When a compelling book hits the stores, journalists covering the same subject can't help but write about it. Rare and special are the books that break news with any real content, so in lieu of that, journalists seek external news angles in order to write about the book. It's better than simply shilling for the publishing industry and writing a review, right? The release of President Jimmy Carter's Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid brought on a predictable set of news stories, and it's not surprising that they contained strong religious angles, seeing that the author is famous for stating on the campaign trail that he was born again.
Early attempts at hooking the Carter book to real news were weak. Take, for instance, this Washington Post piece by Karen DeYoung on the resignation of "a veteran Middle East scholar affiliated with the Carter Center in Atlanta." The scholar, Kenneth Stein, doesn't even work for the center. His full-time job is as a professor at Emory University. But somehow this is news and makes the book's release an "escalating controversy."
That's not to say that the book hasn't ruffled a few feathers. Check out this Associated Press article on Carter's prayerful attempts to smooth over his relationship with a group of rabbis in Phoenix:
Former President Jimmy Carter prayed with rabbis who are angered by his new book's reference to apartheid in describing the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, but he didn't change their minds.
The Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix said they wouldn't call for a boycott of Carter's book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," but they also won't suggest that anyone read it.
. . . Carter met with the rabbis' group for almost an hour, prayed with them and invited them to help him teach Sunday school.
Am I the only one wondering what Carter and the rabbis were praying about? And whom did they pray to? And why is this news? Well, Carter was president for four years and he has had quite the post-presidential career. All the furor over the book appears to be focused on the word "Apartheid" in the title. At least that's how The New York Times saw it in a rather pedestrian article Thursday.
If I were a writer looking for a fresh angle on this book, I would turn to the proposition contained in this Post book review by Jeffrey Goldberg, which makes the compelling claim that the book is written to shock evangelicals away from unwittingly supporting an apartheid-like state that supposedly doesn't like Christians:
Why is Carter so hard on Israeli settlements and so easy on Arab aggression and Palestinian terror? Because a specific agenda appears to be at work here. Carter seems to mean for this book to convince American evangelicals to reconsider their support for Israel. Evangelical Christians have become bedrock supporters of Israel lately, and Carter marshals many arguments, most of them specious, to scare them out of their position. Hence the Golda Meir story, seemingly meant to show that Israel is not the God-fearing nation that religious Christians believe it to be. And then there are the accusations, unsupported by actual evidence, that Israel persecutes its Christian citizens. On his fateful first visit to Israel, Carter takes a tour of the Galilee and writes, "It was especially interesting to visit with some of the few surviving Samaritans, who complained to us that their holy sites and culture were not being respected by Israeli authorities -- the same complaint heard by Jesus and his disciples almost two thousand years earlier."
Hey, major U.S. papers, take that for a perspective on this book. How are evangelicals responding? I'm not suggesting that the reporter should start with Pat Robertson or other self-proclaimed experts in international relations, but what about Rick Warren or others like him? We know that the rabbis don't like the book and that Carter is willing to pray with them, but what effect is the book having on the views of your average evangelical? Do they even care what the born-again president thinks these days?