King Gives Carter a Pass (Mostly)

Public figures who appear on CNN’s “Larry King Live” can rest assured they will not be subjected to harsh, confrontational questioning. King speaks with his guests in a folksy and friendly manner about the issues that they want to discuss. If guests play their cards right on King’s content-lite show, they can connect on an emotional level with the audience and pitch their most recent book or movie without having to worry about being asked tough questions.


The limits of King’s technique were made patently obvious when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad appeared on King’s show on Sept. 23, 2008 and was allowed to monologue, without interruption, about the evils of Israel. At one point during this interview, King went out of his way to portray Ahmadinejad in a sympathetic light, asking him, “You’ve called for Israel to be wiped off the map. Now, since you say that you are a peaceful nation, you don’t mean militarily.” With this statement (it cannot honestly be called a question), King gave the Iranian president an easy out regarding his regime’s anti-Semitism.


King revealed a similar tendency to treat his guests with kid gloves when former President Jimmy Carter appeared on his show on Jan. 27, 2009 to pitch his new book We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan that Will Work (Simon and Schuster, 2009). True to form, King let a few obvious Carter falsehoods go unchallenged and allowed the former president to affirm the legitimacy of Hamas, an authoritarian movement that has terrorized both Israelis and Palestinians.



Falsehoods Left Unchallenged
One obvious Carter falsehood that King failed to challenge was the former President’s assertion that in the year before the cease fire between Israel and Hamas went into effect on Jun 19, 2008, only one Israeli was killed. Here is the exchange:
KING: They just had a cease-fire, Mr. President. It may have been broken yesterday. Do you think Israel was right in retaliating when it was hit with missiles every day, to go into the Gaza?
CARTER: Well, you have to remember something in perspective. Of course, it’s bad to fire missiles. It’s bad to kill civilians. But the year before the cease-fire went into effect last June the 19th, which I went over and helped to negotiate, there had been one — a total of one Israeli killed in an entire year. And an average of 49 Palestinians were killed every month. So that kind of puts it into perspective. [Emphasis added].
But I think it’s best for all of us to condemn any violence on either side. And what we need is just two things right now. One is to open up the gates going into Gaza so that people can have food and water and medicine and fuel. And, on the other hand, stop all of the firing of missiles and, also, all of the firing of — dropping of bombs and so forth — end the violence. And that’s possible, I think.
And I went back over there in December and tried to work out a similar agreement. But I was not able to, at the last minute. And so the violence recurred, which I really regret.
Carter got it wrong on the number of deaths caused by mortar and rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. In fact, a total of 10 civilians (nine Israelis and a visitor from Ecuador) were killed in the 12 months before the ceasefire that began on June 19, 2008. As reported in previous CAMERA analysis, four Israelis were killed in rocket and mortar fire in the year prior to the cease-fire that began on June 19, 2008. The other six were killed by sniper attacks, shootings, and a suicide bombing.
The four civilians killed by rocket and mortar fire are:

Jimmy Kadoshim, 48, of Kibbutz Kfar Aza, who was killed by mortar fire from the Gaza Strip on May 9, 2008  while tending his garden.

Shuli Katz, 70, of Kibbutz Gevaram, who was killed on May 12, 2008 while visiting relatives at Moshav Yesha, some 15 kms (9 miles) from the Gaza Strip.

Amnon Rosenberg, 51, of Kibbutz Nirim who was killed and four other employees were wounded on June 5, 2008 when a mortar bomb fired by Palestinian terrorists from the Gaza Strip exploded outside the Nirlat paint factory in Kibbutz Nir-Oz. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack.

Roni Yihye, 47, of Moshav Bitcha in southern Israel, a student at Sapir College, who was killed on Feb. 27, 2008 when a Kassam rocket exploded in a parking lot near the Sderot campus. He died shortly after sustaining massive wounds to his chest. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack.
The six civilians killed by other means are:
Carlos Andres Mosquera Chavez, a 21-year-old Ecuadorian volunteering at a Kibbutz in southern Israel who as killed by a sniper attack on Jan. 15, 2008.
Lyubov Razdolskaya, a 73-year-old Israeli who was killed in Dimona by a suicide bomer on Feb. 4, 2008.
Shimon Mizrahi, 53, and Eli Wasserman, 51, who were shot to death at an industrial park near the West Bank on April 25, 2008.
Oleg Lipson, 37, and Lev Cherniak, 53 who were shot by Palestinians who infiltrated Israel from the Gaza Strip on April 9, 2008.
More troubling is Carter’s suggestion that, because relatively few Israelis have been killed by rocket attacks, Israeli officials overreacted by attacking Hamas – despite the fact that it was Hamas that declared an end to the ceasefire on  Dec. 19, 2008.
A few facts are necessary to understand what Israel has been contending with.

