A Review of Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains

Jimmy Carter’s Magical Mystery Anti-Israel Book Tour

By Aaron Goldstein—— Bio and Archives--November 12, 2007

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If a man who nearly became President could star in a documentary and win an Academy Award,  why not a man who actually got to sit in the Oval Office? 


I am sure Jimmy Carter had Al Gore on his mind when he agreed to star in the documentary feature Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains.  This film documents Carter’s U.S. tour of his notorious book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.  Given Michael Moore’s proximity to the 39th President at the 2004 Democratic National Convention I am surprised Moore wasn’t tabbed to direct this flick. But give Carter his due.  He did recruit Jonathan Demme, who won an Academy Award for his direction of The Silence of the Lambs, to write, produce and direct this film.

If one is not a fan of Jimmy Carter this can be a tedious film to sit through.  Although being forced to sit in a dark room watching Jimmy Carter for two hours straight could be utilized as an effective interrogation technique for the inmates at Guantanamo Bay.  Man from Plains moves at a very slow pace and the ending of the film lasts almost as long as the Iran hostage crisis.  Yet this is an important film because it is a rare opportunity to catch an extended glimpse of the thought process of a man who was once the leader of the free world.  It is also an opportunity to witness just how out of touch with the real world he actually is.

For instance, early on the film, Carter is in a room sitting at a table full of journalists and Hollywood types.  In damning the Bush Administration, Carter said without a hint of embarrassment, “If we had just talked to North Korea there would be no weapons.”  If Carter can openly express such naivet� about the world’s most closed society then one can only imagine what Carter has to say about Israel.

To begin with, Carter insists that media coverage of Israel and the Palestinians is “abominable” with “no degree of objectivity.”  Yet Carter is welcomed with open arms on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross, Larry King Live and The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer on CNN, on PBS with both Charlie Rose and Tavis Smiley, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and even Al Franken while he was still a talk radio host on Air America.  Perhaps Carter thinks tough and pointed questions are abominable and lack any degree of objectivity.  Tavis Smiley generally praised Carter’s book but when he challenged him on the use of the word apartheid Carter claimed that Palestinians are treated worse by the Israelis than South African blacks were under Apartheid rule.  Nonetheless, most of the questions put to him were respectful of his place in history.  Jimmy Carter could write a book about toilet paper and get on any network of his choosing.

During the tour, Carter insists the book is about Palestine, not Israel by virtue of its title.  Yet talking about Palestine without talking about Israel is like talking about the ocean without mentioning the water.  Of course, the book is about Israel as Carter considers the construction of the security fence (which he describes as a wall) as a tool of colonialism that effectively imprisons Palestinians.  Carter further insists the only way peace will be achieved in the Middle East is if Israel withdraws completely from all Palestinian territories.  Never mind that Israel has withdrawn from both Lebanon and Gaza and continues to be bombarded with rocket attacks from Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.  Never mind that Palestinian schoolchildren are shown maps of a Palestine with no Israel.  Carter places the onus entirely on the Jewish State. 

Not surprisingly, the film plays up Carter’s role during the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt.  Yet three decades later, Carter shows his contempt for Israel and Jews.  After being interviewed in Los Angeles by an Israeli TV news anchor he leaves the studio and enters the waiting car wondering how this interview will be edited.  Oh Jimmy, what are you trying to tell the world?  That Israelis can’t be trusted with your sacred words?  That if only the Jews didn’t control the media that your word could get out unfettered?

Yet the word of Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ Palestinian Prime Minister in Gaza, is taken at face value.  In Man from Plains, Carter claims that Haniyeh supports peace talks between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.  In an article that appeared in the International Herald Tribune on May 7, 2006, Carter writes, “Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has expressed approval for peace talks between Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel.  He added that if these negotiations result in an agreement that can be accepted by Palestinians, then the Hamas position regarding Israel would be changed.”

Or would it?

Seven months later, Haniyeh traveled to Iran and gave a speech during Friday prayers at Tehran University where he said, “The world arrogance (US) and Zionists…want us to recognize the usurpation of the Palestinian lands and stop jihad and resistance and accept the agreements reached with the Zionist enemies in the past.”

Is Carter simply uninformed of Haniyeh’s statements in Tehran and the duplicitous nature of Hamas?  Or does he know and simply not care?

The film culminates with Carter’s talk at Brandeis University.  Carter claimed that Brandeis had turned down his request to speak at the predominantly Jewish institution of higher learning.  In fact, it was Carter who turned Brandeis down because he did not want to debate Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.  In the end, Carter got his way and spoke at Brandeis without having to debate Dershowitz and answering only pre-screened questions.  Dershowitz was only allowed into the forum to give his response after Carter had left the premises.  In fairness to Demme, he did give Dershowitz one lengthy scene towards the end of the film to explain his position.  Reda Mansour, Israel’s Consul General to the Southeastern United States based in Atlanta, was also briefly given some screen time to air his objections to Carter’s book.  Mansour had been introduced at a meeting at the Carter Center to very light, polite applause.  The film was not entirely one sided but after all this is a movie about Jimmy Carter so Demme couldn’t really get carried away.

Yet nevertheless, it is useful to have this glimpse of Carter over an extended period of his life.  After his talk at Brandeis, Carter is seen in the back seat of a car on his way to Logan International Airport.  While satisfied with how he was received as he rode down the Massachusetts Turnpike he became progressively angrier.  Carter expressed bitterness with the Bush Administration that the State Department had not granted him permission to travel to Syria to meet with President Bashar al-Assad.  In particular, Carter was irate with National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley stating that previous administrations had given him carte blanc or should I say, Carter blanc.  True to form, Carter beamed praise on Assad stating that he knew him “since he was in college.”  I could just picture it.  Bashar al-Assad at the University of Damascus as the BMOC with his fraternity Phi Beta Jihad making new pledges dress up as Yeshiva students and pelting them with eggs.  Those must have been the days.  It must have been the very heights of his life.  Perhaps even the Golan Heights. 

As angry as Carter is with the so-called Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands he seems not the least bit disturbed about three decades of Syrian occupation of Lebanon and their ongoing involvement in assassinating Lebanese politicians.  Carter seems to believe that just because he was once President of the United States that world leaders, especially the most barbarous amongst them, will drink in every word of wisdom and do his bidding just because he asks.  The Bush Administration, as well as all Americans, have every right to be concerned about a former President of the United States who extends a hand of friendship to our enemies while giving the finger to our friends.

Aaron Goldstein was a card carrying member of the socialist New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP). Since 09/11, Aaron has reconsidered his ideological inclinations and has become a Republican.  Aaron lives and works in Boston.


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