KATSMAN: Jimmy Carter’s True Legacy Is Disastrous Antisemitism

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Abraham Katsman Contributor
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It does not feel good to write an essay raising uncomfortable truths about a dying man. But sometimes, it’s important to set the record straight. In the case of former President Jimmy Carter, such record-straightening is mandatory.

Carter, 99, is in the late stages of hospice care for cancer. Carter’s death will, inevitably, trigger a wave of glowing retrospectives on his life and presidency. As it should: we can honor a president’s service no matter how vehemently we criticize his policies. 

But eulogistic revisionism will color those retrospectives, especially as they reflect on Carter’s Iran/Mideast policy, his “humanitarianism,” and his increasingly evident — and I choose my words carefully — pathological antisemitism and hatred of Israel. 

Carter may not have been the first president hostile toward Jews or Israel; but his was the first administration to allow that hostility to seriously skew policy to the self-inflicted detriment of America and its allies. 

Understanding Carter’s true legacy adds perspective to the Obama and Biden administrations’ decisions to step back from America’s once-principled, muscular, largely bipartisan Mideast policies and alliances. Today, tail-between-the-legs appeasement of America’s enemies and morally inverted treachery toward allies (particularly Israel) is disturbingly normal among Democrats. 

Carter, in a sense, was ahead of his time. Long before pro-Hamas encampments became all the rage at America’s elite universities, our 39th president was subordinating broader American interests to an obsessive antagonism toward Israel. And he had the chutzpah to do it in the midst of the Cold War and in the wake of the Munich Olympics massacre, the Yom Kippur War, the Arab Oil Embargo and the Entebbe hostage rescue. 

The clearest example is Carter’s disastrous empowerment of Iranian Islamists, arguably the most self-destructive presidential decision of the past half-century. Not only did this policy cost Carter the White House, but its effects still reverberate today. The Islamic “Republic” and its proxies have by now killed U.S. servicemembers and citizens by the hundreds, sown regional chaos, destabilized our allies, tyrannically subjugated its own citizens and aligned itself with China and Russia. Of the numerous Mideast crises, few are without Iranian fingerprints.

To Israel, the threats Carter unleashed are existential: Islamist Iran is sworn to Israel’s destruction, and methodically pursues that goal. It devotes staggering resources to developing nuclear and ballistics capabilities, surrounds Israel with hundreds of thousands of missiles and sponsors the direct terrorist murder and suicide bombing (and kidnapping, and rape) of thousands of U.S.-allied Israelis. 

Some excuse Carter’s role in the Islamic Republic’s rise, attributing it to naïveté on the president’s part. Don’t you believe it.

Antisemitism is not a charge to be made lightly. But it is increasingly clear that Carter has deeply antisemitic and profoundly anti-Zionist inclinations, and has for a long time. This realization strips away the veneer of his self-promoted image — the saintly, do-gooder human rights champion — and reveals true shabbiness underneath. 

Carter famously taught Bible lessons in his church. But published transcripts reveal a distressing, raw, theological hostility to Jews and modern Israel. Carter views modern Israel through an odd New Testament tunnel-vision, obsessively focused on the refusal of powerful Roman-era Jews to accept Jesus as their messiah (instead they “decided to kill him”) and the resulting forfeiture of Jewish national and covenantal rights. He projects disparaging characterizations of Jews from 2,000 years ago onto today’s Israel, teaching that Jews despise Christians as “dogs.” Does that sound like any Sunday school you attended?

As President, Carter reneged on the Nixon and Ford administration commitments to not ask Israel to return to the pre-1967 lines. Carter’s high-pressure tactics and bias toward the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) irritated not only Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, but also his more liberal predecessor, Yitzhak Rabin. At the United Nations, Carter’s representatives broke the taboo against meeting with the PLO, then voted in the Security Council for a resolution calling Jerusalem “Arab territory.” The U.S. remained silent in the face of crude, antisemitic speeches in the General Assembly, and declined to veto a series of pernicious anti-Israel resolutions. 