According to the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center (IICC), Israel has been subjected to more than 8,000 rocket and mortar attacks since 2000, with these attacks peaking in 2008. According to the IICC, 3,278 rockets and mortar shells landed in Israeli territory during 2008 – despite the six month cease fire (which Hamas violated and terminated) between June 19, 2008 and Dec. 19, 2008. During 2008, eight people were killed by these attacks and an additional 21 people were killed as a result of terrorist attacks originating from the Gaza Strip. Moreover, the IICC reports “several doezen civilians were injured as a result of the rocket fire in 2008 (prior to Operation Cast Lead), and several hundreds suffered stress-related traumas. 

Also, according to the IICC, 2008 witnessed substantial increases in the range and effectiveness and quantity of rockets and mortars possessed by terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip. And while there was a marked reduction of mortar and rocket attacks during the ceasefire, not a month went by during the six-month period without rocket and mortar attacks. Moreover, Hamas’ “restraint” started to collapse in November 2008, the month before the official end of the cease fire, with 125 rockets and 68 mortar rounds landing in Israel from the Gaza Strip. According to the IICC, “In total, 362 mortar shells were fired at Israel during the lull in fighting.”

To be sure, Hamas’ defenders will assert that some of these rockets were fired in response to Israel’s Nov. 4, 2008 attack on a tunnel being dug in Northern Gaza which killed one Palestinian. But the tunnel itself was, according to Israeli intelligence officials, being dug to allow for the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, indicating that Hamas was preparing for an end to the ceasefire long before Dec. 19, 2008. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni explained Israel’s predicament on the day of the attack: “When Israel agreed to the truce it didn’t agree that while there was calm, Hamas would exploit it to dig tunnels, whether they are for smuggling weapons, for perpetrating attacks or kidnapping soldiers.”

And by the way, in the two days after the lull came to an end (at Hamas’ insistence) on Dec. 19, 2008, a total of 38 rockets and mortar rounds were launched into Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Moreover, all of these attacks took place after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Carter equates Hamas’ terrorist activities with Israel’s use of force when he asserts “it’s best for all of us to condemn any violence on either side.” In short, Carter denies Israel the right to do what is necessary to bring Hamas’ rocket attacks to an end, despite the fact that they were subjecting an increasing portion of Israelis civilians to terror the constant fear and uncertainty of terror attacks. According to the IICC:

… before 2008, the city of Sderot (about 20,000 residents) as well as villages around the Gaza Strip were the preferred target of rocket fire and mortar shelling. In 2008, other cities and hundreds of thousands of Israelis gradually entered the circle of fire: first the cities of Ashkelon and Netviot, and later, during Operation Cast Lead, Ashod, Beersheba and other cities within a range of 40 kilometers from the Gaza Strip. The rocket attacks created a new reality in which nearly one million Israeli residents (about 15 percent of the entire population) are exposed to rocket fire and mortar shelling in various levels of intensity.

In a rare example of journalist alacrity, King challenged Carter by asking “if someone was dropping missiles into Atlanta, you would retaliate, wouldn’t you?” Carter’s response was yes – if he couldn’t stop it by other means – and that “One way to stop [the attacks] would have been to open up the supply of fuel and water and food and medicine to let the 1.5 million Palestinians to have a decent life. But … that gate going into Israel was closed. And that’s the only way you can get food and water so forth in.”

The problem with Carter’s analysis on this score is that Israel tightened its border with the Gaza Strip in response to Hamas’ violent take-over of the territory in June 2007, relaxed restrictions as part of the June 19, 2008 cease fire, and tightened them again in response to rocket attacks that took place during the lull. In other words, Israel had previously adopted Carter’s approach to ending the rocket attacks – looser border restrictions – only to be rewarded with continued rocket and mortar fire. King’s failure to question Carter this point further is regrettable, but not surprising.

