By Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn
Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu told “Face the Nation” on Sunday that preventing Jews from living and building in mostly-Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem would mean a policy of “ethnic purification” that is unacceptable in democratic societies. In so doing, Netanyahu once again showed his mastery of nuance in American politics — a nuance, as it turns out, that even American presidential candidates do not always recognize.
Appearing on the CBS-TV interview program opposite anchor Bob Schieffer, Netanyahu strongly defended the recent purchase by Jewish families of apartments from Arabs in Jerusalem’s Shiloach neighborhood, as well as the Israeli government’s plans to build homes for Jews and Arabs in the city’s Givat Hamatos section.
Netanyahu told Schieffer that he was baffled by President Obama’s criticism of the latest Jerusalem developments, since the idea of barring members of a particular ethnic group from living in specific areas is clearly against American values. He said that neither the United States nor Israel should ever have a policy of enforcing “ethnic purification.”
That phrase brings to mind a generation-old controversy in American political history.
The year was 1976. Jimmy Carter, the former governor of Georgia, was locked in a tight race for the Democratic presidential nomination. The hot issues of the day included the busing of African-American children to mostly-white schools and the building of low-income housing in higher-income neighborhoods. A significant number of Democratic primary voters in some states were strongly opposed to both.
When a reporter asked Carter about the housing issue, Carter evidently tried to appeal to conservative white voters by declaring: “I see nothing wrong with ethnic purity being maintained. I would not force racial integration on a neighborhood by government action.”
That comment ignited a firestorm of questions from reporters. At first, Carter stood his ground. At a news conference in Indianapolis two days later, he reiterated: “I see nothing wrong with ethnic purity being maintained in Indianapolis. I have nothing against a community trying to maintain the ethnic purity of their neighborhoods.”
By the next day, the condemnations were coming thick and fast. Seventeen black members of Congress and the National Urban League denounced Carter’s statements.
Carter buckled. He publicly apologized, announced his endorsement of employment legislation that the Congressional Black Caucus had been promoting, and declared: “I don’t stand behind any sort of connotation of ethnic purity. I don’t want any community to maintain its ethnic purity. If someone from a different ethnic group wants to go into a neighborhood, I would fight for that person’s right to do that.”
Nowadays, Carter is much more likely to be seen hugging a leader of Hamas, than standing on the same political side as an Israeli prime minister. After all, Carter has authored an entire book accusing Israel of “apartheid,” and has even publicly claimed that “obviously the Palestinians have a worse time than the Rwandans.” (Not so obvious to those who know that one million people were slaughtered in the 1994 Rwanda genocide.)
But Carter’s amended declaration speaks for itself: “If someone from a different ethnic group wants to go into a neighborhood, I would fight for that person’s right to do that.”
The new Jewish residents of Jerusalem’s Shiloach and Givat HaMatos neighborhoods no doubt appreciate that principle, regardless of who is the person articulating it.
And Prime Minister Netanyahu was spot-on to use the argument to a nationwide American audience in rejecting the Obama administration’s latest criticism.