Former President Jimmy Carter has generally been treated like a secular saint — the grandfather of Habitat for Humanity, the eradicator of the Guinea worm, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize — since announcing he has melanoma that has spread to his liver and brain, but not so in the Jewish community.
Some people have expressed mixed emotions, unable to offer good wishes to a man seen as hostile to Israel; others have suggested his illness is justice. We find such sentiments upsetting, especially as we near the season of seeking and granting forgiveness.
It’s no secret we are not Carter fans.
The Southern Israelite didn’t celebrate when he became the only Georgian to win the presidency in 1976. The Atlanta Jewish Times dogged Carter for a year with critical coverage of his 2006 book, “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid,” and its aftermath. Our editor in April called the former president a parasite.
We didn’t appreciate that in his cancer press conference Thursday, Aug. 20, Carter again blamed Israel for the lack of a peace settlement with the Palestinians when he said: “The government of Israel has no desire for a two-state solution, which is the policy of every other nation in the world.”
Regardless of whether the Israeli government’s stated support for a two-state solution is genuine, many nations do not make such a solution their policy because they do not accept Israel’s existence. One of those, Iran, has been in the news a lot lately.
But as wrong as Carter is about Israel, we should never forget the good things he has done for the Jewish community.
He was the right man at the right time in 1978 to shepherd Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin to the Camp David Accords, which removed the most powerful Arab nation as a threat to Israel’s existence. One key was that Carter earned Sadat’s trust by treating him as an equal.
Carter in 1978 created the commission that recommended the opening of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and signed off on the project in 1980.
Both the peace treaty and the museum happened in part through the efforts of Robert Lipshutz, the Jewish lawyer Carter took from Atlanta to Washington to be his White House counsel.
Another Jewish lawyer Carter took to Washington was Stuart Eizenstat, whose four years working on domestic policy for Carter launched him into national prominence. If not for that start, Eizenstat might never have been in a position to win billions of dollars in restitution for Holocaust victims.
We also owe Carter for recognizing the talent of Emory professor Ken Stein, the first director of the Carter Center. We’ll never know, of course, but there’s a chance Stein’s knowledge and ability would not have been enough to establish the Institute for the Study of Modern Israel without the public profile gained from his long relationship with Carter. ISMI plays a vital in teaching educators about Israel so that students in Georgia and elsewhere learn the truth.
Jimmy Carter is not a saint. He is a man, and he has many flaws. We have reason not to love him, but we ought to respect him now and remember him always for his many gifts.