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Commentary Last Updated: Jan 22nd, 2007 - 00:35:10

Criticisms of Jimmy Carter and Pacifica Forum have tragic parallels
By George Beres
Online Journal Guest Writer

Jan 22, 2007, 00:32

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When conflict arises -- be it in Eugene, Ore., or in Plains, Ga.-- hopes for easing it depend on understanding and a willingness to listen. The link between the two communities grows when anger over alleged anti-Semitism of Eugene's Pacifica Forum at the University of Oregon finds a parallel in criticism leveled at the most famous citizen of Plains, former president, Jimmy Carter.

Criticism of Carter was described in an article by Bob Thompson of the Los Angeles Times, Dec. 17, as coming from "supporters of Israel who denounced his use of the word, 'Apartheid,'" in his book, "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid." Irony grows from the fact Carter brokered an agreement in 1979 between Israel and Egypt which still remains the most significant move toward peace in a region of hostility. Since leaving office, he has continued to be the rare American striving to help resolve the conflict between Israel and Palestine without prejudice toward either.

That behavior earned for him the Wayne Morse Integrity in Politics Award presented by the Wayne Morse Corporation in Eugene.

Problems of the Pacifica Forum revolve around its sponsorship of a series of talks by a Litihuanian immigrant and scholar whose talks were perceived by some as critical of Jews in the USSR, whom he described as responsible for attacks on his family and others during his years in the Soviet Union. Jewish-Americans predictably called him anti-Semitic, then went further, giving that label to many previous programs of the forum.

Like the unfortunate and misguided criticism of Carter, I believe the values and merits of Pacifica Forum have been manipulated by those who choose to libel it. I once belonged to the forum, and know from experience that attacks on it even then were unfounded. They were based on a pattern of behavior suggested by Israel's powerful U.S. lobby, AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), to describe any criticism or questioning of Israeli policies as anti-Semitic.

Cumulative effect of Valdas Anelauskas' talks may have suggested prejudice to some Jews. But to demean all programs of Pacifica because of the forum given the speaker is to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Tragically, that is the AIPAC pattern, and it too often is accepted by otherwise progressive citizens, even a local cleric whose views were respected until he shared in a published slander of Pacifica Forum. It also infects a progressive social service group whose newspaper advertisement rightly opposed bigotry, but mistakenly suggested Pacifica is an anti-Semitic organization.

Pacifica programs have dealt with a wide range of subjects. One I introduced two years ago featured former Congressman Jim Weaver and a distinguished University of Oregon professor, Frank Stahl, in calling for impeachment of George Bush and Dick Cheney. Many programs have related to Israel because they've given attention to TV documentaries and speakers seeking justice for Palestine.

That is a drop-in-the-bucket when compared to the excessive attention given the Israeli perspective in this country, according to Carter. He told Newsweek Magazine, " . . . any sort of incisive editorial comment in major newspapers is almost completely absent. There are no significant countervailing voices to AIPAC."

Carter reinforced the views of former Republican Congressman Paul Findley (R-Ill.), who told me: "Any suggestion of criticism of Israel by U.S. legislators results in a heavy price being paid in the next election, when Israeli money helps remove them from office." Among examples in his book, "They Dare to Speak Out," are former Illinois senators Charles Percy, a Republican, and Adlai Stevenson, Jr., a Democrat.

Carter told Newsweek: "Any member of Congress who suggests human rights of Palestinians should be protected is very likely to not be re-elected."

Paranoia may be natural for those whose memories of the Holocaust demand they be alert to threats. But like the one-dimensional criticisms of Jimmy Carter, it causes ears of the concerned to be shut -- and that prevents understanding where it is so badly needed.

George Beres is a former member of the Pacifica Forum, and long-time member of the Wayne Morse Corporation Board. At the University of Oregon, he was sports information director, then managed the Speakers Bureau. He is a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

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