A Key Critic's Problem with Jimmy Carter's Book Ken Stein, who worked with the president at the Carter Center, says Carter's book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid allows "opinion to get in the way of facts" and is less critical of Palestinians than Israel.
NPR logo

A Key Critic's Problem with Jimmy Carter's Book

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/7022490/7022501" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
A Key Critic's Problem with Jimmy Carter's Book

A Key Critic's Problem with Jimmy Carter's Book

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/7022490/7022501" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Former president Jimmy Carter is working to defend his new book.

President JIMMY CARTER: As you know, I've been called an anti-Semite, I've been called a bigot, I've been called senile, I've been called a liar, I've been called a plagiarist, and so forth.

MONTAGNE: That's how he described the attacks earlier this week on MORNING EDITION. Carter wrote of his experiences in the Middle East in a book called "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." Its critics include Ken Stein, who wrote an earlier book with the former president.

Professor KEN STEIN (History, Emory University): We wrote the book "The Blood of Abraham" in 1984. We ping-ponged chapters back and forth. We had frank discussions, even disagreements. At one time, when I insisted that what he was writing was not something that was appropriate. He looked at me, smiling, and said Ken, only one of us was president of the United States.


Ken Stein also disagrees with how the former president wrote his new book. He says it slanted against Israel. And he resigned his fellowship at President Carter's organization, the Carter Center.

Prof. STEIN: The difficulty comes between me, the historian, and Jimmy Carter, the mediator. He tends to want to be more agile in the use of the facts. I try - I'm a little bit more rigid and historically consistent. And my disagreement with him comes from that.

INSKEEP: Well, it would be difficult in this interview to analyze all the specific concerns that you have with his latest book. But let's analyze one. Jimmy Carter met with Hafez al-Assad in 1990. He wrote about that meeting in his book. And you said that he presented Assad a little more sympathetically and the Israelis less sympathetically than was actually the case. What are the signs of that in President Carter's book?

Prof. STEIN: Well, President Carter, in his book, he says I recollect the meeting. And he said that Assad was willing to withdraw further from the line than with the Israelis.

INSKEEP: This is all about the Golan Heights, a disputed piece of territory between the two countries.

Prof. STEIN: That is correct. Now, there are two pieces of evidence that suggests that what Carter is saying is not accurate. First are my own notes at that meeting. And more importantly, I think, If you don't want to believe my notes, is the press conference that Jimmy Carter attended immediately following in which he articulated the following.

He said, now this is my personal opinion. I think the Syrians would be willing to make a compromise and move further back from the heights. What he now says in 2006 is he makes it into a fact. And you can't do that.

INSKEEP: But we asked President Carter about that meeting in 1990 and about your disagreement with him, about what actually happened, and here's what he had to say about it.

President CARTER: Ken Stein was a professor that I took along with me, and Ken attended some of the meetings with me. At the more highly sensitive meetings, I was the only one there except my wife to take notes.

INSKEEP: Well now, Ken Stein, is it possible that President Carter had meetings during that trip that you just went there for?

Prof. STEIN: It's possible he had meetings. He had communications with all sorts of people that I never saw. That's all possible. But in my conversations with President Carter both before and after trip never once did he intimate to me that Hafez al-Assad was going to be more flexible about sovereignty in the Golan Heights than with the Israelis. It would also be inconsistent with Hafez al-Assad's status of being the leader - of wanting to be the leader of the Arab world and not wanting to compromise with the Golan Heights.

INSKEEP: I want to back away from some of these details. And I don't mean to suggest that all of the details are unimportant. But if we back away from some of the details and look at the central premise of Carter's book, which is that you have a man of long experience on Mideast issues who has met a lot of the players involved, who started out very sympathetic to Israel years ago but has come around to the view that the Israelis are guilty of something that he calls apartheid in their treatment of Palestinians on the West Bank. Would you argue with the broad strokes of that?

Prof. STEIN: I would argue with the terminology. I think in his interview with you on Thursday he used the word total domination, he used the term harsh oppression. Make no mistake about it, the manner in which the Palestinians have lived in the territories since 1967 has been bad. Part of that has been clearly imposed and applied by the Israelis. Part of it has been clearly imposed by leadership that has not been able to demonstrate. It's more interested in the Palestinians than it's interested in itself.

In other words, what Carter has done in his book, Carter has put the burden of responsibility on one side.

INSKEEP: You're arguing this is a complicated situation in which Palestinians bear some responsibility.

Prof. STEIN: And so do Israelis.

INSKEEP: A layman might look, though, at some of the facts and let's emphasize some of the facts here and say, well, we've got this area. It's under Israeli occupation; that's the United Nations definition. You've got barriers, you've got segregated communities, you've got segregated highways connecting those communities to one another, why not call it apartheid? A layman might ask that question.

Prof. STEIN: A layman would have every right to ask that question. But does it mean, if it looks like a duck, and it smells like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, then it's a duck.

INSKEEP: And the difference to you is?

Prof. STEIN: The difference to me is that part of this problem is that the Palestinians have chosen to use terrorism. And every time they've chosen to use terrorism, the Israelis have come into the territories or they have closed the territories and they have made it more difficult for the Palestinians to have regular life. There's no doubt that the Israelis have confiscated Palestinian lands - confiscated Palestinian lands illegally. But if you tell the Arab-Israeli conflict, and you tell the history of it, you cannot unpack it in such a way that one side is just seen to be responsible. History always tells us that truth is someplace in between.

INSKEEP: Mr. Stein, thanks very much for speaking with us.

Prof. STEIN: It's my pleasure, Steve. Thank you.

INSKEEP: Ken Stein of Emory University wrote a review of former President Carter's latest book. You can find it at npr.org where you can also listen to President Carter's defense of "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid."

(Soundbite of music)

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.