I was intrigued by Jimmy Carter's Chanukah message to the Jewish community, delivered via JTA, which provided a real insight into what makes him a decent human being – and made him a wretched failure as a president and Middle East policy analyst, which he fancies himself to be.
I never bought the idea that Carter, author of Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid as well as a Camp David agreement that brought peace between Israel and what was once its most dangerous enemy, is an anti-Semite or an Israel hater, despite his vehement opposition to many Israeli policies and his dislike of some of the country's leaders.
I do buy the argument that he somehow expects the world to conform to his deep religious belief in turning the other cheek and loving your enemy, which is fine for a pastor but a disaster for a president who has to deal with a real world where those values are rare – and where those who subscribe to them tend to get victimized by those who don't.
In his message to JTA, Carter wrote: “I have the hope and a prayer that the State of Israel will flourish as a Jewish state within secure and recognized borders in peaceful co-existence with its neighbors and with all the Moslem States, and that this peaceful co-existence will bring security, prosperity and happiness to the people of Israel and to the people of the Middle East of all faiths.”
Well, yeah? Who can argue with that?
He goes on: “I have the hope and a prayer that the bloodshed and hatred will change to mutual respect and cooperation, fulfilling the prophetic aspiration that the lion shall lie down with the lamb in harmony and peace. I likewise hope that violent attacks against all civilians will end, which will help set a better framework for commencing negotiations. I further hope that peace negotiations can soon commence, with all issues on the negotiating table.”
Great hopes; we all share them, or at least most of us.
The problem is, you can't create policy out of hope. And lying down with lions doesn't work when the lions aren't reading from the same Gospels.
The Chanukah message – in which he asks forgiveness from the Jewish community for “words or deeds of mine” that may have stigmatized Israel - makes it clear that Carter still sees the world in absolute black and white terms; for all his experience during his presidency and in the decades since, he hasn't noticed that there are few real lambs in the world. He also hasn't figured out that just because a country is strong – a lion, maybe like Israel – its adversaries are automatically innocent lambs.
Presidents – and those who seek to influence policy, as Carter has done since he left the White House – have to look at the world as it is, not as they want it to be. Carter looks at the Middle East and just sees lions and lambs, all-powerful occupiers and their innocent victims – which means he's never going to get it right.
This blog has raised questions about pro-Israel evangelical Christians who support Israeli hardliners because of a prophetic perspective relating to their view of the Second Coming. Carter brings to the issue a different kind of prophetic message, but one that is no less out of touch with the vastly complex and difficult environment in which Israel has to find its way.
There's a place for religious moralists who dream of a day when we can all just get along. That place isn't in the White House.
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