Goodman: This is an excerpt of President
Carter speaking about his book in Washington, D.C. in December.
Carter: Some people have said the title is
provocative, and I accept that categorization, but I don’t consider the word “provocative”
to be a negative description, because it’s designed to provoke discussion and
analysis and debate in a country where debate and discussion is almost
completely absent if it involves any criticism at all of the policies of
Israel. And I think the book is very balanced. Secondly, the words “Palestine:
Peace Not Apartheid” were carefully chosen by me. First of all, it’s Palestine,
the area of Palestinians. It doesn’t refer to Israel. I’ve never and would
imply that Israel is guilty of any form of apartheid in their own country,
because Arabs who live inside Israel have the same voting rights and the same
citizenship rights as do the Jews who live there. And the next word is “peace.”
And my hope is that the publication of this book will not only precipitate debate,
as I’ve already mentioned, but also will rejuvenate an absolutely dormant or
absent peace process. For the last six years there’s not been one single day of
good faith negotiations between Israelis and their neighbors, the Palestinians.
And this is absolutely a departure from what has happened under all previous
presidents since Israel became a nation. We’ve all negotiated or attempted to
negotiate peace agreements. That has been totally absent now for six years. So “peace.”
And then the last two words, “not apartheid.” The alternative to peace is
apartheid, not inside Israel, to repeat myself, but in the West Bank and Gaza
and East Jerusalem, the Palestinian territory. And there, apartheid exists in
its more despicable forms, that Palestinians are deprived of basic human
rights. Their land has been occupied and then confiscated and then colonized by
the Israeli settlers. And they have now more than 205 settlements in the West
Bank itself. And what has happened is, over a period of years, the Israelis have
connected settlements with highways, and those highways make the West Bank look
like a honeycomb and maybe a spider web. You can envision it. And in many
cases, most cases, the Palestinians are prevented from using the highways at
all, and in many cases, even from crossing the highways.
Goodman: Former President Jimmy Carter
speaking last month in Washington, D.C. On Sunday, the New York Times published
a long-awaited and largely critical review of the book, written by New York
Times Deputy Foreign Editor Ethan Bronner. Bronner dismissed charges of
anti-Semitism, but he characterized the book as “a distortion,” and criticized
what he called its “narrow perspective.” The book has seen growing media
attention, which began even before its publication in early December. Leading
Democrats quickly distanced themselves from Carter’s book. It was immediately
condemned by Jewish leaders and organizations around the country. Longtime
Carter Center Fellow, Kenneth Stein, resigned his position in protest of the
book. In a letter addressed to Carter and distributed to the media, Stein
accused Carter of omission, factual errors, and plagiarism. Today, we’ll have a
debate on the book. Joining us from Montreal is Gil Troy. He’s a professor of
American history at McGill University and author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity,
and the Challenges of Today . Norman Finkelstein is here with me in
our firehouse studio. He’s professor of political science at DePaul University.
His latest book is called Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and
the Abuse of History. We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s begin with
Professor Troy. Your response to President Carter’s book?
4. Troy: He calls his title “provocative.” I call it offensive. It’s offensive to South Africans, because to use the word “apartheid,” which is about white supremacy and a systematic approach of discrimination and racism, demeans the very difficult struggle and the odious examples of South African oppression. It’s also offensive to Zionists and to Jews and to anyone who supports the state of Israeli, because, while in his remarks that we heard, Jimmy Carter makes a distinction between what goes on inside Israel and in the territories, he did not do that in his book, which is actually quite shoddy and quite erratic. And I think, you know, it’s also a disservice to the people of the world and good people who want peace, because if you want to truly be a mediator, try to find the complexity, try to show the complexity on both sides, the failures of both sides, rather than having this one-sided approach, which basically throws water on any hopes for peace. It actually throws gasoline on the fires in the Middle East.
Goodman: Professor Finkelstein?
