Jimmy Carter and his new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, came up at a party last night. The gathering was fairly typical for my circle in Cambridge. About a third of the folks there were Jewish. The average age was 30s and the average education level somewhere between master’s and medical doctor. Most of the folks were right-thinking kind-hearted sorts, who’d like to see a legally married gay couple in every 10th suburban house, a Prius in every garage, and organic produce on every table. For the gentiles at the gathering, Jimmy Carter was a hero, slightly ahead of Clinton in the pantheon of ex-presidents, and his latest book only increased his stature. Jimmy Carter never had a unkind word for anyone and, for many decades in and out of politics, managed to find the good in everyone with whom he interacted, domestically and internationally. For the gentiles, Jimmy Carter was entitled to wear the badge of “Nicest Guy in the World” (formerly belonging to Jesus?). If Jimmy Carter had surveyed the world’s regions and chosen to single out Israel for condemnation, that was only because Israel was in fact the world’s most evil state filled with the world’s most evil people.
For the Jews at the party, there wasn’t a strong feeling of kinship with Israeli Jews. They were American-born, descendants of the last waves of Jewish emigration to the U.S., roughly 100 years ago. Nonetheless, for the Jews at the party, Jimmy Carter was a garden-variety Jew hater and the book was prima facie evidence of his Jew-hatred. Why would he bother to take the time if he didn’t hate Jews?
The gentiles took issue with this. Jimmy Carter, a Jew-hater? He has many (American) Jewish friends, surely. Can’t someone hate Israel without hating Jews?
Upon further reflection, I had something of an epiphany. Jew-haters very seldom have hated the Jews whom they knew. Even in 1930s Germany, most Germans were as least neutrally disposed towards the Jews whom they had met in their towns. The Jew who ran the clothing store was okay; it was the rich Jews in Berlin who were ruining Germany. The world was national then, so the distant Jews whom one would tend to hate would be Jews elsewhere in one’s own nation. Our economy and media are global now, however. The idea of the “neighborhood Jew” should extend farther. You would think that Jew at your company or school was okay. And Jewish entertainers on TV, such as Seinfeld, were okay. And in fact, if you’re an enlightened non-prejudiced liberal person, maybe all American Jews are okay. Where could a thoughtful well-educated Jew hater now find Jews whom it would be safe to hate? Israel.
If you’re European and want to hate Jews, you don’t have a choice but to hate Israeli Jews, since your parents and grandparents killed all of the folks who would have been your Jewish neighbors and countrymen. If you’re American, it isn’t politically correct to rave about the Jews in Manhattan and Washington who wield behind-the-scenes power in finance and politics. Jimmy Carter is therefore pretty much the best that we could expect of a elite American aggravated by the existence of Jews.
It is beyond the scope of this posting to determine whether or not Israel truly is the most evil country in the world, who is at fault in the Arab-Jewish war that was declared in 1948 and shows no sign of ending any time soon, or how much the Palestinians have suffered from being on one side of the front lines of this war. What is interesting to me is how my liberal Jewish friends are going to continue to hold onto their liberal political affiliations now that the greatest of American liberals turns out to have adopted most of Yasser Arafat’s ideas.
A 40-year-old single moderately observant Jewish friend of mine said that she was tired of Jewish men, but having trouble meeting non-Jewish guys who shared her fondness for Israel, which she has visited several times. I suggested a Republican Party fundraiser…
[Disclaimer: Everyone in the discussion had read newspaper articles about Jimmy Carter and his book, but nobody had actually read the book!]