Chances are you've seen former U.S. President Jimmy Carter promoting his new pro-Palestinian book lately (I'm not going to promote the title here) on television. Maybe you've read magazine/blog/newspaper coverage, too. He's sure been getting a lot of sympathetic press and the book is a best-seller (and let's all remember, of course, that he's finding this success and much-more-than-15-minutes-of-fame within a media controlled by the "pro-Israel lobby," as we're told repeatedly by my not-so-favorite source, the National Book Critics Circle blog, and others). I'm not going to make it easy for anyone who wants to indulge in that kind of groundless and incendiary prose, but if you want evidence of I'm talking about (that would be understandable--I like evidence, too), you can Google "National Book Critics Circle," find the blog, and search for the "interview" the NBCC president posted on November 29 with the former American president. Look for the follow-up piece as well. I'm trying to limit my time over at that blog these days, but I'd bet there's been no subsequent follow-up describing the serious charges now being leveled against the book's accuracy, the NBCC president's claims (which, unfortunately, I suffered through when he contacted me personally--totally uninvited--to try to convey to me) to be focused on "content" notwithstanding.
To say that Jimmy Carter is pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel is an understatement, and, considering his accomplishments a generation ago at Camp David, it's an almost unbelievably sad one. (It's especially sad for me--my first time in a voting booth was November of 1976, when I watched my mom vote for Carter, Mondale, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan [we lived in New York at the time]. And my first letter to a public official [I was in second grade] was to Carter, whom I admired back then. Let's just say I'm not quite so admiring now.)
Trouble is, lots of people are giving his book credibility.
Why should you or I have any doubts about it?
I'll leave it to experts like Ken Stein and Dennis Ross to explain, as they did last evening on CNN:
Source: CNN's "Situation Room":
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Former President Jimmy Carter is responding to the controversy flaring over his new best seller on the Middle East. A long time associate has now resigned in protest, calling the book one sided and inflammatory. President Carter says he's not anti-Israel, he's simply he says trying to spur the peace process forward.
Let's turn to our Brian Todd, he's watching this controversy unfold -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the former president has said he wanted his new book to be provocative. He may not have counted on this.
TODD (voice-over): A former president, now stands accused of taking sides, by some of those who worked closest with him on Middle East peace. Among Jimmy Carter's critics, Emory University Professor Ken Stein, who just resigned as a Carter Center fellow. He tells CNN Carter's new book, "Palestine Peace not Apartheid" distorts history.
KENNETH STEIN, RESIGNED FROM CARTER CENTER: I don't believe that a former president of the United States has special privilege or prerogative to write history and perhaps invent it.
TODD: What is your problem with this title, "Palestine Peace not Apartheid"?
STEIN: There's too much emotion in the Arab-Israel conflict already and I think this adds heat rather than light. When you use the word apartheid, what you're doing is you're saying that what Israel is doing to the Palestinians in the territories is equivalent to what happened to the blacks in South Africa.
TODD: President Carter claims he's not insinuating that Israel is perpetrating racial apartheid, but...
JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Israel has penetrated and occupied, confiscated and colonized major portions of the territory belonging to the Palestinians.
TODD: As for the inaccuracies Stein alleges are in the book, most deal with dates or events. Carter says he fact checked the book with a prominent Middle East journalist and an Emory University history professor who also works at the Carter Center. But Stein also suggests Carter took material without attribution.
STEIN: Two of the maps that appear on page 148 of the book are very similar, are incredibly similar, to two maps that appeared in Dennis Ross' memoir, "The Missing Peace."
TODD: But Stein is clear, he is not accusing Jimmy Carter of plagiarism. As for the former president?
CARTER: My maps came from an Atlas that's publicly available.
TODD: We tried to contact the firm that Carter says he got those maps from, it's called the Applied Research Institute in Jerusalem to see if they got those maps from Dennis Ross. We were unable to reach that company. A spokeswoman for President Carter's publisher, Simon and Schuster, says they are tracking all of these accusations, but they stand by the president's book -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, thank you for that. And as Brian just reported, Professor Stein at Emory suggests the former president's book contains several maps that are extremely similar to those in a memoir by a top veteran of Middle East policy.
And joining us now is Dennis Ross, he's the former chief U.S. Middle East negotiator. He's the author of "The Missing Peace, The inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace." An important book on the subject. Dennis thanks very much for coming in. So who is right, the former president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, or Ken Stein who worked with him for a long time, a man you know quite well?
DENNIS ROSS, AUTHOR, "THE MISSING PEACE": Well, look, I'm not going to get into a debate over who is right, other than to say that in terms of what I have seen from the book, and I have to be clear, I haven't read the book, but I looked at the maps.
BLITZER: You haven't read "Palestine Peace not Apartheid"?
