Monday, March 24, 2008


This past Saturday, we had the opportunity to listen to a half-hour talk by our Scholar-in-Residence, noted historian Dr. Ken Stein, director of the Institute for the Study of Modern Israel at Emory University. Stein was also the first director of the Carter Center, serving from 1983 to 1986. In late 2006, he severed his ties to the Center following the publication of Jimmy Carter’s book Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid, which Stein claimed was “...not based on unvarnished analyses; it is replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions, and simply invented segments.” A polite way of saying “Bullshit.”

Most of Dr. Stein’s discussion had to do with the increasingly left-leaning environment in modern universities - no surprise to any of us who have spent time in one - and its implications for critical thinking and a rational view of Middle Eastern events. But what I found most interesting were some of his comments toward the end of the talk, comments having to do with former President Jimmy Carter and his attempts at diplomacy in the region.

Stein is in a unique position to weigh in on Carter and his unfortunate tendency to use the Convenient Lie…because Stein, formerly a close associate of Carter, was actually present when certain diplomatic discussions were held. He cited one particular instance in which Carter had met with the late President Hafez Assad of Syria (yemach shemo). After the meeting, Carter announced that Assad had agreed to discuss the future of the Golan Heights with Israel and had indicated his willingness to create a demilitarized zone in the area.

The only problem was, this wasn’t true. Assad had never said any such thing, and Stein called Carter on it in the limousine, after exiting the talks. President Jimmy’s excuse was that the next stop was Israel, and he felt that it was important to come there with positive news…even if it wasn’t true.

In the subsequent meeting with Yitzchak Shamir and his officials, Carter told the same lie, misrepresenting Assad’s willingness to negotiate the status of the Golan. One of the officials caught Ken Stein’s eye and asked quietly, in Hebrew, whether Assad had really said this. Ken’s quiet response was “Lo nakhon” - it was false.

This exchange was overheard by Yitzchak Shamir himself, who cast his eye upon Stein and gave him a signal to indicate he had heard…and went on as though nothing had happened, not tipping Carter off that he had been caught in his lie.

Carter’s book Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid is full of deliberate untruths, according to Stein, who claims to have kept detailed notes on every discussion for which he was present. Many times, his notes directly contradict something Carter states in the book. And in the subsequent book tours and campus visits, people were not given an opportunity to challenge the specifics of the book. As to why Carter has become such a fervent advocate of the Palestinian cause, Stein speculates that it’s a combination of his longtime role as Champion of the “Downtrodden and Oppressed” (words and emphasis mine), coupled with anger at the Jewish community, a community that supported Carter strongly in the 1976 election but deserted him in droves four years later. (The same is true of the evangelical Christian community.) So perhaps he blames the Jews for costing him the election in 1980. It’s easier, I suppose, than blaming himself or his failed presidency.

It was a fascinating discussion. It’s one thing to read about history; quite another to hear about it from someone who was right there as it was being made. Now, if we can only make sure it’s reported factually...

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