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January 25 is the 75th anniversary of Israel’s first open and free elections for its national legislature, the Knesset. Contrast that with the last time Palestinian Arabs had elections for their parliament—it was in 2006. And in 2006 the Hamas terrorist organization overwhelmingly won those elections. As a result of the Hamas win the Palestinian Authority’s presidential elections were postponed indefinitely and Mahmoud Abbas, elected in 2005, has never allowed elections again.
In its first 75 years Israel has had 25 national elections. Israel’s 1949 elections took place eight months after the Jewish State declared its independence and a month before Israel and Egypt signed its armistice agreement. In other words Israel was still at war when they held their first elections.
Israel’s commitment to free elections was without a doubt extremely important to Israel’s founding fathers otherwise they would not have held elections while a war was ongoing. Multiple parties led by Arabs participated in this initial Israeli election. Israel has always been an extremely vibrant democracy. Its politicians and jurists, as well as everyday Israelis, have gone to great lengths to ensure that anti-democratic ideas are marginalized while also protecting civil rights at the same time. None of the Arab nations that have fought wars against Israel have shown any interest in regular, free elections like the ones we have in the United States. Not one.
At the same time it is well worth noting that back in 2006 former president Jimmy Carter had a lead role in legitimizing Hamas as a political entity when nearly all Westerners had seen it as a terrorist organization up until then.
In his 2006 report on the Palestinian Authority’s elections Carter failed to label Hamas as a terrorist organization. Carter wrote: “As an organization that refuses to recognize the legitimacy of Israel and calls for violence as a means to achieve its political goals, Hamas has shown great success in local elections held during the past year.” [Source: https://www.cartercenter.org/news/documents/doc2287.html]
Hamas did not “call for violence”. By the time Carter authored his report Hamas had an almost 20 year record of committing terrorism itself, including bombings of civilian targets such as malls, cafes, buses, and train stations. Hamas began abducting Israeli soldiers in 1989. Avi Sasportas and Ilan Saadon, the two Israeli soldiers that Hamas kidnapped in 1989, were murdered by Hamas after they were kidnapped.
Carter knew all of this.
Additionally, Carter claimed in his report that the elections were beyond reproach thus providing Hamas with legitimacy it in no way deserved. Carter wrote: “We drove to Ramallah to meet with the leaders of the Central Election Commission, one of the most honest and effective I have ever known.” In his report Carter failed to provide any tangible evidence of what made the Election Commission “honest and effective” or made the elections fair. Carter apparently believed that his readers were all supposed to take his word for it.
The former president could seemingly barely contain his happiness over the Hamas win, writing “we were all surprised at the enormity of the Hamas victory.”
In speaking about the Israelis Carter stated that Israel’s leaders would resume talks “only if radical Palestinian groups are completely disarmed (a hopeless prospect)” and again here Carter declined to make the morally correct choice of labeling Hamas and their fellow terrorists as such and merely labeled these killers as “radical”. It also must be noted that Carter’s word choice made legitimate the use of violence against Israel by Hamas. Why should disarming terrorists be seen as “hopeless”?
Carter’s misrepresentations were not mere slips of the tongue. They served a political purpose. They were used by Carter in order to put pressure on Israel to not oppose the Hamas regime in Gaza as well as to not treat Hamas as the terrorists they were then and still are today. Far too many around the world followed Carter’s take on Hamas and provided these terrorists with legitimacy and cash.
On October 7th we saw just where that led.
Americans who value democracy should celebrate Israel having reached a 75 year milestone of free and open elections. The Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and Israel’s neighbors in no way look at elections in the same way and what’s more they show no indication that they have the capacity to ever want to change their attitudes towards democracy. Quite the opposite.
Moshe Phillips is a commentator on Middle East affairs whose writings appear regularly in the American and Israeli press.