Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel apartheid charge

The Rule of Law in the Middle East

A reminder of why Israel is the United States’ only genuine democratic ally in the Middle East came today in the form of a story that is thought to be a black eye for the Jewish state. Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister of Israel and favorite of peace processors everywhere, was sentenced to six years in prison on corruption charges. Olmert’s downfall was as precipitous as it was unexpected. Political corruption is not unknown in Israel, but accusations against other political leaders had, with a few exceptions, rarely led to jail terms for those involved. Most savvy Israeli political observers seemed to have thought Olmert would also escape, especially since an earlier trial had resulted in a legal slap on the wrist for the slippery former PM rather than jail. But when his former top assistant dating back to his time as mayor of Jerusalem dropped the proverbial dime on him, it was clear that he had run out of “get out of jail free” cards.

This is good news for Israel since Olmert’s fate stands as a warning to the other members of the country’s political class that there are consequences for stealing. But it is also heartening for Americans to see again that although, like their own country, Israel is not perfect, it is still a nation where the rule of law prevails. Though the spectacle of a man with the Israeli equivalent of a Secret Service detail being hauled off to jail is sobering, the ability of the nation’s legal system to successfully prosecute a man who was not only powerful but well liked by its media as well as by the leaders of its sole superpower ally is proof that the Jewish state walks the walk about democracy and the rule of law. This provides not only a stark contrast to its undemocratic neighbors, but also gives the lie to the assumptions that are the foundation of the canards about it being an “apartheid state.”

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A reminder of why Israel is the United States’ only genuine democratic ally in the Middle East came today in the form of a story that is thought to be a black eye for the Jewish state. Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister of Israel and favorite of peace processors everywhere, was sentenced to six years in prison on corruption charges. Olmert’s downfall was as precipitous as it was unexpected. Political corruption is not unknown in Israel, but accusations against other political leaders had, with a few exceptions, rarely led to jail terms for those involved. Most savvy Israeli political observers seemed to have thought Olmert would also escape, especially since an earlier trial had resulted in a legal slap on the wrist for the slippery former PM rather than jail. But when his former top assistant dating back to his time as mayor of Jerusalem dropped the proverbial dime on him, it was clear that he had run out of “get out of jail free” cards.

This is good news for Israel since Olmert’s fate stands as a warning to the other members of the country’s political class that there are consequences for stealing. But it is also heartening for Americans to see again that although, like their own country, Israel is not perfect, it is still a nation where the rule of law prevails. Though the spectacle of a man with the Israeli equivalent of a Secret Service detail being hauled off to jail is sobering, the ability of the nation’s legal system to successfully prosecute a man who was not only powerful but well liked by its media as well as by the leaders of its sole superpower ally is proof that the Jewish state walks the walk about democracy and the rule of law. This provides not only a stark contrast to its undemocratic neighbors, but also gives the lie to the assumptions that are the foundation of the canards about it being an “apartheid state.”

The comparison between Israel and the surrounding Arab countries, including Hamas-ruled Gaza and the autonomous Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, is all too obvious. In a region of the world where governments are only changed via coups and murder and where concepts about the rule of law are often seen as an alien Western innovation, Israeli democracy stands out as a beacon that attracts even the admiration of those who profess to wish to destroy it.

But let’s understand that the claims that Israel is, in effect, a limited democracy that doesn’t afford equal rights under the law for all of its citizens is also undermined by what happened to Olmert. For all of the imperfections that are part of any democracy, Israel is a country with an independent judiciary and laws that are applied across the board. The false charges that it discriminates against Arabs are given the lie by the fact that even West Bank Arabs—who remain governed by the Jordanian laws that existed before 1967 or Palestinian Authority regulations—can appeal to the Israeli courts for justice against the Israeli army and government.

The rule of law in Israel is, as is also the case for the United States, a foundation for its democratic governance and its successful economy. Stating this seems obvious to the country’s friends and admirers. But at a time when it is increasingly under assault from those advocating boycotts against it, the reality of life in democratic Israel is often being obscured by the “apartheid” libels wielded by critics whose purpose is not reform but to destroy it. That is especially true on college campuses, where, as I wrote last week, BDS (boycott, divest, sanctions) advocates are seeking to stigmatize those who visit the country because those who do so learn the truth.

