CAMERA Op-Ed: The James Carroll Paradox

James Carroll has won admiration and gratitude from many for Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews, his landmark work examining the historic role of the Catholic church in fostering anti-Semitism. In it, he argues unsparingly that the ground for the Holocaust was richly seeded by centuries of church indoctrination that demonized Jews as being collectively guilty for killing Christ.

Carroll has also written sympathetically of the importance of Israel as a Jewish homeland and refuge. All the more perplexing, then, that in numerous opinion pieces in the Boston Globe, this thoughtful writer has missed or distorted vital information about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Perhaps most inexplicable, given the writer’s awareness of the lethal impact of the inculcation of hatred against Jews in Europe, is his apparent refusal to credit Palestinian hate-indoctrination as the underlying cause of the savage attacks against Jews in Israel. Instead, readers are offered platitudes such as his claim that “Palestinian terrorism is rooted, above all, in the economic hopelessness of millions of impoverished and dispossessed Palestinians…” (September 2001) Carroll is evidently unwilling to hold accountable the Palestinian Authority, which from its inception has stoked anti-Jewish hatred through schools, media, mosques, summer camps and political rallies that have painted Jews as alien, thieving conquerors, to be driven out or destroyed.

The calamitous outcome is a population energized to kill a dehumanized foe.

In the same vein, Carroll minimizes Palestinian enthusiasm for terrorism. In a June 2003 column devoted almost entirely to Palestinian grievances – including his observation that “destruction of trees can be almost as shocking as assaults on human life” – he asserted that “a mere fraction of the Palestinian population” supports terrorism. Yet a respected Palestinian polling agency, the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center, just weeks earlier had found a substantial majority of 59.9% of Palestinians supported suicide bombings “against Israeli civilians.” How, one wonders, is it possible for Mr. Carroll to confront the Catholic church for its action but to deny virulent hate-mongering by the PA?

In other instances, Carroll’s opinion pieces are marred by surprising misinformation that tilts against Israel. For instance, on February 17, 2004 in a column datelined “Jerusalem,” he described Israel’s security fence as “a high cement barrier that will run hundreds of miles…” and that “veers far from the original 1967 border in numerous places… a repudiation of the hope for a negotiated resolution to the conflict over territory.”

Wrong on multiple counts, he included a correction of the first statement in his next column. It read: “In my column on Feb. 17, I referred to the barrier between Israel and the West Bank as a ‘high cement barrier that will run hundreds of miles…’ As readers pointed out to me, the cement portion of the wall/fence will not run the whole distance. Barbed wire will also be used.” This unworthy “correction” does not, of course, make clear that Israel’s barrier includes only a few miles of concrete wall – less than 3% of the total when completed – and that concrete is being used only at those points close to Palestinian towns where gunmen have shot at civilians driving in Israel on Israeli roads.

Mr. Carroll did not correct the other error at all – a serious one he has made repeatedly, regarding what he terms the “original 1967 border.” (A May 2002 column devoted to assailing Israel for allegedly “dissolving” its eastern “border” also referred to the “vestigial ‘green line,’ the borders of 1967.”) But the 1967 lines are not a border. After the 1947-48 war, the Arabs refused to recognize Israel, and insisted the boundaries were only ceasefire lines, and this remained their legal status. The eastern borders of Israel are yet to be decided. Moreover, UN Resolution 242, the foundation stone of Arab-Israeli negotiations, explicitly avoided requiring an Israeli retreat to the 1967 lines, its drafters believing those were indefensible.

In addition, Israel’s fence can, of course, be moved, and its construction hardly constitutes a repudiation of a negotiated settlement, as Carroll claims.

In numerous other assertions about Israel, the writer falls prey to rote accusation – that Ariel Sharon and settlements are the problem, and that Israel has used “overwhelming force,” “collective punishment” and “extrajudicial assassination.” In a characteristic statement just weeks after the 2002 massacre of innocents on Pessah and the launch of Operation Defensive Shield, Carroll declared that “Israeli incursions into the West Bank have been irrational and counterproductive…”

Undoubtedly, James Carroll favors the defense of Jewish life by the sovereign state of Israel just as he eloquently lamented its vast loss during the millennia of Jewish statelessness. At the same time, however, he attacks Israel for whatever means it uses to defend its people in the current terror war.

Carroll would prefer, no doubt, that a solution come about by Israel again offering Camp David-style concessions and the Palestinians this time reciprocating with genuine peace. But the Palestinians, under the Palestinian Authority, have overwhelmingly and brutally rejected that course.

In placing the onus on Israel for the ongoing violence and characterizing as illegitimate its efforts at defense, the writer does a disservice to Israel no less unfair than the anti-Jewish campaigns of the past he commendably criticizes.
Originally published in Jerusalem Post on March 9, 2004.

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