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Carter was ‘sidelined’ by U.S. Democrats ‘for Middle East views’

Denver, Colorado, 2 September
Ecumenical News International

Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter was sidelined during the recent Democratic National Convention because he has angered U.S. Jewish leaders for his views on the Middle East, according to a report in a Jewish newspaper.

The Forward, a New York-based daily newspaper, reported on 28 August that senior Democratic Party members said the party would have risked alienating Jewish voters by giving Carter a prominent spotlight during the 25-28 August convention. There the party nominated Senator Barack Obama as its nominee for president. Jewish voters are a potentially crucial voting bloc in the US presidential election as there are believed to be more than 5 million Jews in the country.

"The party is very sensitive to the American Jewish community, and it’s very sensitive to ever conveying that this is anything but a pro-Israel party," Ira Forman, the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, was quoted as saying by The Forward. He was echoing a reported view that Obama is being careful not to alienate the party’s Jewish supporters.

Carter, who was U.S. president from 1977 to 1981, was honoured only with a short video clip and brief appearance on the stage of the party convention. An unnamed party official told The Forward that this reflected "the bare minimum that could be done for a former president". The official added, "What more could we do to diss [ridicule] Jimmy Carter?"

Carter, one of two living former Democratic Party presidents, said publicly that it had been his idea that his role at the convention should be minimised. However, the newspaper reported that the decision to sideline the former U.S. leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate ended "a two-year struggle for the party over how to deal with the controversial former president".

The Forward reported that leading Democrats have been trying to distance themselves from the former president since the November 2006 publication of Carter’s book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." This criticised Israel for its treatment of those living in the Palestinian territories. Carter has also met leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian faction that rules Gaza.

Carter, who is an evangelical Christian and a Baptist Sunday school teacher, has defended both the book and his meeting with Hamas leaders as efforts to bring about peace in the Middle East.

Concerns over not alienating particular voting blocs are also believed to be a factor in the selection of first-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as Senator John McCain’s running mate on the Republican ticket.

Her selection, announced on 29 August, has been widely seen as an effort to garner McCain support among women and also evangelical Christian voters, a key constituency in the U.S. Republican Party. Conservative Christian leaders have lauded the selection of Palin who is to be nominated while the party holds its national convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.