So rather than mourning the fall of a sleazy politician who behaved in the manner that we associate with American urban political machines rather than the heroic “warrior” culture we generally associate with Israeli leaders, the country’s friends should be celebrating this story. Whenever the rule of law triumphs, democracy is strengthened.

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Hamas Decision Overshadows Kerry’s Slur

Secretary of State John Kerry’s apology for his use of the word apartheid to describe Israel’s future in the absence of peace has done nothing to lessen the impact of this slur. The secretary’s attempt to walk back his remarks was long on umbrage about anyone questioning his dubious pro-Israel bona fides and short on actual contrition. The aftermath of a taped speech in which he uses a misleading attempt to cast blame for the failure of his peace initiative equally between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is not the most appropriate moment to boast of his commitment to the Jewish state, especially when he has damned it as heading inevitably to racist tyranny if it doesn’t do as he says.

But though the Daily Beast’s scoop about Kerry’s speech to the Trilateral Commission has put the administration on the defensive for the moment, the statement has served the purpose of Israel’s critics since it has given them the opportunity to defend his assertion even as the secretary distanced himself from it. The notion that what he said is an unpalatable truth has become a piece of liberal conventional wisdom even though its premise is demographically dubious and rendered nonsensical when one considers that unless one includes the population of Gaza—which is already an independent Palestinian state in all but name—the day will probably never dawn when Arabs outnumber Jews in the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Israel not only, as Kerry conceded in his apology, is not now and has no intention of ever becoming an apartheid state. The entire discussion is specious and tells us more about the effort to delegitimize the Jewish state than it does about Israel’s character. The real damage here is that Kerry has breathed new life into an old canard that neither facts nor logic seems to have the power to extinguish.

But for all the effort expended on this controversy, an even more important one is looming over Obama administration’s Middle East policy in the wake of the collapse of the peace talks. By entering into a unity coalition with the Hamas terrorist movement, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas put President Obama on the spot. The president has repeatedly pledged that the U.S., like Israel, will not deal with Hamas, at least until it repudiates its genocidal charter, recognizes Israel, and commits itself to peace. That ought to mean the end of all U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority (something mandated by law) as well as putting an end to negotiations that are aimed at empowering the PA. But no one in Israel should be taking the fulfillment of that pledge for granted.

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Secretary of State John Kerry’s apology for his use of the word apartheid to describe Israel’s future in the absence of peace has done nothing to lessen the impact of this slur. The secretary’s attempt to walk back his remarks was long on umbrage about anyone questioning his dubious pro-Israel bona fides and short on actual contrition. The aftermath of a taped speech in which he uses a misleading attempt to cast blame for the failure of his peace initiative equally between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is not the most appropriate moment to boast of his commitment to the Jewish state, especially when he has damned it as heading inevitably to racist tyranny if it doesn’t do as he says.

But though the Daily Beast’s scoop about Kerry’s speech to the Trilateral Commission has put the administration on the defensive for the moment, the statement has served the purpose of Israel’s critics since it has given them the opportunity to defend his assertion even as the secretary distanced himself from it. The notion that what he said is an unpalatable truth has become a piece of liberal conventional wisdom even though its premise is demographically dubious and rendered nonsensical when one considers that unless one includes the population of Gaza—which is already an independent Palestinian state in all but name—the day will probably never dawn when Arabs outnumber Jews in the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Israel not only, as Kerry conceded in his apology, is not now and has no intention of ever becoming an apartheid state. The entire discussion is specious and tells us more about the effort to delegitimize the Jewish state than it does about Israel’s character. The real damage here is that Kerry has breathed new life into an old canard that neither facts nor logic seems to have the power to extinguish.

