GZÓZXi^c\ dc )% years of Is­rael — Egypt peace

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROBERT PHILPOT

LATE ON the evening of Sun­day 17 Septem­ber 1978, Anwar Sa­dat and Me­nachem Be­gin — watched by a beam­ing Jimmy Carter — signed an agree­ment in the East Room of the White House which brought to a close 30 years of in­ter­mit­tent con­flict be­tween Is­rael and its big­gest neigh­bour and most dan­ger­ous en­emy.

The three men had spent the pre­vi­ous 13 days se­questered at the pres­i­den­tial re­treat of Camp David. Be­gin and Sa­dat re­fused to ne­go­ti­ate di­rectly and barely spoke with one an­other, so the pres­i­dent and his team shut­tled be­tween the Egyp­tian and Is­raeli del­e­ga­tions, end­lessly draft­ing and re­draft­ing the terms of a peace agree­ment be­tween the bit­ter foes.

While a for­mal agree­ment would not be signed for an­other six months — af­ter the pres­i­dent had flown to Cairo and Jerusalem to seal the fray­ing deal — the sign­ing of the Camp David ac­cords 40 years ago rep­re­sented the high point of Mr Carter’s tem­pes­tu­ous pres­i­dency and his most en­dur­ing legacy.

And yet, barely two years af­ter that mo­men­tous day, Amer­i­can Jews de­liv­ered a his­toric snub to the pres­i­dent as he ran for re-elec­tion, con­tribut­ing to his land­slide de­feat at the hands of Ron­ald Rea­gan.

Along­side African Amer­i­cans, Jews are the Demo­cratic party’s most loyal con­stituency; earn­ing like Epis­co­palians but vot­ing like Puerto Ri­cans, as the writer Mil­ton Him­mel­farb fa­mously put it. When Mr Carter nar­rowly won the White House in 1976, he did so with the votes of 71 per cent of them. Four years later, how­ever, the pres­i­dent had the low­est share of the Jewish vote — just 45 per cent — re­ceived by a Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date in the past cen­tury. Some de­fected di­rectly to Mr Rea­gan; a dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­ber bolted to John An­der­son, a third party can­di­date who at­tracted the sup­port of many other dis­af­fected liberals.

Jewish disen­chant­ment with Mr Carter had unique causes — the so-called “kosher vote” stuck with Democrats such as Ge­orge McGovern and Wal­ter Mon­dale even as they went down to crush­ing de­feats — but they none­the­less epit­o­mise why the pres­i­dent was un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously ejected from the White House af­ter only one term. These causes are laid bare in a new bi­og­ra­phy of Mr Carter by Stu­art Eizen­stat, who served as the pres­i­dent’s do­mes­tic pol­icy ad­viser and also as an in­for­mal lia­sion with the Jewish com­mu­nity.

As Eizen­stat am­ply demon­strates in Pres­i­dent Carter: The White House Years, Camp David showed Mr Carter at his very best: his will­ing­ness to take huge po­lit­i­cal risks; his tenac­ity and courage; a prodi­gious work ethic, and mas­tery of the minu­tiae.

More­over, the pres­i­dent proved him­self sym­pa­thetic to Jewish con­cerns: push­ing a law to ban US com­pa­nies par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Arab boy­cott of Is­rael, es­tab­lish­ing the Pres­i­den­tial Com­mis­sion on the Holocaust un­der Elie Wiesel, and back­ing its pro­posal to build Wash­ing­ton DC’s renowned Holocaust Mu­seum.

How­ever, Mr Carter — who, un­like Richard Nixon, did not ap­pear to har­bour an an­tisemitic bone in his body — also demon­strated a star­tling in­sen­si­tiv­ity at times. Dur­ing his first year in of­fice, for in­stance, the de­vout Bap­tist man­aged to twice re­fer to the Jews’ role in Je­sus’ cru­ci­fix­ion when preach­ing at Bi­ble classes.

