Jimmy Carter’s Jewish Problem

Oct. 23 2018

Jimmy Carter has publicly cited his knowledge of the Old and New Testaments and his Christian faith as having given him special qualifications for shaping Middle East policy, and he has, in his own words, “a strong religious motivation to try to bring peace to what I call the Holy Land.” In his memoir of his years as a senior aide to President Carter, Stuart Eizenstat breaks from his generally admiring tone in telling of two episodes that revealed much about how his former boss’s reading of the Bible informed his policies. Both incidents occurred when Carter was teaching Sunday school—something he didn’t give up after his inauguration. Meir Soloveichik writes:

The subject of his first class [after assuming the presidency] was the tale of Jesus driving the moneylenders from the Temple. The press soon reported that the president had informed his students that this story was “a turning point” in Christ’s life. “He had directly challenged in a fatal way the existing church, and there was no possible way for the Jewish leaders to avoid the challenge. So they decided to kill Jesus.” Anguished religious leaders involved in interfaith engagement wrote the White House to object to this simplistic gloss on a subject that has inspired persecution, and murder, of Jews for centuries. . . .

He soon spoke at a Sunday-school class again; and, with an Associate Press reporter in attendance, told those assembled that Jesus, in proclaiming himself the messiah, was aware that he was risking death “as quickly as [it] could be arranged by the Jewish leaders, who were very powerful.” . . .

Eizenstat’s book allows us to understand how episodes such as these reveal how Carter’s own insensitivity to the Jewish historical experience, and his understanding of the Bible, colored his attitude toward matters pertaining to the Middle East. The president harbored a deep dislike for Menachem Begin, “with all his obduracy and legalisms,” [a phrase that combines two classic Christian stereotypes of Jews]. Eizenstat further writes that Carter saw American Jewish leaders and Israel “through the filter of the Bible, more the New than the Old Testament.” . . .

At the same time, Eizenstat’s description of Carter’s Christianity, and the impact that it had on his own attitudes, should be a clarion call to all who care about the future. Carter’s story should impress on Jews the fact that American Christian support for Israel is by no means inevitable. Tens of millions of them still love and support the Jewish state, but . . . this is not at all guaranteed to endure in the next generation. . . . [I]nfluenced by the fashionable nature of progressive issues and by biblical criticism, many young evangelicals are predisposed to embrace the Palestinian narrative of Israeli oppression.

Drawing on Robert Nicholson’s 2013 essay for Mosaic, Soloveichik suggests that this problem can be remedied by bringing Christians to Israel and giving them the opportunity to see its realities.

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Read more at Commentary

More about: Anti-Semitism, Evangelical Christianity, History & Ideas, Jimmy Carter, New Testament, U.S. Foreign policy, US-Israel relations

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter