There’s a fine interview of Stuart Eizenstat, Jimmy Carter’s former top domestic policy adviser, by Sarah Breger at Moment Magazine. Eizenstat has a new book out on Carter; and in the interview he makes clear what a political price Jimmy Carter paid for supporting Palestinian human rights.
Sen. Ted Kennedy would have ended his political challenge to Carter in 1980 had not Carter said that Jerusalem was occupied territory in a UN Security Council resolution that passed unanimously in March. “We literally saw campaign workers running, falling out of our campaign office in objection,” Eizenstat says. Carter then lost the NY primary. The official Jewish community fell out with Carter after he spoke of a Palestinian “homeland.” Carter saw the Palestinians as as oppressed as African-Americans.
Kennedy’s challenge weakened Carter and of course Carter lost to Reagan in the fall.
Here are the key excerpts.
Breger: After such a success [at Camp David] why did he get the smallest percentage of Jewish votes of any Democratic president in modern history?
To achieve the peace between Egypt and Israel, there was a lot of glass broken. A lot of pressure was put on Israel. Carter also had very tense relations with Prime Minister Rabin, and then with Begin. While Rabin was in the U.S., Carter goes to Massachusetts for the first of 100 town hall meetings. He’s asked a question, unscripted, about the Palestinians. I’m sitting at the step of this open-air forum. I literally almost fell off my chair, because Carter says, “I favor a Palestinian homeland.” He didn’t say a state. He said homeland. That caused a huge uproar and hugely embarrassed the Labor Party in Israel and Rabin. They still blame it for their defeat in the next Israeli election. Then the relationship with Begin was very difficult.
Notwithstanding that, the Jewish vote had actually started to come back to Carter. In the Illinois primary in the spring of 1980, Carter against Kennedy gets 70 percent of the Jewish vote, including in Chicago. We’re 20 percent ahead of him in the polls in New York two weeks later but then the final straw broke: UN Resolution 465. At Camp David, Carter had pledged that he would not support any UN resolution on settlements in which Jerusalem was included. UN Resolution 465 had six references to Jerusalem as occupied territory, in which there shouldn’t be settlements. Carter did not read it carefully. It was a huge miscommunication. We literally saw campaign workers running, falling out of our campaign office in objection.
We lost the New York primary as a result. I interviewed Kennedy’s top aides for this book, and I learned Kennedy already had his withdrawal speech written. Instead, he went through to the convention and split the party.
There’s one other underlying reason. Carter saw the Palestinians as being the African Americans of the Middle East—oppressed by the Israeli military in the same way the white police oppressed African Americans. In fact, he said, it was even worse. I strongly disagreed with that. It failed to take into account Israel’s security issues, the failure of the Palestinians to be willing to make peace, but that was his view. Now, if you ask him, he would say, “This is not at Israel’s expense.” He believes the most important thing is a two-state solution, but it was expressed in a way that was very raw, in particular in the Apartheid book. If you want to get into that.
Breger: I think we have to get into the Apartheid book.
So I’m at Hofstra University, and I’m going to be on a panel with Alan Dershowitz, who was my Harvard Law School professor and friend. Before we go on, Dershowitz says to me, “Stu, I want to see you privately. I have a personal issue. The New York Times has asked me to review your former boss’s new book, called Peace or Apartheid?” I said, “What new book?” He said, “You don’t know about it?” As soon as I got back to Washington, I wrote a long memorandum to Carter and said, “This is politically, morally, historically and legally incorrect. Apartheid is a term that is used against South Africa, who had a minority white government that totally foreclosed the blacks from any participation.” I said: “You may say there’s discrimination of some kind against Israeli Arabs, but they have free education, they vote, they’re represented in the parliament, they get health care. If you talk about the Palestinians, that is territory which is, to this day, still contested. You can be against the settlement policies. I don’t like the settlement policies either, but it’s not apartheid.” Then I called him, and I said, ” I know the book is already written. Just change the title.” He said, “I wish I had heard you before. It’s too late, they’re already in the boxes.”
Wikipedia says that Carter tried to backtrack on Resolution 465, which was adopted on March 1, 1980.
On March 3, 1980 President Carter clarified the US’s position saying dismantling Israeli settlements is “neither proper nor practical” and that “Jerusalem should be undivided” with its status determined in peace negotiations. He further said the US approved the vote with the understanding that all references to Jerusalem were to be removed.
The only other one-term president in the last 30 years, George H.W. Bush, also lost in part because of his opposition to Israeli settlements. Bill Clinton ran to his right on this issue in 1992; and as Tom Friedman said, the Republicans took that to heart and decided they’d never be out-Israel’d again.
Eizenstat was back again as a key adviser to Hillary Clinton on Israel issues during her 2015-2016 campaign. He helped broker her statement against BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions), by meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu and conveying his advice to Clinton (as we know from Wikileaks of DNC emails); he also pushed for her commitment to meet with Netanyahu in the first month of her presumed presidency. Eizenstat is a committed Zionist and a powerful advocate for Israel in back rooms.
Eizenstat has long criticized Carter over the 2006 book. In this interview, he often takes a dim view of the president, saying he was a “good” president but not a “near-great” president, let alone Rushmore material.
In this piece for the Hill, Eizenstat says Carter was a “visionary” to speak of a Palestinian homeland, but it cost him in the Jewish community. Cue IfNotNow, blaming the Jewish establishment for the unending occupation.
One other thing. Some day I need to write about the fact that Condoleezza Rice spoke movingly about Palestinian conditions reminding her of blacks’ conditions in the Alabama of her childhood–and she should know. Her minder from the pro-Israel community inside the Bush administration, Elliott Abrams, repeatedly rebuked her for this in his book on Middle East policy under Bush, with great condescension. It never ends; and Israel lobbyists carry out this corrective role in both parties.