Another obvious Carter falsehood King failed to confront is the former president’s oblique assertion that Israel decided to “destroy a city” in the Gaza Strip. Carter made this assertion in response to a surprisingly direct question by King – exactly what was Israel supposed to do in response to Hamas’ policy of firing rockets from schools and mosques in the Gaza Strip. After reporting that Israel attacked a UN school (without mentioning that witnesses reported seeing Hamas personnel near the school before it was attacked) Carter said “… once you decide to destroy a city — as I understand, they destroyed 22,000 buildings — then you can’t really pick and choose which ones you’re going to destroy.”  

Exactly what city is Carter talking about? Israel’s use of force was targeted at Hamas – not the civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. To buttress his assertion that Israel decided to “destroy a city”, Carter repeats assertions from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) that Israel destroyed 22,000 buildings. How credible is such an assertion? We have already seen reports of a hospital destroyed, only to find out a few days later that the hospital is up and running again after some repairs.


To be sure, many buildings were damaged as a result of Israel’s attack on Hamas but who is morally responsible for this damage? Numerous articles have documented Hamas’ cynical use of Palestinian civilians as human shields. Is the former president unaware of this behavior?


Instead of acknowledging that Hamas bears significant responsibility for the death of Palestinian civilians, former President Carter invokes the comparatively low number of Israeli deaths caused by Hamas’ rocket attacks to suggest that Israel overreacted to them. Apparently, Carter would regard Israel’s response more “legitimate” if more Israelis had been killed as a result of Hamas’s rocket attacks during the past three years. Carter in effect, is insisting that Israel pay for the right to defend itself by allowing its citizens to be killed by Hamas’ rocket attacks. Under Carter’s rubric, the terror caused by rockets landing in playgrounds and streets is not enough to merit a response from Israel, until people are actually killed in the streets of Sderot and Ashkelon.


False Equivalence


Another problem with Carter’s appearance on Larry King Live is his efforts to posit a false equivalence between Muslim extremists in the Middle East and extremists in the Christian world. In response to a question from King about President Barack Obama’s recent overture to Muslims on Al Arabiya Television, Carter said that it would “minimize the radical element in the Muslim world, which exists in the Christian world, as well, who might want to have violence and terrorism.” (Emphasis added.)


Exactly what “radical element” of Christianity is Carter talking about? Yes, every religious tradition does have its extremists, but when it comes to the worldwide population of Christians as it currently exists, the only radical element that come anywhere close to generating the level of animosity and violence generated by groups like Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah is made up of the Christian extremists invented by CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour in her series “God’s Christian Warriors” broadcast in August 2007.


Carter put forth another false equivalency when King said the Arab-Israeli conflict “seems tougher than the Irish and the English.” Carter’s response was to state, “I’m not sure that it’s tougher than the Irish was, because, we had the IRA that was looked upon, you know for years as a terrorist organization. And they did some terrorist acts.”


Indeed, the Irish Republican Army did perpetrate acts of terror, but at no point did it call for England’s destruction. The IRA had a much more limited goal – the departure of English troops from Northern Ireland – while Hamas calls for Israel’s destruction.


Rehabilitating Hamas, and Himself


Carter’s false equivalency between Hamas and the IRA is part of a larger attempt on the former president’s part to rehabilitate the organization. At the end of the interview, King asked Carter if he trusted Hamas, and the former President said he trusted the organization to “do what they know is best for them,” adding: &#147 ;When I have met with Hamas, twice, their pre-eminent – almost their only demand was to ‘open the gates and let the food come into our people here.’”


Carter concluded with:

The Hamas people committed to me and announced publicly and confirmed that they will accept any peace agreement negotiated between the Palestinians and the Israelis, provided the terms are submitted to the Palestinians all over the West Bank and Gaza in a referendum. And if it’s approved by the Palestinians, Hamas swears they will accept it. I think they will.”
With this statement, Carter accords greater weight to Hamas’ statements to him than he does to its behavior (and the statements it has made to others) over the past three years. Hamas responded to Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip with increased violence against the Jewish state. Moreover, the organization has repeatedly attacked Israeli civilians while hiding behind its own civilians, and has continued to call for Israel’s destruction. Despite all of these acts, which are war crimes, Carter, in his hubris, thinks that it will keep its promise to him and accept Israel’s right to exist.

Here, Carter reveals the intent of his most recent book and the accompanying publicity tour: Portray himself as the center of events and rehabilitate his reputation as a peacemaker which was so badly damaged by the publication of his last book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid.

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