In a suit filed in federal court in New York, former president Jimmy Carter, along with his publisher, Simon & Schuster, is being sued by five readers of his 2006 book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." The suit alleges that the defendants violated New York's consumer protection laws by committing "deceptive acts in the conduct of business, trade, or commerce."
The plaintiffs, who hope to be considered a class, were "members of the reading public who thought they could trust a former president of the United States and a well-established book publisher to tell the truth..."
Does Carter deserve this trouble? Oh, yes, he deeply, richly deserves it. Should the suit prevail? More on that in a moment.
Carter has preened that "my role as a former president is probably superior to that of other presidents." Considering that he had four years as leader of the free world, the post-presidency claim sounds more like a bleat than a boast. And even still, it's false.
In fact, no former president including Richard Nixon has behaved as dishonorably as Carter. His post-presidency has been marked by truckling to America's enemies (North Korea, Syria, the PLO, Nicaragua) and actively impeding U.S. foreign policies of which he disapproved. Before the first Gulf War, for example, when President George H. W. Bush was attempting to assemble an international coalition to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, Carter wrote a letter to the U.N. Security Council urging members not to cooperate with the U.S.
Carter's apologies for the United States make Obama's seem chauvinistic. Meeting with Haiti's dictator Raoul Cedras, Carter allowed as how he was "ashamed of what my country has done to your country." And explaining why other Americans took a skeptical view of Syria's Hafez al-Assad and North Korea's Kim II Sung, both of whom, he wrote, "have at times been misunderstood, ridiculed, and totally condemned by the American public," Carter surmises that this is in part because "their names are foreign, not Anglo-Saxon."
And then there is Carter's festering abhorrence of the Jewish state, which reached its fullest expression in "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." The title expresses his sympathies and antipathies succinctly. It's a book about a land -- Israel -- that Carter would prefer become "Palestine." How else to interpret the latter part of the title -- "Peace Not Apartheid"? The leftist/Islamist slur against Israel is that it is a racist, apartheid state akin to South Africa and therefore lacking in legitimacy. Carter embraces this calumny.
And more. So much more. The book is a skein of falsehoods. Carter repeatedly gets history wrong -- as when he suggests that Israel attacked Jordan in the 1967 war. In fact, Israel pleaded with Jordan to remain neutral as it fought off Egypt and Syria. But Jordan elected to join the other Arab states in attempting to obliterate Israel. It lost Jerusalem and the West Bank as a consequence.
The former president surely knew, when he wrote this sentence, that it was completely untrue: "The unwavering official policy of the United States since Israel became a state has been that its borders must coincide with those prevailing from 1949-1967." In fact, no U.S. government, including Carter's, insisted on withdrawal to what Abba Eban called "Auschwitz borders."
Carter also repeatedly insinuates that U.N. Resolution 242 calls for such a withdrawal -- another lie. The resolution does speak of withdrawal, but was carefully crafted (against the objections of the Soviets) not to call for such a total pullout.
Carter writes that in the years since the Camp David accords, "The Israelis have never granted any appreciable autonomy to the Palestinians." Obviously, patently false. Concerning the 2000 Camp David/Taba negotiations, Carter suggests that both Israel and the Palestinian Authority rejected a compromise. But as former State Department chief negotiator Dennis Ross has countered, "Their (Israel's) government, meaning the cabinet, actually voted for it ... This is a matter of record, not a matter of interpretation." Carter's good friend Arafat walked away and started the second Intifada.
The former president's sloppiness -- or mendacity -- shows up on nearly every page of the book. He claims that an Arab document, the so-called "Prisoners Proposal," called for "a unity government with Hamas joining the PLO, the release of all political prisoners, acceptance of Israel as a neighbor within its legal borders... "
Or not. Here is Abdel Rahman Zeidan, a Palestinian minister, on the BBC: "You will not find one word in the document clearly stating the recognition of Israel as a state."
There's more. Carter's distaste not just for Israel but also for Jews is reflected in some of his anecdotes, as is his inexplicable attraction to autocrats and thugs in positions of power.
But a lawsuit is not the way to deal with this. The First Amendment trumps all. The courts cannot police books for accuracy -- not in America.
But the rest of us can.
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