6. Finkelstein: Well, the question, it seems to me, is whether or not the term “apartheid” is appropriate in this context. I’m not going to — for the moment, I’m not going to make an argument either way. The question I would raise is, if the term is, as it’s often been said recently, if the term is anti-Semitic or contrary to the interests of Jews, however you want to put it, how do you account for the fact that so many mainstream figures and organizations in Israeli life themselves use the term apartheid to characterize the Israeli occupation in the West Bank of Gaza? You take the case of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. In May 2002, they put out a report entitled “Land Grab.” It’s a substantial report. It’s not throwing around slogans and terms. The report’s about 150 pages, based on quite in-depth research. They conclude in their report that Israel has established a regime in the Occupied Territories, which is, as they put it, reminiscent of the South African apartheid regime. This past year, B’Tselem put out another report entitled “Forbidden Roads,” on what they call the “Road Regime” in the Occupied Territories. Again, they concluded that this is reminiscent of the apartheid regime in South Africa. You take the case of Ha’aretz, Israel’s leading newspaper, or most influential newspaper. And in their editorials, they routinely refer to the apartheid-like regime in the Occupied Territories. So, for the moment, I would like to focus on the question: why is it illegitimate to use the term? Why is it anti-Semitic to use the term here, whereas in Israel just yesterday, Shulamit Aloni, the former Cabinet Minister for Education under Rabin, she says, “Everybody here knows it’s apartheid,” so why is it illegitimate for a former American president to use a term which is a commonplace? I’m not saying everyone agrees it’s apartheid in Israel, but it’s certainly part of the mainstream discourse. Why are you in the United States disqualified from participating in what in Israel is part of the mainstream discourse?
Goodman: Professor Troy?
8. Troy: First of all, I didn’t accuse the former president of anti-Semitism. I didn’t accuse him of not having the qualifications to jump into the debate. I think the term is historically offensive and inaccurate. I said it’s offensive to South Africans. I said it’s offensive to people who want peace in the Middle East. Just because there are many Israeli leftists and many Israeli critics of Israeli policy who use the term doesn’t mean that it’s a legitimate term. As a historian, I can say it’s a false historical analogy. What I learn from that is that in the United States and in Israel, unlike the country that Jimmy Carter pretends to live in, there is a vigorous debate on the Israeli side, there is a vigorous debate on the American side, there isn’t a vigorous debate on the Palestinian side, which doesn’t have the same kind of political culture. It actually has a toxic political culture, where right now we’ve seen over 500 Palestinians killing each other in an internecine civil war. So, I’d like to focus on the question that has been sidestepped of, is it an accurate and is it a helpful term, and I say it’s not, because let’s look at what apartheid was. Apartheid was a regime started in the South Africans in the 1940s as an attempt — and it started actually with a kind of sexual revulsion on the part of whites against blacks to truly degrade blacks. And the community of nations — it took them decades, but the community of nations justifiably said this is so odious that we want to kind of vomit out — and I use the term advisedly — vomit out South Africa from the community of nations, because they’re so despicable. When Israelis use the term, they’re being provocative, and they’re being incendiary, they’re being inaccurate. When the former president of the United States and Nobel Peace Prize winner uses the term, it’s even more destructive, because what he’s doing is he’s giving it a kind of legitimacy to a Zionist movement, which has already been libeled as being racist, and it feeds — and I see it on campus, where there’s quite a vigorous criticism of Israel every day. They use the term “Israel apartheid.” And they don’t distinguish between the Territories and Israel. They look at it as an illegitimate country. And Jimmy Carter, who has shown a capacity for friendship of all kinds of dictators, from North Korea to China to Cuba, all of the sudden seems to have quite a harsh perspective when it comes to Israel, and I wonder why.
Goodman: Norman Finkelstein?
