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.