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The Ludicrous Attacks on Jimmy Carter’s Book


As Jimmy Carter’s new book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid climbs the bestseller list, the reaction of Israel’s apologists scales new peaks of lunacy. I will examine a pair of typical examples and then look at the latest weapon to silence Carter.

Apartheid Analogy

No aspect of Carter’s book has evoked more outrage than its identification of Israeli policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territory with apartheid. Michael Kinsley in the Washington Post called it “foolish and unfair,” the Boston Globe editorialized that it was “irresponsibly provocative,” while the New York Times reported that Jewish groups condemned it as “dangerous and anti-Semitic.” (1)

In fact the comparison is a commonplace among informed commentators.
From its initial encounter with Palestine the Zionist movement confronted a seemingly intractable dilemma: How to create a Jewish state in a territory that was overwhelmingly non-Jewish? Israeli historian Benny Morris observes that Zionists could choose from only two options: “the way of South Africa”–i.e., “the establishment of an apartheid state, with a settler minority lording it over a large, exploited native majority”–or “the way of transfer”–i.e., “you could create a homogeneous Jewish state or at least a state with an overwhelming Jewish majority by moving or transferring all or most of the Arabs out.” (2)

During the British Mandate period (1917-1947) Zionist settlers labored on both fronts, laying the foundations of an apartheid-like regime in Palestine while exploring the prospect of expelling the indigenous population. Norman Bentwich, a Jewish officer in the Mandatory government who later taught at the Hebrew University, recalled in his memoir that, “One of the causes of resentment between Arabs and Jews was the determined policy of the Jewish public bodies to employ only Jewish workers.This policy of ‘economic apartheid’ was bound to strengthen the resistance of Arabs to Jewish immigration.” (3)

Ultimately, however, the Zionist movement resolved the dilemma in 1948 by way of transfer: under the cover of war with neighboring Arab states, Zionist armies proceeded to “ethnically cleanse” (Morris) the bulk of the indigenous population, creating a state that didn’t need to rely on anachronistic structures of Western supremacy. (4)

After Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 the same demographic dilemma resurfaced and alongside it the same pair of options. Once again Zionists simultaneously laid the foundations for apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territory while never quite abandoning hope that an expulsion could be carried off in the event of war. (5)

After four decades of Israeli occupation, the infrastructure and superstructure of apartheid have been put in place. Outside the never-never land of mainstream American Jewry and U.S. media this reality is barely disputed. Indeed, already more than a decade ago while the world was celebrating the Oslo Accords, seasoned Israeli analyst and former deputy mayor of Jerusalem Meron Benvenisti observed, “It goes without saying that ‘cooperation’ based on the current power relationship is no more than permanent Israeli domination in disguise, and that Palestinian self-rule is merely a euphemism for Bantustanization.” (6)

If it’s “foolish and unfair,” “irresponsibly provocative” and “dangerous and anti-Semitic” to make the apartheid comparison, then the roster of commentators who have gone awry is rather puzzling. For example, a major 2002 study of Israeli settlement practices by the respected Israeli human rights organization 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 the only one of its kind in the world, and is reminiscent of distasteful regimes from the past, such as the apartheid regime in South Africa.” A more recent B’Tselem publication on the road system Israel has established in the West Bank again concluded that it “bears striking similarities to the racist Apartheid regime,” and even “entails a greater degree of arbitrariness than was the case with the regime that existed in South Africa.” (7)

Those sharing Carter’s iniquitous belief also include the editorial board of Israel’s leading newspaper Haaretz, which observed in September 2006 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,” as well as former Israeli Knesset member Shulamit Aloni, former Israeli Ambassador to South Africa Alon Liel, South African Archbishop and Nobel Laureate for Peace Desmond Tutu and “father” of human rights law in South Africa John Dugard. (8)

Indeed, the list apparently also includes former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. Pointing to his “fixation with Bantustans,” Israeli researcher Gershom Gorenberg concluded 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 himself reportedly stated that “the Bantustan model was the most appropriate solution to the conflict.” (9)