10. Finkelstein: I agree that we shouldn’t fixate on terms. We should look beneath the terms and see whether they accurately represent the reality. And that’s what I think those who have used that term have tried to do. So you take the case of B’Tselem. It publishes a report, and it says Israel has constructed in the Occupied Territories what it calls a “Road Regime,” with roads for Jews only. They go on to say that Israel is —
Goodman: Explain that. What do you mean
12. Finkelstein: Well, there are roads which connect the settlements in the Occupied Territories with Israel. And those roads — there’s various kinds of laws and various degrees — it’s a complex system. Those laws effectively mean that Jews are the only ones who are allowed to use these roads connecting the Occupied Territories to Israel, and Palestinians have to take these circuitous routes in order to get from one part of the Occupied Territories to another. In 2002, the B’Tselem report points to the fact that the kinds of settlements and the kinds of laws in the Occupied Territories resemble the apartheid system, in that there’s a different system of laws for Palestinians, and there’s a different system of laws for Israelis. So, it’s not so important, in my opinion, to fixate on the term. I agree, it can become sloganeering. But we should look at the policies. We should look at what’s going on. Jimmy Carter has, in my opinion, a compelling section of the book — it’s chapter 16 — which I would encourage your listeners to look at, where it’s entitled “The Wall as a Prison.” And in chapter 16 he goes through the wall that Israel is building in the Occupied Territories. And I want to emphasize, because there’s so much misinformation on this topic in the United States. I suspect that Professor Troy is going to immediately jump in and say it’s not a wall, just as Ethan Bronner, the Deputy Foreign Editor of the New York Times, notes parenthetically that the edifice that Israel is building is only 4% a wall. Well, these issues have been resolved legally. The International Court of Justice in July 2004, when it adjudicated the question of the wall that Israel is building in the Occupied Territories, at the very beginning it says there has been some dispute about the language used. Should we call it a fence? Should we call it a barrier? Should we call it a wall? And the International Court of Justice, going through all the possibilities exploring the linguistic resonances of all the terms, it concludes we should call it a “wall.” When Jimmy Carter uses that term, he is using the term which has been agreed to by consensus in the International Court of Justice. And I should add that Human Rights Watch, a mainstream human rights organization, in its publications and in accordance with international law and the International Court of Justice, uses the term “wall.” And Jimmy Carter says what’s happening in the Occupied Territories is Israel’s confiscating about 10% of Palestinian land inside the wall, and he says — I thought it was a compelling point — he says Israel will not only control all the Palestinians within the wall, but Israel has de facto also annexed the Jordan Valley, which means all the Palestinians between the Jordan Valley and the wall will also be controlled by Israel. They are creating — and Jimmy Carter, I think, with a certain amount of candor, he said, “I don’t think it should be called a ‘separation fence.’ I think it should be called an ‘imprisonment wall.’ I think that’s accurate.
Goodman: Professor Troy?
14. Troy: I would actually have less of a problem if he called it an “imprisonment wall.” We could debate “wall” or “fence,” but that actually is not my point. The reason why “apartheid” is so problematic is because it feeds a broad campaign to de-legitimize Israel to expel it from the United Nations, to make it an outlaw state, when it’s a democracy, and a flawed democracy, like America’s a flawed democracy, like all countries are flawed. I’m not going to focus on the question of “wall” versus “fence.” I’m going to use the T-word: terrorism. It’s not as if, unlike in South Africa, Israel one day woke up and said, “Boy, how can we torture the Palestinians?” Although if you read Jimmy Carter’s book, you would get that impression, because he doesn’t give a full and honest and balanced accounting of the Israeli side of the ledger. What happened was that there was this Oslo peace process, which he also tends to give short shrift to, and as a result of that Oslo peace process, there was a very generous Israeli offer made at Camp David, which Jimmy Carter also tends to skip over. And then, in September 2000, the Palestinians launched an approach with lots of terrorism. Yasser Arafat — and there’s proof that Yasser Arafat helped underwrite the terrorism, although Jimmy Carter ignores that in the book, because he was good friends with Yasser Arafat. And the terrorism was the issue. Both the Israeli left and the Israeli right initially hated the idea of any kind of wall-fence-barrier, because the Israeli right wanted to incorporate the Territories into Israel. The Israeli left wanted to have this vision of everyone living together in what I would love to see, in beautiful peace and harmony. Both of them had to kind of be forced by serious suicide bombings by a systematic terrorist campaign, by a political culture on the part of the Palestinians that was anti-Semitic — that is anti-Semitic, not Jimmy Carter — that in the Palestinian mosques and on Palestinian television was attacking not just Zionists, but Jews, and attacking the West and celebrating 9/11 and was part of a broader Islamicist surge against the United States, against Israel, against the West, that led to hundreds of deaths of children, of men, of women. That is the context in which the wall-fence-barrier was built, and that is the context in which these last couple of years, this six years of a lack of peace process, has occurred. And without of acknowledgement of that, Jimmy Carter at one point says there are two problems in the Middle East: the first is that some Israelis want to grab land, and second is that some Palestinians react to that with violence. And that’s very disingenuous. The problem — let’s have someone stand up and say it’s a messy situation. There are rights and wrongs on both sides. I would have been so much happier with the book if he had said the problem is, yes, some Israelis want Palestinian land, and there’s a complicated historical, legal, strategic debate over that, and two, there are Palestinians who want to destroy the Jewish state. How do we get out of that intention? Until we acknowledge the problems on both sides, the weaknesses on both sides, the failures on both sides, we’re not going to get to the peace that Jimmy Carter claims to achieve. And I think what he’s done is he’s undermined his status as a mediator, as an honest broker, by using this incendiary term and by coming out with a book, which, frankly, is shoddy. He tends to quote Arafat, rather than quoting Palestinian Hamas documents. He quotes Assad, the president of Syria, allowing him to kind of give a spin on events, rather than giving facts. And that’s the problem with this propagandistic work.
