Sunday, January 21, 2007

Carter aside, Israel deserves total support

By Jim Wooten
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

At some point, the names matter. And so, too, do their words.
Whenever another person long invested in the passionsof Jimmy Carter feels so betrayed by the assertions in his latest book that they divorce themselves from his legacy work, the rest of us should surely take notice.When they, loyalists such as former Ambassador WilliamB. Schwartz Jr., scholars such as Kenneth Stein and Melvin Konner, public people never given to impetuousness, such as former state Rep. Cathey Steinberg and former De Kalb CEO Liane Levetan, when they - and others whose contributions to the betterment of this state and nation are renown - walkaway from the most important figure most of them will ever know, the world should take notice. And ask why.

In their farewell, the language is of a pained, bewildered soul forced to consider that they had misread, misjudged or been betrayed by a beloved and trusted friend. "I love Jimmy Carter and I've always loved Jimmy Carter," said Barbara Babbit Kaufman, one of the 14 who resigned last week as members of the Carter Center's board of councilors, along with Schwartz, Steinberg, Levetan and others. "But this isn ot the Jimmy Carter that I've always known and loved." she said. Konner, the Samuel Dobbs Professor of Anthropology at Emory and the author of "Unsettled: An Anthropology of the Jews," wrote as much in a powerful AJC op-ed jus tbefore Christmas. "Carter has changed," wrote Konner."Something has happened to his judgment. I don't understand what it is, but I know it is very dangerous." He wrote too:"[Carter] has become a spokesman for the enemies of my people. He has become an apologist for terrorists."

Stein, a Middle East expert and the first executive director of the Carter Center , parted company expressing similar views and distress. In each case, their actions are minimized or discounted: The 14 are among a 200-member advisory board; the 21-member board of trustees is the important one. But the names and the language chosen by careful and precise scholars and people whose lives reflect soundness, judgment and balance reflect a concern the rest of us should share that Carter's book"Palestine: Peace not Apartheid" chooses sides with harmful and lasting consequence. It's a legitimate worry. This is not a tempest-in-a-teapot, a spat or a quarrel among friends.The matter of Israel 's survival and this country's relationship with it is much too consequential to discuss in the normal language of political debate. But I do sense a growing willingness, on the left especially, to regard Israel as the villain and America as the enabler. As the war in Iraq has grown more unpopular in thiscountry, there's an eagerness to make peace, or at least the illusion of peace, so that we can get out.If we leave in defeat, the entire world knows we won't go back, even in defense of Israel , for at least the time it took to recover from Vietnam .

For me this is not a time to be equivocal, either about Iraq , Iran , Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas or our commitments to friends who believe in our word.Israel's right to exist has never been affirmed by its enemies. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vows to see it destroyed. Palestinians chose a terrorist organization, Hamas, in parliamentary elections a year ago. Syria arms Hezbollah, which seeks to destroyIsrael , as Syria would directly if it could. For my part, there can be no "balance" in U.S. policyin the region.

Retreating from Gaza in the summer of 2005, Israel did something this country would never have done, sending 25,000 soldiers to haul 8,500 of its citizens from their abodes, sacrificing their homes and land to the prospect of peace. What did they get in return? A rain of missiles. With that example, with Hezbollah and Hamas, and a frighteningly dangerous leader in Iran who is no more than five years away from nuclear weaponry ”- sworn enemies all ”- you'll not find a word here that undermines support in this country for Israel . That was surely not Carter's intentions, but I fear it will be a consequence.We have one permanent friend in the region and that is Israel .

When longtime Carter supporters speak out, as Stein and Konner and board members who resigned last week did, the rest of us should listen.
Jim Wooten is associate editorial page editor.

His column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays.


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