Jimmy Carter, on Mission

A friend went to Jimmy Carter’s book-signing in Pasadena the other day. 3200 books, all snapped up weeks before, then signed by an aloof former president, who did not shake hands but was flanked by two phalanxes of security. Everyone who came in was X-rayed, or wanded.

My friend tells me Carter had a focused forward expression, he was on a mission. “Do you think someone is going to try and knock him off?”

The concern reflects a couple of realities. At 82, Carter would seem to have found a spiritual model in one of the heroes of his book, Anwar Sadat, who, at Carter’s urging, took on the orthodoxies in his own culture to sign a historic peace agreement, and who gave his life to do so. Carter is taking on the orthodoxies in his own culture, with the same sense of all or nothing.

The venom he is encountering on the Jewish right is staggering. Even I’m surprised. Marty Peretz has called him a Jew-hater. Shmuel Rosner, the Haaretz correspondent who not long ago rated American presidential candidates on the degree to which they ignored the Palestinian issue, with obliviousness being a positive, has branded him a likely antisemite. And in doing so, subscribed to the most parochial formulations offered by neoconservative Iraq-warrior Eliot Cohen.

When will the Jewish universalists in American life come forward? That is the great threat Carter poses to the parochial: that others will start to care. And a policy that has been commandeered by a small set of interests will at last become the business of the American people. A bestseller with the word “apartheid” in the title—we’re getting closer and closer to the Elian Gonzales moment, the moment when the American people wake up and realize that a fanatical lobby is not representing America’s best interest.

Again the real journalistic responsibility here is not to repeat the smears of the Rosners and Peretzes, but to examine the simple question: Is what Carter is saying of the Occupied Territories true? Having been there, I say it is.