Goodman: Well, Gil Troy and Norman
Finkelstein, we’re going to come back to this debate on Jimmy Carter’s book,
Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, in a minute. [break] We’re having a debate on
Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, with Gil Troy, professor
of American history at McGill University in Montreal. Among his books, Why I Am a Zionist: Israel,
Jewish Identity, and the Challenges of Today . Norman Finkelstein
joins us here in our New York firehouse studio. He’s a professor of political
science at DePaul University in Chicago. His latest book is Beyond Chutzpah: On
the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. In Ethan Bronner’s
review, long awaited, that came out yesterday in the New York Times Book
Review, he says, “This book has something of a Rip van Winkle feel to it, as if
little had changed since Carter diagnosed the problem in the 1970s. All would
be well today, he suggests, if his advice then had been followed. Forget Al
Qaeda (the name does not appear in this book), the nuclear ambitions of Iran
and the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. If Israel had ‘refrained from
colonizing the West Bank,’ he asserts, there would have been ‘a comprehensive
and lasting peace.’“ Bronner is talking about Carter, of course. And he goes on
to say, “The debate about the Israeli occupation ‘will shape the future of
Israel; it may also determine the prospects for peace in the Middle East — and
perhaps the world,’“ quoting Jimmy Carter. And Bronner says, “This is an
awfully narrow perspective.” Before I get your response, Professor Finkelstein,
I wanted to go for a minute to Brent Scowcroft. He was speaking yesterday on This Week With George
Stephanopoulos . Stephanopoulos had asked him about the significance
of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Of course, Brent Scowcroft is the former
National Security Advisor for President Bush, Sr.
16. Scowcroft: What it would do is change the psychological climate of the region. What we have is a number of different issues all coming together. And the region is in great turmoil. And there’s a great sense in the region of historical injustice on the part of the Muslims. And this would change that. This would see us as participating and helping in a problem which is central to the region, which has been a gnawing sore for Muslims for 50 years.
Goodman: That was President Bush, Sr.’s
former National Security Advisor, Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft. Professor
18. Finkelstein: I’ll get to that point in half a moment. Let me just address the questions that were raised by Professor Troy. On the question of Camp David and the offer, I don’t think for Democracy Now! audiences we have to go over that ground, because when Shlomo Ben-Ami was here —
Goodman: The former Foreign Minister of
The former Foreign Minister of
Israel and one of the negotiators at Camp David. He said, “Frankly, were I a Palestinian, I would not have accepted
the offer at Camp David,” and exactly for the reasons that Carter outlines in
the book, namely, Palestinians were asked to make such monumental concessions that no
Palestinian leader could in good conscience, let alone as a representative of
the Palestinians, accept such an offer. That was the position of Arafat.