The denial of Carter’s critics recalls the glory days of the Daily Worker. Kinsley asserts that “no one has yet thought to accuse Israel of creating a phony country in finally acquiescing to the creation of a Palestinian state.” In the real world what he claims “no one has yet thought” couldn’t be more commonplace. The Economist typically reports that Palestinians have been asked to choose between “a Swiss-cheese state, comprising most of the West Bank but riddled with settlements, in which travel is severely hampered,” and Israel “pulling out from up to 40 percent or 50 percent of the West Bank’s territory unilaterally, while keeping most of its settlements.” (10)

The shrill reaction to Carter’s mention of apartheid is probably due not only to the term’s emotive resonances but its legal-political implications as well. According to Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions as well as the Statute of the International Criminal Court, “practices of apartheid” constitute war crimes. Small wonder, then, that despite–or, rather, because of–its aptness, Carter is being bullied into repudiating the term. (11)

Partial or full withdrawal?

In order to discredit Carter the media keep citing the inflammatory rhetoric of his former collaborator at the Carter Center, Kenneth Stein. On inspection, however, Stein’s claims prove to be devoid of content. Consider the main one of Carter’s “egregious and inexcusable errors” that Stein enumerates. (12)

According to Stein, Carter erroneously infers on the basis of U.N. Resolution 242 that Israel “must” withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza. It is true that whereas media pundits often allege that the extent of Israel’s withdrawal is subject to negotiations, Carter forthrightly asserts that Israel’s “borders must coincide with those prevailing from 1949 until 1967 (unless modified by mutually agreeable land swaps), specified in the unanimously adopted U.N. Resolution 242, which mandates Israel’s withdrawal from occupied territories.” (13)

In fact and to his credit Carter is right on the mark.

Shortly after the June 1967 war the U.N General Assembly met in emergency session.

There was “near unanimity” on “the withdrawal of the armed forces from the territory of neighboring Arab states,” Secretary-General U Thant subsequently observed, because “everyone agrees that there should be no territorial gains by military conquest.” (14)

When the General Assembly couldn’t reach consensus on a comprehensive resolution, deliberations moved to the Security Council. In November 1967 the Security Council unanimously approved Resolution 242, the preambular paragraph of which emphasized “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.” The main framer of 242, Lord Caradon of the United Kingdom, later recalled that without this preambular statement “there could have been no unanimous vote” in the Security Council. (15) Fully 10 of the 15 Security Council members stressed in their interventions the “inadmissibility” principle and Israel’s obligation to fully withdraw while none of the five other members registered any disagreement. (16)

For its part the United States repeatedly made clear that it contemplated at most minor and mutual border adjustments (hence Carter’s caveat of “mutually agreeable land swaps”). Jordanian leaders were told in early November 1967 that “some territorial adjustment will be required” on the West Bank but “there must be mutuality in adjustments” and, on a second occasion, that the U.S. supported “minor border rectifications” but Jordan would “obtain compensationfor any territory it is required to give up.” (17)
When Israel first proposed annexation of West Bank territory, the U.S. vehemently replied that 242 “never meant that Israel could extend its territory to [the] West Bank,” and that “there will be no peace if Israel tries to hold onto large chunks of territory.” (18)

In private Israeli leaders themselves suffered no illusions on the actual meaning of 242. During a closed session of the Labor Party in 1968 Moshe Dayan counseled against endorsing 242 because “it means withdrawal to the 4 June [1967] boundaries, and because we are in conflict with the SC [Security Council] on that resolution.” (19)

In its landmark 2004 advisory opinion, “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall In the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the International Court of Justice repeatedly affirmed the preambular paragraph of Resolution 242 emphasizing the inadmissibility of territorial conquest as well as a 1970 General Assembly resolution emphasizing that “No territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force shall be recognized as legal.” The World Court denoted this principle a “corollary” of the U.N. Charter and as such “customary international law” and a “customary rule” binding on all member States of the United Nations. It merits notice that on this crucial point none of the Court’s 15 justices registered any dissent. (20)

Carter’s real sin is that he cut to the heart of the problem: “Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law.”