But for all the effort expended on this controversy, an even more important one is looming over Obama administration’s Middle East policy in the wake of the collapse of the peace talks. By entering into a unity coalition with the Hamas terrorist movement, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas put President Obama on the spot. The president has repeatedly pledged that the U.S., like Israel, will not deal with Hamas, at least until it repudiates its genocidal charter, recognizes Israel, and commits itself to peace. That ought to mean the end of all U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority (something mandated by law) as well as putting an end to negotiations that are aimed at empowering the PA. But no one in Israel should be taking the fulfillment of that pledge for granted.

It is theoretically possible that Hamas might renounce its charter or pass some sort of measure that will be falsely interpreted by peace advocates as a sign of its new moderation. But since Hamas’s political capital within Palestinian society rests primarily on its ability to pose as a more rabidly anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish force than Abbas’s Fatah, the chances of them being willing to engage in this sort of ruse are fairly slim. But so long as Abbas is the front man for this coalition, the administration may be tempted to stick to its characterization of him as a man of peace despite the fact that he deliberately chose to make peace with Hamas rather than with Israel. Thus, it is entirely possible that President Obama and Kerry may choose to treat the unity deal as irrelevant to the peace process.

If the administration does violate its long-held principles about working with an entity compromised by its terrorist connection, it will mark a clear turning point not only in the U.S.-Israel relationship but also in America’s attempts to combat Islamist terrorism. Though its apologists sometimes speak of Hamas as having evolved into a government in Gaza and being ready for peace, the U.S. has always rightly drawn a bright line between even the most dubious of governments in the Middle East and open practitioners of terror. Erasing or even blurring that line will render Obama’s avowed hard line against terrorism meaningless.

If the administration should choose to walk down this road toward recognition of Hamas, it will do so to the cheers of the foreign-policy establishment and liberal mainstream media that have always chafed against the idea that Hamas was beyond the pale. But if it does, it should also expect that Congress as well as a united pro-Israel community would make them pay a high political price for this betrayal. This is not a battle Obama wants to be fighting in an already difficult midterm elections year. If Abbas is counting on the president to risk some of his scarce political capital on such a cause, then both he and Kerry may have badly miscalculated. But should the Palestinian alliance last into 2015 with a lame duck president already feeling he has little left to lose, then it is entirely possible that Obama could make Kerry’s apartheid flap look like a picnic compared to a decision to recognize Hamas.

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Carter Blames Jews for Obama’s Snubs

Former President Jimmy Carter is back in the news this week publicizing a new book about women’s rights. But, as is often the case with Carter, he drew more interest for comments he made about Israel and its supporters. When asked on NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday by Andrea Mitchell why it was that Barack Obama never called upon him for advice, he made it clear that the Jewish state was the reason he has been treated like a pariah:

I—that’s a hard question– for me to answer—you know, with complete candor. I think the problem was that– that in dealing with the issue of peace in– between Israel and Egypt– the Carter Center has taken a very strong and public position of equal treatment between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And I think this was a sensitive area in which the president didn’t want to be involved.

When he first came out with his speech in Cairo calling for the end of all settlements and when he later said that the ’67 borders would prevail, he and I were looking at it from the same perspective. But I can understand those sensitivities. And I don’t have any criticism of him.

Lest anyone think this was a slip of the tongue, he repeated the assertion in more stark terms this morning during a fawning interview with Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough on the same network’s Morning Joe program:

I think that sometimes an incumbent president doesn’t want to be very friendly with me because it might looked upon as more friendly toward the Palestinians instead of the Israelis. So we try to be balanced. That’s the only issue that separates me from Obama anyway. And I was very proud of him when he made a speech in Cairo and said no more settlements when he said the 67 borders would prevail except for minor modifications. Those things are very compatible with what I believe.

Carter might consider that the reason a successor wouldn’t wish to be burdened with a relationship with him was, at least in part, due to the Georgian’s insufferable personality and chronic self-righteousness. But there may be some truth to his assertion that his stands on the Middle East are at the root of the problem. Far from being an innocent victim of political influence for being “even-handed,” however, his lack of influence is due to the fact that his bias and slanders against the Jewish state have effectively marginalized him.