It’s also the position to which Shlomo Ben-Ami agreed. On the question of
terrorism, as Professor Troy calls it, the big “T-word,” I think there’s a
certain confusion about what was the sequence of events. The Second Intifada
begins September 28, 2000. Between September 28, 2000,
and March , there wasn’t one Palestinian terrorist attack. The suicide bombings began five months after the
beginning of the Second Intifada. Why did it begin? Well, on the first month of
the Intifada, the ratio of Palestinians to Israelis killed was 20-to-1. And if you read Shlomo Ben-Ami’s book, he states there
that had Israel not so overreacted to the Palestinian protests, which were
overwhelmingly nonviolent in the first months, the huge explosion that
subsequently occurred probably would not have happened. But those first
five months, when Israel was killing 20 times as many Palestinians,
overwhelmingly nonviolent protesters, to each Israeli killed, that part has
been completely effaced from the historical record. Now, it’s true suicide
bombings began, and one possible way to avert them — not the only one, but one
possibility — was to build a wall. Well, but there’s an
option. If you want to prevent suicide bombings against your country, just like
if you want to prevent a neighbor from intruding on your property, you build a
fence or a wall, but you build it along the border, the internationally
recognized border. Israel didn’t do that. It used the suicide bombings
as a pretext to confiscate 10% of Palestinian land. If they wanted to build a
wall on their border, the International Court said that’s not a problem. What
they said was — the International Court of Justice, when it condemned the wall,
it said this wall is taking a sinuous path, which is incorporating the Israeli
settlements. That’s what made the wall illegal. Now, Professor Troy says he
would prefer if coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict by Carter and others
would assign responsibility to both sides. But the problem is, if you look at
the international consensus for resolving the conflict, the burden of
responsibility for the failure to resolve the conflict falls on the side of
Israel and the United States. Carter is very clear on that — in my opinion,
entirely accurate. He says the main problem is Israel refuses to recognize
international law. The law is absolutely clear. It’s inadmissible to acquire
territory by war. Israel acquired the West Bank and Gaza in the course of the
1967 War. The International Court of Justice said,
under the UN Charter, Article 2, it’s inadmissible to acquire territory by war.
Israel has to withdraw to its internationally
recognized June ‘67 borders. It refuses. That’s the obstacle. A simple
illustration. Every year, the United Nations General Assembly votes on a
resolution entitled “Peaceful resolution of the Palestine conflict.” Every
year, the vote is the same. The whole world on one side — the whole world on
one side — and on the other side, the United States, Israel, and usually Palau,
Nauru, Tuvalu, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia. It’s usually six dissenting
votes. And that’s it. The problem, I think, is not that the world is — not that
the coverage is biased. The problem is, the reality is biased. I was
reading a book today, to get to your last point you mention, by Zeev Maoz, a
mainstream Israeli military historian, smart fellow, and it’s a good book and
called Defending the Holy [Land]. He says in a hundred years from now people
are going to be very perplexed by this conflict, because, he says, compared to
other conflicts, this is not a particularly complicated one. And it really isn’t.
There has been a resolution, a settlement on the table for 30 years. And Israel and the
United States have blocked it. That’s the problem. And Carter, to
his credit, forthrightly says it. One side is blocking the settlement.
Goodman: I wanted to get back to Professor
Troy. Israel has announced that it’s going to now build new settlements in the
West Bank. Do you think peace is possible with continued settlements there?