ROSS: I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I looked at the maps and the maps he uses are maps that are drawn basically from my book. There's no other way they could -- even if he says they come from another place. They came originally from my book. BLITZER: We're going to put them up on the screen on the wall behind you. But the whole notion, what's the big deal if he lifted maps from your book and put them in his book?
ROSS: You know, the attribution issue is one thing, the fact that he's labeled them as an Israeli interpretation of the Clinton idea is just simply wrong. The maps were maps that I created because at Camp David and then with the Clinton ideas, we never presented maps, but we presented percentages of withdrawal and we presented as well criteria for how to draw the lines. So after I left the government, when I wrote this book, I actually commissioned a mapmaker, to take those and produce them for the first time.
BLITZER: And then he put virtually the same map in his book without saying this came from you. I want you to listen to what he said specifically about this. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARTER: I've never seen Dennis Ross' book. I'm not knocking it, I'm sure it's a very good book, but my maps came from an atlas that's publicly available. And I think it's the most authentic map that you can get.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You heard his explanation how-- would you say your maps wound up in his book.
ROSS: Well, the reality is the place he got it from, had to get it from mine. I published it before, number one. Number two, you would think that if you wanted to write about the facts of what went on, you would go to a book where a participant actually wrote them and then developed the maps in light of what we had put on the table. Now, again, if the purpose is to say, you're presenting facts, then you should present facts. To say that his map is an Israeli interpretation of the Clinton ideas is simply not true. These were the Clinton ideas. If he were to say that...
BLITZER: On that point, he's told me that he understands better what happened at Camp David, where you were one of the principal negotiators, than the former president himself. I want you to listen to this exchange that we had the other day, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARTER: I hate to dispute Bill Clinton on your program, because he did a great and heroic effort there. He never made a proposal that was accepted by Barak or Arafat.
BLITZER: Why would he write that in his book if he said Barak accepted and Arafat rejected it?
CARTER: I don't know. You can check with all the records, Barak never did accept it. (END VIDEO CLIP)
ROSS: That's simply not so.
BLITZER: Who is right, Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton on this question which is so relevant as to whether or not the Israelis at Camp David at the end of the Bill Clinton administration accepted the proposals the U.S. put forward?
ROSS: The answer is President Clinton. The Israelis said yes to this twice, first at Camp David, there were a set of proposals that were put on the table that they accepted. And then were the Clinton parameters, the Clinton ideas which were presented in December, their government, meaning the cabinet actually voted it. You can go back and check it, December 27th the year 2000, the cabinet voted to approve the Clinton proposal, the Clinton ideas. So this is -- this is a matter of record. This is not a matter of interpretation.
BLITZER: So you're saying Jimmy Carter is flat wrong.
ROSS: On this issue, he's wrong. On the issue of presenting his map as an Israeli interpretation of the Clinton ideas, that's simply not so.
BLITZER: What about this issue that is part of the title of his book that Israel in effect has created an apartheid on the West Bank in the Palestinian territories?
ROSS: You know obviously I disagree with that. You know I would, as a general point, Wolf, I would say everybody's entitled to their own opinion. They are not entitled to their own facts. One of the reasons I wrote this book was to lay out what had actually happened. We live in a world, especially in the Middle East, where part of the reason we have a conflict is because we have mythologies and you can't reconcile the mythologies. You want to make peace, you have to reconcile to reality.
BLITZER: The -- and when I interviewed him, he said he hopes this book does spark a serious debate. Earlier today, though, he says that U.S. politicians, the news media are intimidated by the Israel lobby in the United States and they really don't speak out forcefully on the Palestinian question. Listen precisely to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARTER: There's a tremendous intimidation in this country that has silenced our people, and it's not just individuals, it's not just folks that are running for office. It's the news media as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you say to that charge, that's a very serious charge.
ROSS: Well, has it silenced him at this point or did it silence him up until now? Are we to presume that everything he has said up until today was a function of intimidation and now he's not intimidated?
BLITZER: So your bottom line on his book, "Palestine Peace not Apartheid", because it is sparking a lot of controversy out there.
ROSS: My bottom line is if you put something in here that I can see without question is not what the reality was, not what the fact was, that is in a sense, helping to promote a mythology, not a fact. I can -- look, we have to understand a certain history here. President Carter made a major contribution to peace in the Middle East. That's the reality.
BLITZER: In 1978 and '79, the Camp David Accords.
ROSS: And the Egyptian/Israeli Peace Treaty, there's no question about that. I would like him to meet the same standard that he applied then to what he's doing now.
BLITZER: Dennis Ross, thanks very much for coming in.
ROSS: You're welcome.
Standards, indeed. Would that "the media," bloggers and the commenters who respond to them included, might aspire to them as well.