Journalists Andrew and Leslie Cockburn are harsh critics of Israel. But they still recorded what Carter said when he heard that Begin had been advising his political opponents: “If I get back in … I’m going to f*ck the Jews.” 

Presidential historian Tevi Troy notes that hostility to Israel and the American Jewish community were the only unifying positions on Carter’s bickering national security team. Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski clashed hard on every issue but one: they were eye-to-eye, along with Carter, about being tough on Israel. 

Vice President Mondale, an old-style liberal Zionist, complained that the administration’s relentless hostility toward Israel “made my life miserable.” Brzezinski scolded U.S. Jews: “You people better learn that you don’t dictate foreign policy.”  Vance, according to Carter adviser Stu Eisenstat, was “impossible” and “very pro-Arab.” 

Then there is Carter’s book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” Useless for sober students of policy, it is a key text for malicious anti-Israel propagandists. When the terror-affiliated Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) mails your book to libraries across America, that is quite an endorsement.

According to Carter, the treatment Palestinians endure from Israel is “worse than it was [for blacks] in South Africa,” and their persecution even worse than the genocide in Rwanda (where a million civilians suffered rape, torture, limb-hacking and slaughter by machete-armed tribal militias). Carter’s rewrite of history is rife with one-sided, conveniently placed factual distortions, all painting Israel as the villain. 

If countries could sue for libel, Israel might have hauled him into court. Alan Dershowitz’s 2008 “The Case Against Israel’s Enemies” devotes an entire chapter (plus 22 single-spaced pages of refutational footnotes) to eviscerating Carter’s dozens of gross misstatements and inversions of easily verifiable, fundamental historical facts. Accidental oversights, perhaps? Well, considering that every single one of Carter’s misrepresentations casts Israel in a far worse light than the truth, what are the odds?

The book oozed too much Israel-hatred even for Carter’s inner circle. The Carter Center saw 14 board members resign in protest, including former executive director Professor Kenneth Stein.

Carter’s response? He declined Dershowitz’s invitation to publicly debate the book. He did, however, claim that the “Jewish lobby” was responsible for the criticism, as well as “voices from Jerusalem dominating American media.” Very helpful, thanks. 

Embarrassingly for a former U.S. president, Carter even became a shill for Hamas. He advocated US recognition of Hamas, and denied that Hamas refused to recognize Israel — notwithstanding the genocidal Hamas charter. He parroted former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s preposterous claim that the PLO “never advocated for the annihilation of Israel” and “wouldn’t equate Palestinian antipersonnel rockets with terrorism aimed at Israel’s people” — notwithstanding the genocidal PLO covenant. Incredibly, Carter wouldn’t condemn suicide bombings against Israel on moral grounds, but only as counterproductive tactics in the cause of Palestinian liberation.

Toxic antisemitism pulsates through the Carter record. 

Iran had been ruled for decades by the Shah when Carter’s term began in 1977. A staunchly anti-communist, anti-Islamist ruler, the Shah was no democrat (what Persian Gulf leader was?), and wielded his feared secret police against his many enemies. Still, he was a steadfast U.S. ally and enemy of the Soviet Union with a powerful U.S.-equipped military. He had even supplied Israel and the U.S. with oil during the 1973-74 Arab Oil Embargo. 

As allies go, the Shah’s Iran had a fairly solid record. Yet, as Islamist anti-Shah protests came to a boil, Carter facilitated the ascent to power of the Shah’s uber-Islamist antagonist, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a man with deadly designs on Israel and the West. 

That was no innocent miscalculation: the Carter administration was hardly oblivious to what Khomeinism meant for Israel or the United States. Serial revelations have since uncovered just how much about Khomeini — particularly his antisemitism — was already clear to the Carter administration as well as the extent to which the administration just flat-out lied about it.

