Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Jimmy Carter's evil secret

Last week C-SPAN covered a town hall meeting held by former President Jimmy Carter in Athens, Georgia, part of a conference Carter was holding on his presidency.

A questioner in the audience criticized Carter for using the word "apartheid" in the title of his new book. Why would the former president choose a word so freighted with racism, the questioner asked, to describe Israel's policy toward the Palestinians?

Jimmy Carter patiently explained that he didn't mean to imply that racism motivated the Israeli policy. What he meant by "apartheid," he said, was that Israel's policy is motivated entirely by "greed for Palestinian land."

Then he described more fully what he thought about Israel's policy, repeatedly using phrases like "the Palestinians' land," "the Palestinians, on their own land," and "land that belongs to the Palestinians."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought the status of that land was the subject of negotiations that have been going on for decades and are not anywhere near concluded yet.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought those territories were won by Israel in a war that began when Israel was attacked by its Arab neighbors.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought Israel gave up control of some of that land to the Palestinians in exchange for a cessation of terror and violent attacks, a promise on which the Palestinians have utterly failed to deliver.

Jimmy Carter speaks often about the power of the "Israeli lobby," implying that the only reason anyone in Washington would support that democratic sliver of the Middle East is that large sums of money have been paid to those who agree to whore for the Israeli government.

Now we know why he thinks that. That's what he's doing. But for the other side.

National Review's January 29 issue includes an article by Claudia Rosett about some recent journalistic inquiries into the funding of the Carter Center. Among the major supporters who have been disclosed: the Saudi government, the Saudi prince who unsuccessfully offered Rudy Giuliani a ten-million-dollar donation for 9/11 victims along with a letter blaming U.S. support of Israel for the attack, and the Saudi BinLaden Group -- yes, that bin Laden, or at least his brother. Many other donors remain secret. U.S. law does not require the Carter Center to disclose the names and contributions of its supporters.

Jimmy Carter doesn't matter at all, but Americans should be very concerned about the practice of funding presidential libraries and "centers" with secret donations from undisclosed donors. Senator Hillary Clinton's husband has raised a prodigious amount of money for his library and foundation, and President Bush's library will reportedly cost $500 million. Last November the New York Daily News reported that Bush fund-raisers hope to raise $250 million from "megadonations" of $10 million to $20 million each. According to Washington Bureau Chief Tom DeFrank, "Bush loyalists have already identified wealthy heiresses, Arab nations and captains of industry as potential 'mega' donors" and "their names aren't required to be made public."

It's a formula for disaster. People who hold public office in the United States cannot be permitted to solicit secret donations from anybody, let alone from foreign governments and the individuals who head them. The law has to be changed to prevent current public officials, former U.S. presidents, and their spouses from taking a single dime from anybody for any kind of foundation unless it is fully and promptly disclosed to the public.

The American taxpayers provide former presidents with a fair amount of money to pay for an office and a staff. It's not unreasonable to ask for full disclosure of donations to their foundations as a condition of that support.

This is not to say that anyone is dishonest or corrupt. But if our presidents and former presidents are going to spend their time raising hundreds of millions of dollars for their own use, we had better keep the lights on. And the windows open.

Copyright 2007

Editor's note: You might be interested in the earlier post, "The president's motive in the ports deal."