22. Troy: I think peace is possible with a recognition of the pain on both sides and with serious attempts at compromise. We historians like to say that what’s your favorite text — context, to claim, for example, that suicide bombings started in 2003, when they actually started by Hamas and others during the Oslo peace process in the 1990s. There were suicide bombings in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem. It’s a much more complicated story. You know, when I look at all conflicts in history, it’s so easy to caricature. It’s so easy to say, oh, the Israelis are the bad guys. And to rely on the United Nations as an honest broker in this is highly problematic, given that it is the same United Nations that has been so biased against Israel they had a big attempt to revitalize its ugly “Zionism is racism” slur from the 1970s in the early 2000 period. [WoodyAllen.] So I’d rather say this. Israel has tried — you know, it’s a complicated situation. Israel and the Palestinians are in many ways intertwined with each other. There’s an intimacy between many Israelis and Palestinians that we don’t see when we sit here in television studios and debate what’s going on. And there’s also, obviously, a lot of hatred. There’s extremism on the Palestinian side. There’s, as I said, a political culture which is highly problematic and truly vicious and ugly, where they kill each other, as well as Jews, and celebrate those deaths. So, how do you break out of that? Israel has tried. Israel tried with the Oslo peace process, for all it’s flawed. And that, by the way — to go to General Scowcroft’s point, in the 1990s, Bill Clinton was spending a lot of time — Yasser Arafat was supposedly the most welcomed foreign guest, the foreign guest who had the most visits to the Clinton White House. America put tremendous prestige on the line to try to get this so-called simple solution. And it fell apart. It fell apart because of failures on both sides. Let’s acknowledge that, rather than saying one side is the bad guy, one side is the good guy. And to claim — and that, of course, during the 1990s, was the period that al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden were issuing their fatwas, not so much about Jews and Palestinians and Zionists and Israel, but about American troops in Saudi Arabia and about this broader desire to undo the great historical crime of Spain getting rid of the Muslims 500 years ago. [Palestain = the entire arab States.] I mean, there are more complicated and bigger issues going on. And to reduce everything, as Jimmy Carter does, to reduce everything, as part of this conversation is doing, to this unidimensional perspective that if Israelis stop building settlements, then, you know, somehow peace would reign in the land
and peace would reign in the
world, it’s just not true. Israel tried, let’s say, in Gaza in 2005
with its disengagement, by pulling back. This was an opportunity for the
Palestinians. This was a test for the Palestinians. I’ve been to Gaza, and I’ve
seen the beautiful beachfronts they have, and obviously there are a lot of problems in Gaza. There was no
attempt at development. American Jewish philanthropists raised $14 million to
buy out Israeli agricultural initiatives and pass it over to the Palestinians.
Those farms were trashed. There were attempts. There have been attempts. Israelis don’t trust. They don’t trust because the United
Nations gangs up on them. They don’t trust because the International Court
passes its decision on the fence-wall-barrier, without talking about terrorism.
There’s a feeling it’s not balanced.
23. Goodman: Professor Troy, we only have two minutes, and I wanted to ask each of you the issue of having this debate at all in this country. President Carter was invited to speak at Brandeis University. Then the invitation was withdrawn, unless he agreed to have a debate with Alan Dershowitz. Your book, Beyond Chutzpah,
Finkelstein, is also very much about what Dershowitz has to say about Israel in
his book, The Case for Peace. Your response on this issue?
24. Finkelstein: I think that’s an important question, maybe the most important: how to normalize debate in the United States about this topic.
I don’t mean that everybody has to agree with me. The
question is, how do you open up a forum so people can exchange reviews on the
topic? I’ll quickly give you three examples or a couple of examples.
Goodman: We have one minute.
26. Finkelstein: Take the example, a couple of weeks ago, Anderson Cooper’s producer called me, said they wanted to do a segment on me, having to do with the Middle East, because he was in the Arab world. I said, “Don’t waste your time. It’s never going to get on the air. I know how it works.” They said, “No, no. We’re sending down a camera crew.” They sent down a camera crew, sent down the producer, interviewed me for two-and-a-half hours, from 10:00 a.m. to 12:30. [Motherfuckers.] I said, “It’s never going to get on. I know.” Well, she said, “No, no, no. We invested the money.” Long story short, it was killed. It was supposed to be on that night. Take the case of Carter. OK, a serious debate. But why is it Brandeis University has half a dozen — half a dozen — centers for the study of the Middle East, Arab-Israeli conflict, and so forth — Jehuda Reinharz himself is a historian on Zionism. I’ve read his biography of Weizmann. Why is it, of all the qualified people they could have drawn on to debate Jimmy Carter, they bring a [fucking] clown from Harvard? It’s just not serious.
Goodman: Professor Troy, ten seconds on the
issue of a debate.
28. Troy: Both sides feel that they’re not being heard. That means that actually both sides are, to a certain extent, being heard.
Goodman: We’re going to have to leave it
there, but I encourage people to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to talk
about your thoughts and what you would like to see pursued. Professor
Finkelstein of DePaul University, his book is called Beyond Chutzpah; Professor
Gil Troy of American history at McGill University in Montreal, thank you for
joining us. His book is called Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity, and the Challenges of