Weeks before Carter green-lighted Khomeini’s triumphant return to Iran, the CIA had translated Khomeini’s most recent work, which made no effort to hide the cleric’s antipathy toward Israel and Jews. A publisher would later describe the book as “Khomeini’s Mein Kampf.” The Carter administration knowingly empowered a man who had written that “Jews are killing Islam in the name of religion;” that “we must try to liberate the lands of the Muslims in Palestine…;” and that “if we attain power” we “must make these traitors taste the worst torture for what they have done.” 

It was also already known to the administration that Khomeini’s forces were coordinating with the PLO, who supplied weapons and operatives to Khomeini’s revolutionaries. (Khomeini would soon reward Arafat with Tehran’s Israeli Embassy compound, which the PLO still controls.)

Any other president in Israel’s first 60 years would have balked at Khomeini’s overt jihadism, antisemitism and menacing of Israel. Any president would have sought to stop the ominous rise of so obvious a threat to American interests and regional allies, and recognized the implications of empowering Islamists who considered Israel only the “Little Satan” — but America their “Great Satan.”

But Carter was not just any president. In spite of that knowledge, Carter and his team publicly touted Khomeini as a harmless, simple, religiously inspiring figure. “Khomeini will eventually be hailed as a saint,” proclaimed Andrew Young, Carter’s ambassador to the UN; Khomeini is a “Gandhi-like figure,” announced William Sullivan, Carter’s U.S. Ambassador to Iran; Khomeini was a “holy man of impeccable integrity and honesty,” declared advisor James Bill.

A 2016 BBC Report on declassified State Department cables revealed Carter’s invaluable assistance to Khomeini. Carter defused opposition from Iran’s powerful, Western-aligned military, still loyal to the Shah and his prime minister, Shapour Bakhtiar, thus ensuring that there would be no military overthrow of Khomeini.

Now, at least two things are indisputable about Carter and his team: first, that they were not stupid men; and second, that they loathed Israel — particularly once Menachem Begin became prime minister in 1977. Paving the way for Khomeini was not mere foreign policy negligence. The Carter team wanted to knock Israel down a peg or two, a precursor to the regional “strategic balancing” of Iran against Israel pursued by the Obama and Biden administrations. 

And just like the Obama and Biden administrations, the Carter team’s animus toward Israel got the better of them, making them downplay the dangers that a hostile, Islamist Iran presented to the region, to the Western world, and to America itself. The immediate result was Iranian “students” taking the U.S Embassy staff hostage, and America has continued paying dearly for the blunder ever since. 

Carter never tired of proclaiming his faith-rooted “fundamental commitment to human rights and the alleviation of human suffering.” But in practice, Carter wasn’t so holy; just holier-than-thou. 

Carter, in fact, benefitted magnificently from the largesse of the Islamic world’s worst human rights violators. Saudi Arabia (and not today’s liberalizing regime) bailed out Carter’s peanut farm in 1976 in a murky pre-election loan transaction (worth over $2.5 million in current dollars), using warehoused peanuts — which had apparently already been sold — as collateral. What, one wonders, did Carter promise in return? 

The Carter Center has been funded primarily, as far as is transparent, by tens of millions of dollars from Arab despots (including those with “think tanks” promoting Holocaust denial and claims that “Zionists” — not Nazis — killed Europe’s Jews), and by the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), history’s largest criminal banking and money laundering enterprise. Carter traveled with the slippery BCCI founder and chairman, Pakistani Agha Hasan Abedi, making introductions to the rich and powerful. BCCI was later discovered to have helped finance the Islamist takeover of Iran, the Saudi Bin Laden group, and assorted terror and narcotics operations.

