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Carter’s Dixie Chicks Moment

Yesterday, following meetings with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and another Hamas delegation, Jimmy Carter blasted American attitudes regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “My country, the political arena of my country, is almost 100 percent supportive of the Israeli position,” Carter said. “You never hear any debates on both sides much, and most of the information is predicated on that sort of original premise.”

The spectacle of a former U.S. president denouncing his fellow countrymen abroad was a Dixie Chicks moment for the ages. But his choice of venue for decrying the lack of debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was no less ironic: the American University in Cairo–where students are so unwilling to consider the “other side” that they threatened strikes and sit-ins when rumors surfaced that Israeli professors had been invited to campus. Most recently at AUC, a play that featured an Israeli character was protested by its own student-actors, who walked on the stage draped in kaffiyehs and donned “Palestine will remain Arab” t-shirts following the performance. (The actors objected to Israelis being portrayed “as humans only,” one cast member said.)

Sadly, if Carter’s address has any influence, AUC is unlikely to become more hospitable to meaningful dialogue on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict anytime soon. After all, the more Carter spoke, the more he justified AUC students’ hatred for the Jewish state. At one point, after speaking of his visit to Sderot, where the daily barrage of rockets from Gaza has traumatized the community, Carter said, “At the same time, if you live in Gaza, you know that for every Israeli killed in any kind of combat, between 30 to 40 Palestinians are killed because of the extreme military capability of Israel.” At another point, he creatively redefined “terrorism” to equate Palestinian rocket-firings with Israel’s military response, saying that any “killings of civilians is an act of terrorism.”

Even for Carter, this exercise in public counter-diplomacy is shocking. After all, Carter’s greatest legacy–for which he still deserves his Nobel Peace Prize–remains his efforts to forge peace between Egypt and Israel. The more vociferously he denounces Israel to young Egyptians still raised to hate it, the more he jeopardizes that one accomplishment.


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