Tomorrow: The Dershowitz Slime Machine

NORMAN FINKELSTEIN’s most recent book is Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the abuse of history (University of California Press). His web site is


(1) Michael Kinsley, “It’s Not Apartheid,” Washington Post (12 December 2006); “Jimmy Carter vs. Jimmy Carter,” editorial, Boston Globe (16 December 2006); Julie Bosman, “Carter Book Stirs Furor With Its View of Israelis’ ‘Apartheid’,” New York Times (14 December 2006).

(2) Benny Morris, “Revisiting the Palestinian exodus of 1948,” in Eugene L. Rogan and Avi Shlaim (eds), The War for Palestine (Cambridge: 2001), pp. 39-40.

(3) Norman and Helen Bentwich, Mandate Memories, 1918-1948 (New York: 1965), p. 53.

(4) Ari Shavit, “Survival of the Fittest,” interview with Benny Morris, Haaretz

(9 January 2004).

(5) NORMAN FINKELSTEIN, Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, second edition (New York: 2003), pp. xxvii-xxxi.

(6) Meron Benvenisti, Intimate Enemies (New York: 1995), p. 232.

(7) B’Tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), Land Grab: Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank (May 2002), p. 104. B’Tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), Forbidden Roads: Israel’s discriminatory road regime in the West Bank (August 2004), p. 3.

(8) “The Problem That Disappeared,” editorial, Haaretz (11 September 2006), Roee Nahmias, “‘Israeli Terror is Worse,'” Yediot Ahronot (29 July 2005) (Aloni), Chris McGreal, “Worlds Apart: Israel, Palestine and Apartheid” and “Brothers In Arms: Israel’s secret pact with Pretoria,” Guardian (6 February 2006, 7 February 2006) (Tutu, Liel), John Dugard, “Apartheid: Israelis Adopt What South Africa Dropped,” Atlanta Journal -Constitution (29 November 2006).

(9) Gershom Gorenberg, “Road Map to Grand Apartheid? Ariel Sharon’s South African inspiration,” American Prospect (3 July 2003). Akiva Eldar, “Sharon’s Bantustans Are Far from Copenhagen’s Hope,” Haaretz (13 May 2003).

(10) “Ever More Separate,” Economist (20 October 2005).

(11) Jean-Marie Henckaerts and Louise Doswald-Beck, Customary International Humanitarian Law, Vol. I: Rules (Cambridge: 2005), pp. 310-11, 586, 588-9. The quoted phrase comes from Additional Protocol I; the wording in the ICC statute slightly differs.

(12) Rachel Zelkowitz, “Professor Describes Carter ‘Inaccuracies’,” The Emory Wheel (12 December 2006).

(13) Carter, Palestine, p. 208.

(14) “Introduction to the Annual Report of the Secretary-General on the Work of the Organization, 16 June 1966–15 June 1967,” in General Assembly, Official Records: Twenty-Second Session, Supplement No. 1A. United Nations (15 September 1967), para. 47.

(15) Lord Caradon et al., U.N. Security Council Resolution 242: A Case Study in Diplomatic Ambiguity (Washington, D.C.: 1981), p. 13.

(16) John McHugo, “Resolution 242: A Legal Reappraisal of the Right-Wing Israeli Interpretation of the Withdrawal Phrase With Reference to the Conflict Between Israel and the Palestinians,” in International and Comparative Law Quarterly (October 2002), pp. 866-872.

(17) Norman G. Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah: On the misuse of anti-Semitism and the abuse of history (Berkeley: 2005), p. 289.

(18) Ibid.

(19)Daniel Dishon (ed.), Middle East Record, v. 4, 1968 (Jerusalem: 1973), p. 247.

(20) Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Advisory Opinion (Int’l Ct. of Justice July 9, 2004), 43 IL M 1009 (2004), paras. 74, 87,117.


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