A gen­er­ous in­ter­pre­ta­tion might as­cribe such gaffes to what Mr Carter’s chief of staff, Hamil­ton Jor­dan, termed the “huge cul­tural … gap” which ex­ist-

The ac­cords were the high point of his pres­i­dency This week marks four decades since Egypt and Is­rael agreed to end the war be­tween them. The deal’s ar­chi­tect be­lieved the Jewish com­mu­nity ‘has never given me a break’

Carter con­tin­ued a provoca­tive stance to Is­rael

ed be­tween the pres­i­dent and many Jews. The first south­erner elected to the White House since the civil war, Mr Carter’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer had been forged in ru­ral Ge­or­gia and he lacked the fa­mil­iar­ity and con­tacts with the com­mu­nity that many lead­ing Democrats from states with large, ur­ban, Jewish pop­u­la­tions had.

But new to na­tional pol­i­tics, the pres­i­dent also dis­played a highly unattrac­tive com­bi­na­tion of in­ex­pe­ri­ence, ar­ro­gance and self-right­eous­ness which dec­i­mated his Jewish sup­port.

Af­ter run­ning a strongly pro-Is­rael cam­paign in

1976, Mr Carter launched an ill-ad­vised and ul­ti­mately fu­tile ef­fort to strike a com­pre­hen­sive Mid­dle

East peace deal be­tween Is­rael and all its re­gional en­e­mies. While Mr Eizen­stat, Mr Jor­dan and Wal­ter Mon­dale, his vice pres­i­dent, re­peat­edly cau­tioned the pres­i­dent of the need to as­suage Is­rael’s le­git­i­mate se­cu­rity con­cerns — and em­pha­sised that bring­ing the do­mes­tic Jewish com­mu­nity on board was key to the suc­cess of any ini­tia­tive in the re­gion — Mr Carter largely ig­nored such warn­ings. The pres­i­dent, Sec­re­tary of State Cyrus Vance and Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Zbigniew Brzezin­ski in­stead saw “do­mes­tic out­reach as a nui­sance”, Mr Eizen­stat sug­gests.

Nor were Mr Carter’s early mis­steps with­out con­se­quences. His un­planned pub­lic en­dorse­ment of a Pales­tinian home­land in early 1977 was de­liv­ered while Yitzhak Rabin was vis­it­ing Amer­ica, and just weeks be­fore Is­raeli Labour faced dif­fi­cult elec­tions.

His po­lit­i­cal inept­ness in two botched de­ci­sions at the United Na­tions, just as he was fend­ing off a pri­mary chal­lenge from Se­na­tor Ted Kennedy, cost him dear in 1980. No sooner had the dust set­tled from the first, in­volv­ing UN am­bas­sador An­drew Young’s meet­ing with a PLO rep­re­sen­ta­tive, than the ad­min­is­tra­tion blun­dered into a sec­ond: the US’ vote for an Arab­backed res­o­lu­tion that con­demned set­tle­ments in “oc­cu­pied” ter­ri­tory and, cru­cially, ref­er­enced Jerusalem.

It cost Mr Carter the New York pri­mary and re­vived Kennedy’s by-then flag­ging cam­paign. The pres­i­dent was thus forced to en­dure sev­eral more weeks of party war­fare, leav­ing him fur­ther blood­ied be­fore he faced Rea­gan.

Mr Carter’s be­lief that “the Jewish com­mu­nity has never given me a break” and his anger at Be­gin’s suc­cess at thwart­ing his ef­forts on be­half of the Pales­tini­ans af­ter Camp David bred a last­ing re­sent­ment. Hav­ing left of­fice at the age of only 56, he has spent nearly four decades build­ing a strong post-pres­i­den­tial rep­u­ta­tion.

Tellingly, how­ever, he has con­tin­ued to adopt a provoca­tive stance to­wards Is­rael, sym­bol­ised by his 2006 book en­ti­tled Pales­tine: Peace Not Apartheid.

The book, which earned pub­lic re­bukes from the Demo­crat speaker of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Nancy Pelosi and Bill Clin­ton, was la­belled “sim­plis­tic and one-sided” by the Econ­o­mist.

Per­haps, then, it is un­sur­pris­ing that, hav­ing al­ready formed a sim­i­lar judg­ment of his han­dling of the Mid­dle East, un­prece­dented num­bers of Amer­i­can Jews turned their back on Mr Carter in 1980.

Me­nachem Be­gin

PHO­TOS: GETTY IM­AGES

Be­gin and Sa­dat em­brace as Pres­i­dent Jimmy Carter looks on

Anwar Sa­dat

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