Saturday, February 03, 2007

Carter Defends "Peace, Not Apartheid"

The awful truthI'm a little late posting this one but it's worth a look anyway. Former President Jimmy Carter appeared on NPR recently to defend his new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Carter has predictably come under attack from supporters of Israel's government and its policies over his use of the term "Apartheid". Carter defends himself well against these attacks and certainly doesn't seem to need my help. But, as you listen to the interview in its entirety (I highly recommend that you do) consider how instructive this whole episode is on the nature of the Israel/Palestinian debate in America.

Carter presents a valid and important argument that for years has been considered fairly obvious outside of the United States. In fact, as has been noted elsewhere, he may not have gone far enough, censoring himself as a preemptive measure against these kinds of attacks. For instance, Carter insists in the NPR interview that nothing in his book suggests that Apartheid is practiced inside of Israel but that it is very much the case in the Palestinian territories Israel occupies. He bends over backwards (too far, in my opinion) to portray the domestic policies of Israel as democratic and fair, limiting his critique to it's behavior in Gaza and the West Bank.

Nevertheless, inside the US he is being vilified as, of all things, an anti-Semite, consistent with the well-worn construct that any criticism of Israel's government, regardless of its accuracy, is tantamount to launching a second Holocaust. In the firestorm that has erupted Carter's main point -- that peace is impossible if the legitimate, long-standing grievances of the Palestinian people continue to be ignored and literally paved over -- is completely obscured by all the hand-wringing over the use of the word "Apartheid".

In observing any debate, even if one is not up-to-speed on the issue at hand, there are things one can look for in order to ascertain which side is being, shall we say, less-than-candid and which isn't. And the Lord said "Ye shall know them by their fruits".

The fruits in this case are the methods used by Carter's critics to carry their side of argument, the vast array of intentional fallacies designed to obscure the weakness of their position. Using these techniques they have managed to remove the merits of his arguments from the discussion completely. From their perspective there is a good reason for this. Carter's arguments are unassailable. So, instead they've chosen obfuscation and fallacy as their primary weapon, focusing on a single word as a springboard for ad hominem attacks and straw man arguments.

With these tools they've managed to create a media environment in which all the focus is on whether Israel is exactly like South Africa, or whether Carter is anti-Semitic. These are, of course, wholly irrelevant but they serve the purpose of diverting attention away from facts that, again, are already considered well-established in the rest of the world but don't serve the interest of continuing the status quo.

These cynics are aided in no small part by the US media's long-standing embargo against any suggestion that Palestinians are rational human beings who are actually suffering unjustly under a 40-year Israeli occupation that denies them the basic human rights and dignity we ourselves insist upon. Only in such a media environment, built on a foundation of fallacy, can a situation in which the land is being literally pulled out from under the Palestinians' feet, where Palestinians are literally being walled off from their own homes, workplaces, families and assets be described as a threat to Israel's existence and not that of the Palestinians.

I have long argued privately that the use of such tactics represents an tacit admission by the user not only that their argument is weak on merit but that they know it and don't care. They don't want peace. They want Apartheid and they'll say anything to keep it. They'd just prefer you call it something else.

See also:

Carter Wins Applause at Brandeis