I had the chance to hear Jimmy Carter last year at the Herzliya Conference on the subject of Israel's national security. He was in Israel to supervise the imminent Palestinian elections, and was invited to stop by the conference. After his remarks, questions were taken.
The last, by Israeli politician Uzi Landau, was about Palestinian incitement of hatred toward Israel and Jews in general.
As documented by Palestinian Media Watch, Palestinian schoolbooks contain statements such as, "Islam encourages this [love of homeland] and established the defense of it as an obligatory commandment for every Muslim if even a centimeter of his land is stolen."
The sixth-grade text Beautiful Language is dedicated to "Palestinians, so that they would remember their stolen homeland and work for its salvation … "
Books in use today and back when Carter served as president include teachings like, "I learn from this lesson: I believe that the Jews are the enemies of the Prophets and the believers."
And Palestinian television carried this message in 2004: "When Muhammad entered Medina, he found serious [internal] conflicts among the Arab tribes … he found the Jews behind all of these conflicts. He found treachery and betrayal in the Jews' nature, and causing conflicts among the Arabs and among all people on earth … The cause of our nation's problems and the world's problems are the Jews."
Landau asked Carter how he could consider Israel's behavior the primary cause behind the conflict considering the Palestinians' pervasive incitement of hatred. Carter responded without a hint that anything was amiss in the Palestinian Authority's attitude.
"I don't really know about that," he replied.
Shortly thereafter, the Palestinians overwhelmingly voted for Hamas.
Carter said recently, "It would be almost politically suicidal for members of Congress to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine. … If they did so, they couldn't be re-elected."
In a column titled "Thank you, Jimmy Carter," Tikkun editor Michael Lerner has written: "It's time to create a new openness to criticism and a new debate. Jimmy Carter has shown courage in trying to open that kind of space with his new book [Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid]."
And foreign correspondent Michael Matza, in a front-page story in The Philadelphia Inquirer, noted that "Carter has a bull's-eye on his back. … Carter, 82, is under attack for a volume whose goal is to provoke debate."
Brandeis University tried to schedule a debate between Carter and Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz about the former president's recent book.
"I don't want to have a conversation even indirectly with Dershowitz," Carter said to The Boston Globe. "There is no need to for me to debate somebody who, in my opinion, knows nothing about the situation in Palestine."
This from a man who says he knows nothing of Palestinians teaching their children to hate.
Last month, columnist Mona Charen summed up: "What is amazing is that even a former president of the United States confuses freedom of speech with freedom from criticism for the content of that speech."
It takes no courage to criticize Israel. Indeed, as Dershowitz is demonstrating in an Internet series (alan dershowitz. gather.com), this can be quite profitable, since Carter's book is climbing the best-seller lists.
The world's 14 million Jews represent a tiny fragment of the people on this planet. Even in America, Jews are just a small part of the actual electorate, despite the fact that there will be 43 Jewish legislators in the 110th Congress — six more than in the last and the most ever.
Americans across the political spectrum are not voting for their Jewish neighbors and supporting Israel because they are afraid to do otherwise. They support Israel because they have the courage to stand up for a people they know are fighting to survive in a sea of hostility.
This column was written for the Israel Advocacy Task Force of the Israel Center of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.