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Former President Jimmy Carter is back in the news this week publicizing a new book about women’s rights. But, as is often the case with Carter, he drew more interest for comments he made about Israel and its supporters. When asked on NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday by Andrea Mitchell why it was that Barack Obama never called upon him for advice, he made it clear that the Jewish state was the reason he has been treated like a pariah:

I—that’s a hard question– for me to answer—you know, with complete candor. I think the problem was that– that in dealing with the issue of peace in– between Israel and Egypt– the Carter Center has taken a very strong and public position of equal treatment between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And I think this was a sensitive area in which the president didn’t want to be involved.

When he first came out with his speech in Cairo calling for the end of all settlements and when he later said that the ’67 borders would prevail, he and I were looking at it from the same perspective. But I can understand those sensitivities. And I don’t have any criticism of him.

Lest anyone think this was a slip of the tongue, he repeated the assertion in more stark terms this morning during a fawning interview with Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough on the same network’s Morning Joe program:

I think that sometimes an incumbent president doesn’t want to be very friendly with me because it might looked upon as more friendly toward the Palestinians instead of the Israelis. So we try to be balanced. That’s the only issue that separates me from Obama anyway. And I was very proud of him when he made a speech in Cairo and said no more settlements when he said the 67 borders would prevail except for minor modifications. Those things are very compatible with what I believe.

Carter might consider that the reason a successor wouldn’t wish to be burdened with a relationship with him was, at least in part, due to the Georgian’s insufferable personality and chronic self-righteousness. But there may be some truth to his assertion that his stands on the Middle East are at the root of the problem. Far from being an innocent victim of political influence for being “even-handed,” however, his lack of influence is due to the fact that his bias and slanders against the Jewish state have effectively marginalized him.

Carter’s grudge against the pro-Israel community goes back to his defeat for reelection at the hands of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Carter thought he would reap the applause of supporters of the Jewish state because of his role in the Camp David Accords that brokered peace between Israel and Egypt. But Reagan gained a record percentage of the Jewish vote for a Republican due in no small measure to the contrast between his support for Israel and Carter’s open antagonism toward the Israeli government led by Menachem Begin. Once out of office, Carter has spent the years since nursing this grudge and becoming an increasingly bitter opponent of Israel and those who support it. This reached a crescendo in 2007 with the publication of his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. The book, a compendium of vicious slurs hurled against the Jewish state, lent the imprimatur of the former president and the Carter Center for Peace to the canard that Israel was imposing apartheid on the Arabs. In Carter’s world, Israelis have always been the obstacles to peace while Palestinian terrorism and refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn is always ignored.

Carter can always count on a sympathetic hearing in the mainstream media (and especially on the show where the daughter of his former National Security Advisor is the co-host) and has carefully cultivated a low-key do-gooder image because of charity projects with which he has associated himself. But his animus against Israel puts him outside the American political mainstream. That is not because supporters of Israel don’t believe in fairness but due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans in both major political parties want no part of Carter’s hostility to the Jewish state. If he has become politically toxic even during the administration of the president whose foreign policy and predilection for picking fights with Israel most resembles his own, it is due to his own intemperate and indefensible views on the Middle East and his not-so-subtle echoes of the anti-Semitic Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis. Obama’s snubs in the wake of Carter’s “apartheid” slurs are simply a matter of political awareness that it wasn’t possible to align oneself with such a discredited figure. That the 39th president would blame the Jews, rather than himself, for this predicament is as vile as it is predictable.

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Obama, Tibi and the Apartheid Canard

That Desmond Tutu once again accused Israel of apartheid yesterday is nothing new; he’s one of several Nobel Peace laureates who have made second careers out of Israel-bashing (think Jimmy Carter or Mairead Maguire). But it’s far more worrying when similar rhetoric is used by a sitting U.S. president – as Barack Obama did in the most outrageous but widely overlooked line of his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg earlier this month. Culminating a series of rhetorical questions about what Israel would do if no Palestinian state arises, he asked, “Do you place restrictions on Arab-Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?”

As Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid noted, “There is not much distance between this statement and an explicit warning that Israel is liable to turn into an apartheid state.” In short, even if Israel isn’t an apartheid state today, the U.S. president considers it perfectly reasonable to assume it will be someday soon – that instead of a democracy where all citizens are equal before the law, it will become the kind of state that imposes legal restrictions on certain citizens because of their ethnicity. But since Israeli Arabs haven’t been subject to special restrictions since Israel abolished its military administration in 1966, and no subsequent Israeli government has ever contemplated reinstating such restrictions, on what exactly does Obama base this assumption?

The logical conclusion is that he got it from the Israeli Arab leadership and radical Jewish leftists, both of which accuse Israel of apartheid ad nauseam. Yet believing these accusations requires willfully ignoring the facts.

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That Desmond Tutu once again accused Israel of apartheid yesterday is nothing new; he’s one of several Nobel Peace laureates who have made second careers out of Israel-bashing (think Jimmy Carter or Mairead Maguire). But it’s far more worrying when similar rhetoric is used by a sitting U.S. president – as Barack Obama did in the most outrageous but widely overlooked line of his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg earlier this month. Culminating a series of rhetorical questions about what Israel would do if no Palestinian state arises, he asked, “Do you place restrictions on Arab-Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?”

As Haaretz diplomatic correspondent Barak Ravid noted, “There is not much distance between this statement and an explicit warning that Israel is liable to turn into an apartheid state.” In short, even if Israel isn’t an apartheid state today, the U.S. president considers it perfectly reasonable to assume it will be someday soon – that instead of a democracy where all citizens are equal before the law, it will become the kind of state that imposes legal restrictions on certain citizens because of their ethnicity. But since Israeli Arabs haven’t been subject to special restrictions since Israel abolished its military administration in 1966, and no subsequent Israeli government has ever contemplated reinstating such restrictions, on what exactly does Obama base this assumption?

The logical conclusion is that he got it from the Israeli Arab leadership and radical Jewish leftists, both of which accuse Israel of apartheid ad nauseam. Yet believing these accusations requires willfully ignoring the facts.

This past December, for instance, one Ahmed Tibi wrote an article for The Hill accusing Israel of treating its Arab citizens like southerners treated blacks in the Jim Crow era. The analogy was a trifle marred by the tagline at the end, in which Tibi admitted he is currently deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset: Blacks didn’t occupy prominent positions in southern legislatures under Jim Crow, much less in South Africa under apartheid. It was further undermined when another Arab deputy Knesset speaker, Hamad Amar, wrote a riposte in The Hill the next week terming Tibi’s claims arrant nonsense. The spectacle of two Arab deputy speakers of parliament publicly dueling, without any fear of consequences, over whether their country discriminates against Arabs isn’t exactly an example of proto-apartheid behavior. But hey, who you gonna believe: Tibi or your lying eyes?

Then there are all the other Arabs in prominent positions – college presidents, hospital directors, ambassadors, army officers, Supreme Court justices and more. The Elder of Ziyon blog has a must-see poster collection featuring these and many other examples that are the very antithesis of apartheid. But hey, who you gonna believe: Haaretz’s Gideon Levy or your lying eyes?

Indeed, on the issue that seems to concern Obama most – freedom of movement, which he highlighted in the rhetorical question immediately preceding the one on Arab Israelis – Arab citizens and permanent residents arguably have greater rights than Israeli Jews: For instance, they can freely visit the Temple Mount, which Israeli Jews can’t; they can also visit the Palestinian Authority, which Israeli law bars Jews from doing. In fact, their freedom of movement is precisely why terrorist organizations consider them prize recruits. It’s a sad day when Palestinian terrorists have a better grasp of Israel’s true nature than the U.S. president.

Obama, of course, is just a symptom of a much larger problem: Too many Western liberals willfully close their eyes to the truth when it comes to Israel, preferring to parrot the current bon ton. But for an administration that explicitly pledged to pursue “evidence-based policy,” a little more attention to the evidence on Israel would be a nice place to start.

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Why is Carter Getting Convention Spot?

