martin
"Thank you for printing Jimmy Carter’s op-ed. He is one of only a very few Christian leaders willing to speak the truth about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. I have copied his op-ed and am inserting it into my Christmas cards to a hundred of my closest friends and family" J.P. Leary
Perhaps the best letter of all came from Norman Finkelstein who was the very first to defend Carter’s book on the day it was published (2) right here in CounterPunch, which is one of the few publications to carry a full-throated defense of Carter. I include Finkelstein’s letter in toto below (3). (In the exchange of letters and during this entire controversy, the peace and justice establishment in Beantown was largely silent, perhaps another indication of the reach of the Lobby.) As we go to press one hundred determined and principled Brandeis professors and students have signed a petition demanding that Carter be invited after all, and president Reinharz seems ready to relent. We at CounterPunch will keep you informed.
JOHN V. WALSH can be reached at John.Endwar@gmail.com. He has the burden of sharing his home town of Cambridge with Alan Dershowitz. He hopes that CP readers will buy multiple copies of Carter’s book. It makes a great Hanukah or Christmas gift.
The LA Times also gave Carter some space, the only other major paper to do so. Interestingly when I tried to search for this piece through the LA Times search engine, it did not appear despite a valiant effort on this searcher’s part! But it did come up on Google. See: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/
(2)Norman Finkelstein. Peace Not Apartheid; Jimmy Carter’s Roadmap. http://www.counterpunch.com/
(3) Norman Finkelstein’s letter (12/18/06) in response to the Globe’s editorial put-down of Carter:
"You write that former president Jimmy Carter’s use of the word ‘apartheid’ in the title of his new book is ‘irresponsibly provocative’ (‘Jimmy Carter vs. Jimmy Carter,’ editorial, Dec. 16). This would make for a rather puzzling list of ‘irresponsibly provocative’ commentators on the Israel-Palestine conflict. For example, a study by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem concluded: ‘Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality. This regime . . . is reminiscent of . . . the apartheid regime in South Africa.’ The roster of irresponsible provocateurs would also include the editorial board of Israel’s leading newspaper Haaretz, which observed in September that ‘the apartheid regime in the territories remains intact; millions of Palestinians are living without rights, freedom of movement or a livelihood, under the yoke of ongoing Israeli occupation.’ Indeed, the list apparently includes former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. Pointing to his ‘fixation with Bantustans,’ Israeli researcher Gershom Gorenberg concluded in 2003 that it is ‘no accident’ that Sharon’s plan for the West Bank ‘bears a striking resemblance to the ‘grand apartheid’ promoted by the old South African regime.’ Sharon reportedly stated around that time that ‘the Bantustan model was the most appropriate solution to the conflict."
NORMAN G. FINKELSTEIN, Chicago. The writer is a political science professor at DePaul University.