Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Jimmy Carter's Book Stirs Criticism, Complaint

A new book by former president Jimmy Carter is generating wide controversy.

Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid charts the Arab-Israeli peace process from President Carter's time in the White House in the late 1970s to present day.

Pro-Israel groups are offended, and say the book is unworthy of a former U.S. president.

The crowning glory of the one-term Carter administration was, arguably, his role in the historic -- and lasting -- peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.

In the years following the signing of the 1978 Camp David accords, President Carter has maintained a deep interest in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Speaking with Terry Gross on Fresh Air recently, Carter expressed frustration with a lack of movement on the peace process. He said he knew using the words "Palestine" and "Apartheid" in the title would generate interest.

"I realized when I chose this title that it would be provocative," he said. "I hope it provokes people to actually read the book and to find out the facts."

In the book, Carter sites failure on all sides -- the Palestinians, Israel, the U.S. -- to bring about a a peace deal. But the book is particularly critical of Israel, likening its policies in the Palestinian territories to the former policy of apartheid in South Africa.

William Quandt, now at the University of Virginia, was a member of Carter's National Security Council. Quandt was actively involved in the Camp David Accords. He says the title and the content of the book is probably meant to shock.

"I think in Carter's mind, it is probably viewed as a fair warning," Quandt says. "Not so much a statement that Israel has become an apartheid-like ruler over the Palestinian territories, but that it's on its way to becoming that. And there is a certain risk that is where Israel is heading with the building of settlements and the roads and the separation barrier, wall, and things like that."

Quandt says he's not surprised the former president would write what's seen as a provocative book. He says during his term in the White House, the former president would often ignore his political advisers -- and just do what he thought was right.

"He has a tendency -- there's a moral streak, some would say moralistic streak -- where if he thinks he's doing the right thing, he's just going to do it no matter what," Quandt notes.

The book has generated enormous criticism. There are complaints largely by pro-Israeli groups that Mr. Carter's facts are skewed, misguided, or just plain wrong. And that the book is harshly one-sided against Israel.

A fellow from President Carter's own foundation, Kenneth Stein, has resigned in protest.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says his organization has received over 20,000 letters of complaint, so far, against President Carter.

"People say that this is not the same Jimmy Carter who brokered the historic accord between Egypt and Israel," Hier says. "It is unfair, and unworthy of a former president. He should be ashamed of himself frankly."

David Makovsky of the Washington Institution for Near East policy says he admires President Carter for his part in the Camp David accords. But Makovsky adds that Carter's role as former president, and as the winner of the 2002 Nobel peace prize, carries certain obligations.

"For me it's regrettable," Makovsky says. "I feel Arabs look up to President Carter, and he could tell them in very straightforward way what they need to do. He could be very critical of Israel at the same time, but I feel the overall tone of the book places the entire onus of this conflict on Israel."

Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's national security advisor during the late 1970s, says the former president essentially sees the Palestinians as being repressed. But, Brzezinksi says, it's wrong to think Carter uses this book as a way to bash Israelis.

"I think the point of the book is to simply remind the American people of this underlying social tragedy that exists and which has locked these two peoples in a scorpion-like embrace," Brzezinski says. "And I think it's a call in a sense to the outside world to do something about the situation."

But as one analyst said, it will take more than just a controversial book by a former president to resolve the deep-rooted conflict between Arabs and Israelis.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.