The two national party conventions long ago ceased to be deliberative bodies and are now nothing but scripted infomercials for the presidential candidates. Which is to say that the only people allowed a voice at these affairs are those whose views are broadly approved of by either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. Thus, the news that the Democratic National Convention will feature a prime time speech via video by former President Jimmy Carter is surprising. Carter has not only sometimes been critical of Obama, his extreme views on Middle East are an embarrassment to a president and a party that has been engaging in an election year charm offensive aimed at convincing Jewish voters that they are devoted to Israel. The praise given Carter by Convention Chair Antonio Villaraigosa in a statement announcing the spot could come back to haunt the Democrats. Honoring one of the most ferocious critics of Israel in this manner may not sit well with many undecided Jewish voters.

While former presidents are, at least in theory, entitled to a convention speaking spot, those who are embarrassments are often shunted aside. Though he still has many fans in the GOP, George W. Bush isn’t going to be at the Republican Convention this year. In 2008, Carter was given the brush off by the Obama team during the convention with just a short video clip honoring his humanitarian work for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and no speech. Given how anxious the Democrats have been to portray themselves as unflinching allies of Israel this year, it is curious that they would allow Carter to speak at all in Charlotte, let alone in prime time. If the Obama campaign was looking to give Republicans an opportunity to highlight one of the most prominent foes of the Jewish State and link him to the president and the Democrats, they can do no better than honoring Carter in this manner.

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The two national party conventions long ago ceased to be deliberative bodies and are now nothing but scripted infomercials for the presidential candidates. Which is to say that the only people allowed a voice at these affairs are those whose views are broadly approved of by either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. Thus, the news that the Democratic National Convention will feature a prime time speech via video by former President Jimmy Carter is surprising. Carter has not only sometimes been critical of Obama, his extreme views on Middle East are an embarrassment to a president and a party that has been engaging in an election year charm offensive aimed at convincing Jewish voters that they are devoted to Israel. The praise given Carter by Convention Chair Antonio Villaraigosa in a statement announcing the spot could come back to haunt the Democrats. Honoring one of the most ferocious critics of Israel in this manner may not sit well with many undecided Jewish voters.

While former presidents are, at least in theory, entitled to a convention speaking spot, those who are embarrassments are often shunted aside. Though he still has many fans in the GOP, George W. Bush isn’t going to be at the Republican Convention this year. In 2008, Carter was given the brush off by the Obama team during the convention with just a short video clip honoring his humanitarian work for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and no speech. Given how anxious the Democrats have been to portray themselves as unflinching allies of Israel this year, it is curious that they would allow Carter to speak at all in Charlotte, let alone in prime time. If the Obama campaign was looking to give Republicans an opportunity to highlight one of the most prominent foes of the Jewish State and link him to the president and the Democrats, they can do no better than honoring Carter in this manner.

Though Carter has been lionized abroad and given the Nobel Peace Prize for his activism since leaving office, the man from Plains is best known in recent years for his consistent bashing of the state of Israel. A virulent foe of the Jewish state, Carter has falsely accused it of practicing apartheid and was prominently featured in past Republican attempts to highlight the way many on the left have become the most dangerous enemies of Israel in the United States.

In 2008, Jewish Democrats who were determined to brand Barack Obama as a friend of Israel were pleased by the decision on the part of convention organizers to give Carter as little honor as possible. The short shrift given the former president, was, as the Forward reported in August 2008, widely interpreted as an indication of the Obama campaign’s seriousness of purpose in competing for the Jewish vote.

Though Democrats will probably say that having Carter speak by video is not as damaging as having him appear in person, the prime time slot for his speech is still significant. For all of their pains in trying to explain Obama’s three years of constant fights with Israel and laughable attempts to claim the president is the best friend Israel ever had in the White House, the inclusion of Carter is a troubling indication that the leadership of the Democratic Party isn’t really all that interested in appealing for the pro-Israel vote. Those observers, like Carter’s fans in the Palestinian Authority, who are hopeful a re-elected Obama will turn on Israel, will likely be encouraged by the Democrats’ decision.

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