'How Many Bubbles in a Bar of Soap?' Jimmy Carter Fails the Literacy Test

The Times mentioned Jimmy Carter twice in yesterday’s paper. On the sports age, he was described as “soft-spoken, cautious, reserved, conformist, reliable” (a piece on blood types). But the other article was in Arts, and labelled him a raving lunatic. This was part of the Times’ continuing series to give space to (Jewish) defenders of Israel to denounce Carter as misinformed and dotty because he dared to write a book likening the Israeli occupation to apartheid. Two days before, WINEP’s David Makovsky told the Times the book is filled with errors, and he’s “saddened by it.”

Back when Jimmy Carter was young, they used to have literacy tests to keep black people from voting. The black person would go to the polls and have to take a literacy test in order to vote. The pollworkers would ask the black person questions like, “How many bubbles in a bar of soap?” When the black person couldn’t answer, they couldn’t vote.

The Times is enforcing the literacy test on Israel/Palestine. Jimmy Carter failed. He made too many mistakes so he can’t offer his opinion. Only experts can vote, usually centrist-right Jews who have no interest in or idea what’s going on in the Occupied Territories. People who are blind to an outrage, people like Ken Pollack who can’t even say the word occupation. A president who negotiated a lasting peace deal between Israel and Egypt and who has visited the area countless times: he’s not well-informed enough to comment.

The literacy test has worked. It’s sharply narrowed the mainstream discourse on Israel/Palestine. Democratic discourse is supposed to be contentious: You get a lot of views, and everyone makes some mistakes. Big deal; it’s the ideas that count. But intimidated by the literacy test, a lot of liberals won’t go near this issue, people who would be shocked to see what goes on in the Occupied Territories. Tony Kushner first explained this to me months ago. Even if you’re sickened by what you see on TV, you’re made to feel you’re an idiot and not allowed to open your mouth till you know the difference between the Anglo-American commission and the Peel report and U.N. partition and Sykes-Picot and the Balfour Declaration and Transjordan and a ton of other historical debris. How many bubbles in a bar of soap?

It’s hurt us. For many years the left had a reasonable position, Palestinian state, that was outside the firewall the Israel lobby created that limited mainstream views. Now mainstream views have finally come around, mostly, to that opinion, Palestinian state, but some on the left are moving on, saying we missed our chance. They’re talking about a binational state. At NYU last week Tony Judt said Yes he believes the idea of a Jewish state is “anachronistic,” when you consider that as a Jew, he is allowed to move to Israel tomorrow, but a person born in that state and speaking the Hebrew language better than any of us can is not allowed to live there. Because they’re Muslim or Christian. An interesting, important idea. The mainstream won’t touch it. America’s loss.