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Rabbi Lerner Meets with Jimmy Carter

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    Our Meeting with Jimmy Carter Rabbi Michael Lerner - RabbiLerner @ tikkun.org www.tikkun.org On May 2, some leaders of the Network of Spiritual Progressives
    Message 1 of 1 , May 4, 2007
      Our Meeting with Jimmy Carter
      Rabbi Michael Lerner - RabbiLerner @ tikkun.org

      On May 2, some leaders of the Network of Spiritual Progressives and
      NSP invited other Jewish, Christian and Islamic leaders to a private
      meeting with former U.S. president Jimmy Carter to discuss
      Israel/Palestine and also our strategy for homeland security: the
      Strategy of Generosity and the Global Marshall Plan. Here's what
      happened at the meeting.

      The Carter Meeting, May 2, 2007.

      On Wednesday, I met with former president of the U.S. Jimmy Carter.
      The two of us chatted about a wide range of issues.

      Carter was in Berkeley to speak at the University of California,
      invited by the Associated Students of the University of California
      (ASUC). He addressed some 2,500 students in Zellerbach Hall (tickets
      were distributed by a lottery because there were far more students
      wishing to hear him than there were places available).

      His talk to the students was clear, powerful, unambiguous and, in the
      context of contemporary American politics, courageous (as he has been
      consistently since he published the book Palestine: Peace Not
      Apartheid. He has been widely attacked in the Jewish world for that
      book, with the attacks ranging from personal to political. For those
      of you who read Tikkun and our interview with Carter in the Jan/Feb
      issue, you may think "Carter's views have been presented and are well
      understood." But in fact his views have been distorted in the media,
      particularly the Jewish media (namely, the weekly newspapers in major
      cities around the U.S. that are published by the UJA/Federation of the
      Jewish community). The stories range from claims that Carter is
      critical of Israeli policy because the Carter Center receives money
      from Arab sources to claims that his book is filled with historical

      Carter insisted that Apartheid already exists in the West Bank. He
      said that Apartheid is a system in which two peoples live in the same
      geographical area, with one having superior economic and political
      power and creating a legal system that gives unequal access to
      resources and legally instituted inequalities in the use of public and
      private facilities. In the case of the West Bank (which is what he was
      calling Palestine), settlers have seized land owned by Palestinians,
      and these seizures have been backed by the Israeli courts and enforced
      by the Israeli army. Between these hundreds of Jewish settlements, in
      which Arabs are forbidden to buy property, Israel has constructed an
      elaborate system of highways and roads over Palestinian land, and the
      use of these roads and highways are restricted to Israelis. The
      settlements have occupied almost all of the water supplies for the
      West Bank, and have diverted the water to provide for the lawns and
      swimming pools of settlers, while Palestinians find themselves with
      not enough water for bathing or washing clothes or dishes or drinking.
      Moreover, in a new land grab, Israel has built a wall in the middle of
      the 22% of pre-1947 Palestine that now remains in the hands of Arab
      Palestinians, and that this was indeed a wall (at many places
      approximately 3 stories high, though in areas where there was no
      population the wall was merely a high barbed wire fence), and in the
      course of building the wall has taken over more Palestinian land and
      will use the wall as the de facto new borders of Israel.

      Carter made clear that he did not believe that this was a racist
      apartheid, but rather one based on the conflict between two nations.
      But the actual oppression, he said, was real. He has been to Palestine
      dozens of times in the past decades, and he challenged anyone in the
      audience who doubted the accuracy of his portrayal to simply go there.
      He called on the chancellor of the university to set up trips for
      students to visit Palestine and see the reality on the ground.

      Carter repeatedly made it clear that his interest in the area stemmed
      in part from his caring about the Holy Land as a Christian, his caring
      about the well being of the Jewish people, and his caring about world
      peace—all of which led him to speak out on a topic in which, he stated
      clearly, there had been no public debate in the U.S. The reason that
      this discussion has been stifled, he said, was at least in part
      because of AIPAC (the American Israel Political Affairs Committee) and
      its ability to convince elected officials that they will be labeled
      "anti-Israel" (and by many in the Jewish community, "anti-Semitic") if
      they dare speak out. And yet, as the Muslim and Arab world have made
      clear, the concern over the way that their Arab brothers and sisters
      have been and are still now treated in Palestine is central to the
      anger that they feel toward the West in general and the U.S., which
      has given Israel virtually a blank check of political and economic
      support, in particular.

