One of the virtues of being an ex-president is that there is no need to cater to the political constituencies that are essential for election. American presidential candidates, and especially Democrats, are beholden to Jewish financial support, and Jews are an important swing voting bloc in several states, especially New York. I recall that the first time I thought about Jewish influence, at least in a negative way, was during the 1976 election campaign when Jimmy Carter made the obligatory campaign stop in New York and pledged fealty to Israel.
But since his presidency, Carter has definitely gotten on the bad side of serious Zionists — prototypically the folks at David Horowitz’s Frontpagemag.com. Here’s the video version of Jimmy Carter’s War Against the Jews. (Pop Quiz: An article on Frontpagemag complains that a certain religious group defiles Christmas and this year engaged in a “hatefest” on Christmas Day. Which group is it? For answer, see here.)
But now Carter has apologized. “We must recognize Israel’s achievements under difficult circumstances, even as we strive in a positive way to help Israel continue to improve its relations with its Arab populations, but we must not permit criticisms for improvement to stigmatize Israel.” In particular, he now says that the use of the word ‘apartheid’ in the title of his 2008 book was a prediction of the future if the Palestinians are not allowed to control the West Bank, not a comment on present realities. Moreover, “Carter said he never meant to convey the impression that the pro-Israel lobby silenced criticism of Israel, only that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee was the “most influential lobbying group” and that presidents including himself and congresses have historically been “totally committed” to Israel’s security.
Since Carter realizes the West Bank is an apartheid society (complete with walls of separation, separate roads for Jews and Arabs, etc.) and since the Israel Lobby does indeed have a long history of doing everything it can to silence its critics (see Cong. Paul Finley’s aptly named They Dare to Speak Out [1st edition, 1985]) and since Carter is well aware of all of this, his apology is has to count as groveling. To be sure, Carter claims that his views are mainstream (e.g., he says his positions are the same as J Street’s). But this is surely a significant move on Carter’s part, especially since he now asserts things that are manifestly untrue. So what possessed him to make such a statement?
Although he denies it, there is a strong suspicion that the statement was intended to help Jason Carter, his grandson, in his campaign for the state senate in Georgia in a district with a “substantial” Jewish community. Indeed, JTA reports that “The younger Carter has been trying for days to reach Liane Levetan, a former state senator and CEO of DeKalb County, and as soon as they connected Tuesday, he directed her to the JTA Web site to read the letter.” Jason obviously has a bright future in politics.
Pretty much no matter what Jimmy Carter says, at this point he is persona non grata with Jews. Jimmy Carter’s former honesty will not be forgiven and it will not be forgotten. Groveling never helps, but it may well help Jason: The article notes that Jesse Jackson’s son managed to have a political life despite the transgressions of his father, but only after a lot of fence mending with Jews.