Jimmy Carter - The Prince of Peace?
by Sherri Mandell, Jerusalem Post
I met former US president Jimmy Carter on June 14th and left the meeting profoundly unsettled.
It was a cordial meeting: Shaul Goldstein, the mayor of Efrat had been approached by Carter's staff because in 30 years of peacemaking, Carter had not visited any settlements. I imagine Carter wanted to improve his tarnished image. There was seemingly a dialogue, and yet the meeting revealed the chasm between us. I suspect that the chasm has to do with divergent basic assumptions that are grounded in religious belief and are very rarely discussed. It is not so much the idea of peace that separated us at that meeting as the idea of grace, a Christian belief that as far as I know has no parallel in Jewish thought. Carter didn't talk about grace yet somehow I suspect that we can't understand him, a proud Christian Baptist, until we understand that idea.
I was not so eager to meet Mr. Carter because of his seemingly anti-Israel positions. But I wanted to tell him my son's story. The meeting took place on the same day as my son Koby's birthday. He would have had turned 22. Instead he lies in a grave, murdered by terrorists. I showed Carter a picture of my beautiful 13-year-old son and told him "I want you to make sure that the world understands that I am not to blame for my son's death because I live in a settlement. The Palestinians cannot pretend that despair over land fuels their rage; it is hate pure and simple. They too have a choice and we cannot allow their suffering to be a rationale for terror."
The meeting was amiable, a dialogue. And yet something continues to nag me. And that something has to do with religious beliefs. Mr. Carter proudly told us that as a Sunday school teacher in his hometown of Plains he was about to give his 500th lesson which he teaches from the Old and New Testaments. Therefore, he said, he understands the way a person's thinking can be shaped by his faith.
He told us that as a Christian he believes that Christ was a prince of peace. This belief may lead him to think that peace is necessary at any cost. Because he was able to engineer a peace with Egypt he imagines that he can do so with the Palestinians.
Yet there is a flaw in his thinking. And that may have to do with Christian idea of grace, the idea of unearned favor. The Greek word for grace is caris. Its basic idea is unearned favor, an unearned gift, blessings bestowed freely and not as merit for work performed. This goodness can then cause a sinner to be redeemed and change his behavior. One is "saved" and becomes a better person.
This idea of an unearned gift, that God rewards the fallen on earth with grace not because we deserve it but because we don't is problematic.
The concept of grace may underpin Carter's belief that one should reward the Palestinians, even if many in their society honor terrorists and condone violence because in that way, the Palestinians can be transformed into "good" people. They will be "saved." Despite the fact that Palestinians haven't made concrete steps toward peace like renouncing terrorism and violence, they will somehow be converted by showering love (money, land, legitimacy) on them.
Perhaps the idea of justice becomes perverted by the Christian mandate for mercy.
Carter may very much want to be a prince of peace like Christ. But a prince has to practice both kindness and justice, not just compassion. The danger of grace is that one will pardon those who practice cruelty. Carter believes that if we give enough to the Palestinians they will respect Israel and create a state that will not be an enemy to Israel. But that thinking has no precedent in the reality in which we live.
Look at what happened in Gaza. As soon as we "gave" the Palestinians the land, they elected a leader who is sworn to abolishing the Jewish state.
Kindness, giving without limits or conditions, can also be destructive. And giving with the wishful thinking that kindness will transform the Palestinians is a kind of delusion.
We Jews have a saying: he who is kind to the cruel, will end up being cruel to the kind.