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President Carter’s Latest Failure

Yeshiva University is characterized by law professor and Rabbinic figure Michael Broyde as “the beacon of the ideal in [the Jewish orthodox] community.”[1] This ideal, he explains, is realized in part through the administration’s decision not to interfere “with the academic freedom of a Cardozo Law student group functioning in its own name.” The student group decided to honor President Jimmy Carter with this year's International Advocate for Peace Award (IAPA).  Carter has a bad reputation amongst Israel supporters seeking a viable peace with the Palestinians. Naturally enough, the decision was controversial and has embittered many members of the YU community.

While amidst the bitterness Rabbi Broyde feels motivated to laud YU for the academic freedom it exemplifies, his rationale should remain secondary to a more important lesson. That lesson is to acknowledge that academic freedom by itself in no way safeguards against making poor decisions. Carter has an embarrassing track record regarding international conflict, and therefore his selection clashes with the prestige allegedly invested in the IAPA. Though any university group can function in its own name, it is easy to doubt whether these students were fully functional in their decision to bestow such an honor upon Carter.

Rather than working with regimes in conflict as an evenhanded advocate for peace, Carter is better characterized by his manipulation of any regime that he perceived would most likely put an end to a conflict. The sooner one party dominates (preferably Carter's favorite), the sooner a conflict is ended. For example, Carter initially sought to placate the shah in Iran, assisting his regime’s hold over the country while it attempted to subdue a growing revolution. When the shah eventually fell, Carter shifted American support to Saddam Hussein's aggressive Iraqi regime in the hopes of a swift, violent eradication of the new Iranian government. Carter thus became a catalyst of international conflict and turmoil.

“If I had done such a thing,” writes the late journalist Christopher Hitchens in one of his tirades on Carter's foreign policy, “I would take very good care to be modest when discussions of Middle Eastern crises came up [...]. It's hardly an exaggeration to say that every administration since has had to deal with the chaotic legacy of Carter's mind-boggling cowardice and incompetence.”[2]

Carter's shortsighted and violent schemes extend beyond the Middle East, though. He played a critical role in undermining Russian forces in Afghanistan in this proxy battle during the Cold War. When the Russians finally withdrew, the Afghan rebels were left in a power vacuum.  Violently putting an end to a conflict, however, is a far cry from advocating for peace. Instead of advocating for peace, he abandoned the Afghans to rival regimes with fancy military equipment paid for by the U.S.

Additionally, Carter's role in the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt fails to illustrate his ability to advocate for peace. This peace treaty (which is now unraveling before our very eyes) was inspired by Anwar Sadat's shrewd observation that Israel was willing to make huge sacrifices simply for recognition by its neighbors. Menachem Begin and the Israeli public accepted the initiative with gratitude, even though the price for peace was Israel reducing its territory to less than half of what it had become after the Six Day War. Carter was simply a witness to this exchange. He was a fortuitous figurehead who provided the pomp and circumstance that traditionally surrounds international peace treaties. He was not a peace advocate.

Carter's unimpressive track record as an international peace advocate can be amply illustrated without alluding to his bigoted and incriminating remarks about Israel. Still, because of these remarks, Carter has earned his infamous reputation among Israel supporters. His attempt to compare Israel to apartheid South Africa is not only categorically wrong, but was described by non-other than Richard Goldstone, a harsh critic of Israel, as “unfair and inaccurate slander,” and that such hate-mongering only serves to “retard rather than advance peace negotiations.” This obstacle to peace, exacerbated by Carter, is even more difficult to overcome in light of Carter's inexplicable advocacy for Hamas, a terrorist organization that openly seeks Israel's destruction.

The reputation for peacemaking that Carter has made for himself, which is gloriously documented on his website, are what his supporters might appeal to in defending his eligibility for the IAPA.  Even so, an honest defender bears three limitations in mind.  Firstly, Carter's failures in office, when he had more responsibility, should offset his later initiatives.  That Carter lost his reelection in a landslide is testament to the severity of his incendiary approach to Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan.  Secondly, such well-meaning programs, like peace, economic, educational, and other public service initiatives are practically a banality for former presidents.  In Carter's case, it is very easy to be idealistic when you have ideological philanthropists and a reputation to rebuild.  Lastly, his one sided approach with international conflict is being perpetuated today.  Carter's stalwart support for Hamas and irresponsible trivialization of Iran's nuclear ambitions link his failures as president with his incompetence as a former president.

Given Carter's egregious involvement with the Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative, and given his history of manipulation and incitement, it is easy to understand why there was an uproar of objections against the decision to honor him. What is more difficult to understand is why the Cardozo students chose to honor him with this particular award. The award these students chose simply does not befit the man. At the very least, there are other candidates who are arguably more deserving of the IAPA. A couple of explanations come to mind.

One explanation is about the nature of annual awards. An award which is expected to be given out on a timely basis can be more self-indulging for those who bestow the award than those who accept it. It is more of a promotional stunt than a serious recognition of someone's accomplishments. This might also explain why there was a surprising absence of protestors at the actual award ceremony. Critics of Carter might have realized that there was no prestige to be had from this award and that there was, perhaps, something more productive they could be doing with their Wednesday afternoon. Yet, even assuming the award committee really had the best intentions, Carter's latest failure was his inability to decline the IAPA from a group of ill-informed students.

Editors Note: This article is a modified version of an article that was originally published by CAMERA (The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America). The author was the same in both cases, and he gave The Commentator explicit permission to publish this version.


[1]   Broyde, Michael.  “President Carter, Yeshiva University and Our Community” Hirhurim 9t April, 2013 <http://torahmusings.com/2013/04/president-carter-yeshiva-university-and-our-community/>

[2]   Hitchens, Christopher. “Peanut Envy” Slate 21, May 2007 <http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2007/05/peanut_envy.html>