Carter’s brother and business partner, Billy Carter, also managed to obtain election-year business loans of worth over $30 million in today’s dollars from a bank run by crony Bert Lance. Lance then became Carter’s director of OMB, until chased out of office on ethics charges. Lance ultimately was implicated for work done with … BCCI

Billy Carter also squired a high-level group of Libyans (his “best friends”) around the US, visited Libya, and blamed the poor American perception of Libya on (what else?) “Jewish media.” Oh, plus he lied to the Justice Department when he denied receiving any compensation. President Carter later admitted to discussing confidential State Department cables with Billy prior to his first Libya trip. 

As president, Carter recognized Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge as Cambodia’s legitimate rulers after their murder of millions. Carter sold out our Taiwanese allies, severing American diplomatic relations and simultaneously recognizing Communist China

And in 1980, the oh-so-compassionate Carter administration took steps to extradite the dying Shah from his wandering exile to Iran as part of an exchange for U.S. hostages. The deal fell through, though not for lack of effort by the Carter team.

Carter maintained a close relationship with his “dear friend” and fellow humanitarian, Yasser Arafat, even after Arafat was discovered to have pocketed hundreds of millions of U.S. aid dollars. Carter laid a wreath on Arafat’s grave in 2008; he did not visit the graves of Arafat’s many victims, not even the U.S. citizens among them.

The Arafat friendship was no aberration. Carter was fascinated by, met with and spoke glowingly about Syrian butchers Haffez al-Assad and son Bashar; he met with Hamas head, Khaled Mashaal (over State Department objections), and called on the EU to break with the U.S. and recognize Hamas. He also successfully sought out meetings with the dictators of Cuba and North Korea.

His “dear friends” and benefactors shared two characteristics: they had abominable human rights histories; and they had lethal enmity toward Israel. 

We’ll hear plenty about Carter’s “legacy” focusing on the Camp David Agreements between Egypt and Israel. But while Carter deserves credit for hammering out the actual accords, the Egypt-Israel peace process was already underway due to both countries’ exasperation with Carter’s cultivation of a renewed role for the Soviets in regional diplomacy. Camp David thus came about in spite of administration policy, not because of it: Carter opposed Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem, impeded the negotiation process by insisting that no bilateral-only agreement be reached without “solving” the plight of the Palestinians, and pressured Israel and Egypt to participate in a multilateral peace conference with the Soviets, Syrians and PLO.

Carter’s true legacy is the chaos he’s spread throughout the region. He engineered the takeover of an allied oil-rich Iran by radical Islamists and Jew-hating jihadists who have exported religious terrorism ever since. The Khomeinist “Islamic Republic” likely could not have taken power without Carter’s acquiescence, assistance, and concealment of its rabid antisemitism. 

Carter’s interconnected disdain for Israel and willingness to appease Iranian terror-sponsors at the expense of Israel’s security were catastrophic to U.S. interests and security. Unfortunately, the Obama and Biden administrations have reinstated that policy. 

Carter’s legacy is Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis; it is Islamic Jihad and every other Islamist extremist group or militia founded or funded by Iran; it is the ruin and wreckage of Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and every other “host” nation in which Iran’s proxies carry out their reign of terror; it is the graves of thousands of America’s servicemen and the maimed bodies of thousands more, from the Beirut Marine barracks bombing to Iranian IEDs in Iraq; it is the carnage of nearly every suicide bombing and jihadist terror attack in the world; it is the thousands of Jews wounded, tortured, raped, mutilated and kidnapped on Oct. 7, including dozens of U.S. citizens; it is the trillions of defense dollars and millions of hours spent over 44 years to counter Iranian threats that Carter unleashed; it is the gaslighting provocateurs and useful idiots on our streets and campuses cheering on the Jew-killers supported by Iran. 

So, when the military offers its 21-gun salute to President Carter, let’s show respect; but let’s also remember the harm he caused to America, and to a world now riddled with metastasizing anti-Americanism, antisemitism and Islamism. We should honestly honor his service; but we mustn’t ignore his true legacy of dishonesty, disservice and dishonor.

Abe Katsman is an American lawyer and political commentator living in Israel. He serves as Counsel to Republicans Overseas Israel.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.