      Carter strongly supported the Geneva Accords (read the full version
      plus commentary and analysis in my book The Geneva Accord and Other
      Strategies for Middle East Peace, North Atlantic Books, 2004) and
      called upon students and faculty at U.C. Berkeley to insist that any
      candidate they support for president, Senate or Congress be willing to
      challenge existing US policy and seek a new role for the U.S.

      Reminding the audience of the success of the treaty he had negotiated
      between Israel and Egypt, Carter insisted that the only way to bring
      peace was for the U.S. to be perceived as an honest broker, and that
      that was what had happened that made the peace accord with Egypt and
      Israel possible in 1978. But now, in part because of the role of AIPAC
      and the capitulation to its demands by most elected officials, the
      U.S. was perceived as extremely partisan and hence unable to negotiate
      peace—and that this not only hurt the best interests of the United
      States, but also the best interests of the Jewish people as well as
      the Palestinians, the majority of both peoples being, in Carter's
      understanding, seriously wishing for a peaceful resolution that
      provided security for Israel and a viable state for the Palestinians.

      Carter made clear that he thought that AIPAC's role as a lobby was
      totally legitimate, and that the problem was that the rest of us had
      not yet build an effective counter-lobby. He also disputed claims made
      by some in the Jewish world that he had said that the media was Jewish
      dominated. He said he did not believe this to be true and that the
      reason the media gives so little balance in its coverage of the Middle
      East is because of its subservience to the positions of the U.S.
      government on most matters of foreign policy (except when a war that
      is being waged proves to be an obvious loser).

      The Carter Center had arranged for me to meet with Carter, and to
      invite others as well if I so wished. So after his speech we assembled
      in an adjacent room. I invited eight rabbis (the four Reform rabbis
      all declined to come hear Carter because of political differences),
      two nationally respected leaders of the Muslim world, several
      ministers and activists in the Christian world, several professors,
      and leaders in the Network of Spiritual Progressives and in Beyt
      Tikkun Synagogue, as well as Mitchell Plitnick, the national director
      of Jewish Voices for peace, and one of the founders of Brit Tzedeck
      ve'Shalom. In the end, the Secret Service forced me to narrow down the
      number of participants in this phase.

      Carter asked us to tell how he could be helpful to us, while many of
      the participants asked how we could be helpful to him. Carter
      described his efforts to counter the extreme right-wing Christian
      Zionists, and his efforts to help the Baptists understand that the
      real way to be allies to the Jews is not by giving unconditional
      support to the current government of the State of Israel. As the
      discussion proceeded, everyone, including some who had been a bit
      cynical about Carter's intentions, came to realize that this was a man
      sincerely dedicated to the best interests of the Jewish people and of

      There was only one glaring problem or possibly a contradiction in his
      discussion with us: when some of the invited guest suggested that he
      use his immense public recognition and popularity to help us create an
      alternative to AIPAC. Although Carter's talk to the students had been
      about why this whole issue was an issue for all Americans and actually
      for all people on the planet, when it came to organizing an
      alternative he talked as though this was a job solely for Jews, and
      that he would help only after we had successfully constructed an
      alternative to AIPAC. We tried to explain that he had resources and
      access to the powerful and to the media as a former US president that
      we would never have, and that were he to use those resources he could
      do what we could not do, which is to overcome the willingness of he
      media to totally ignore what the peace oriented Jews in the U.S. were
      doing and saying. In fact, based on our experience, it is clear that
      to change foreign policy, we need an interfaith organization (which is
      what the Network of Spiritual Progressives/Tikkun Community is trying
      to do) not just a Jewish organization, and that the various attempts
      to create a Jewish organization, while admirable, have been limited in
      actual impact.

      After this group meeting, Carter and I then sat down for a half hour
      private meeting (not off-the-record: it was taped and some part of it
      will appear in the July/August issue of Tikkun). Our main focus,
      raised also by Peter Gabel in the larger meeting, was the strategy of
      generosity and the Global Marshall Plan. In the discussion it became
      clear that Carter shares with us a sense of the importance of a
      strategy of generosity and its potential usefulness both on a global
      level and specifically in dealing with the Israel/Palestine issue. One
      point that had been raised in the public meeting was also mentioned
      again to me: that if every one of the tens of thousands of people who
      read the Tikkun mail or the tens of thousands who get Tikkun magazine
      and/or the thousands who actually have realized the need to support
      our efforts and hence joined our interfaith organization the Tikkun
      Community/Network of Spiritual Progressives would write one letter a
      week to a Congressman or U.S. Senator and another to a journalist or
      editorialist, one letter a week, fifty a year, that that alone would
      have a tremendous impact, either for changing the dialogue about
      Israel/Palestine or for getting legs for our Generosity Strategy and
      the Global Marshall Plan. He said we should not look for some magic
      solution—we already knew what to do—the necessary task of building
      relationships around our vision, getting endorsements, writing letters
      and making phone calls to media and to elected officials, and coming
      at least once a year to Washington, D.C. to make our voices heard. So
      many people are so radical in their thoughts, but so passive when it
      comes to this simple task of writing a letter each week. Similarly,
      people in the peace camp assume that all the money collected by AIPAC
      comes from rich people, whereas in fact much of it comes from the
      willingness of middle income people to stretch themselves beyond what
      they can normally see themselves giving to a philanthropic cause.
      Somehow people in the liberal and progressive world think they've mad
      their contribution by reading an email like this or by telling their
      friends that they disagree with a certain policy or political leader,
      and don't get that those who are trying to organize an alternative
      like the voice we are creating in Tikkun and in the Network of
      Spiritual Progressives can only survive with a real financial support,
      not just good vibes.

      I was very honored that among all the possible ways to use his very
      short amount of time in California, he had allocated an hour and a
      half to meet with me and whoever I wanted to bring from the Tikkun
      Community. Carter has made it clear to me in the past that he very
      much appreciates what we in Tikkun have been doing for peace in
      Israel/Palestine for the past twenty years, and his allocation of time
      for a private meeting (and turning down many, many other requests in
      order to make that possible) was his way of showing that he meant
      those words, and it made all of us feel very gratified. What was
      particularly impressive to all of us was his humility, good humor and
      fundamental human decency—truly unique and rare among politicians and
      particularly presidents of the United States. It was hard to believe
      that he is going full strength at age 82, but as my mentor and rebbe
      Zalman Schachter Shalomi commented to me in a phone call after the
      interview, Carter is an example of the kind of spiritual sage-ing that
      is possible once we abandon notions that aging must lead to
      irrelevance and powerlessness. The spiritual wisdom that Zalman sees
      as possible was in full evidence both in the words and in the presence
      of Jimmy Carter.

      The next day, I encountered a Reform rabbi on the streets who, when he
      heard I had met with Carter, told me that this was a man who didn't
      like Jews and was anti-Israel. I asked him if he had read the book (he
      had not) or ever met the man (he had not). Wasn't this "lashon
      ha'ra"—evil language? No, he said, he was just trying to defend the
      Jewish people from its enemies like Carter. And his views continue to
      prevail among many, many Jews. It is sad, in particular, to realize
      how the blind allegiance to the policies of the State of Israel are
      making it impossible for many American Jews to tell the difference
      between their friends and their enemies. But our task is to continue
      to put forward a balanced perspective, that is both pro-Israel and
      pro-Palestine, believing as we do at NSP and Tikkun that the best
      interests of each side depends on the well-being of the other side as

      I still believe that we can make a huge impact if all of us who
      unequivocally support a two-state solution or a two state PLUS
      (meaning, two states, but then confederated in economic and political
      arrangements with the other states of the region to make sure that an
      "independent" Palestinian state isn't def acto simply an economic and
      military Bantustan for Israel). would get together and do an annual
      mobilization together in Washington DC and then in each Congressional
      district. At this point, none of them are willing to join us, TIkkun
      and the NSP, in creating this unity, even though they all agree on two
      states. So another thing YOU can do is pressuring all those who are
      unequivocally for two states and who are critical of Israel's
      violations of human rights and critical of the role of AIPAC to stop
      just advancing their own organization and agreeing to work together
      even though there may be differences in style, tone and urgency.
      Because apart from saving the planet from ecological destruction,
      there's nothing more urgent than bringing peace to the Middle East.



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