Jimmy Carter last month.(Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images)

Yesterday, a class action (download here) was filed in Manhattan federal court accusing Jimmy Carter and Simon & Schuster of consumer fraud for the former president’s 2006 book, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid. It alleges that the author and publisher marketed the book as a totally factual account of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in part based on the credibility of a former president and key character in the history, but that the book actually contains “demonstrable falsehoods, omissions, and knowing misrepresentations designed to promote Carter’s agenda of anti-Israel propaganda.” David Schoen, the plaintiffs’ attorney, confirmed the filing (and commented extensively, see below). UPDATE: The pubisher responds, “This lawsuit is a frivolous and transparent attempt by the plaintiffs, despite their protestations to the contrary, to punish the author, a Nobel Peace prize-winner and world-renowned statesmen, and his publisher, for writing and publishing a book with which the plaintiffs simply disagree. It is a chilling attack on free speech that we intend to defend vigorously.”

Simon & Schuster, the case alleges, has refused to issue corrections despite “irrefutable proof” that key reporting in the book, which is extremely unpopular with many pro-Israel groups, does not tell the truth about events such as the 1949 and 1967 ceasefires and the 2000 negotiations at Camp David. (The book was controversial when it was published in part because of the title’s deployment of the a-word, which has since become a much more accepted part of the discourse.) The complaint cites the writings of Kenneth M. Stein, a former Carter Center Middle East fellow who resigned following the book’s publication.

I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t intend to play one on a blog. I’ll simply say the allegations in the suit remind me most of the debate you and your family likely have every year at Seder. It’s a legitimate debate, but probably not one most successfully or productively litigated in court, where I would think—and hope—political speech will get the benefit of the doubt. “A lawsuit is a last resort in my view,” Schoen conceded to me (more of his explanation, sent via email, is after the jump), “but that’s all folks who want to have a voice on the subject and expose it for what it is had left.” He added: “If this starts that conversation, as you put it, then it is a success.” I would just worry that resorting to the courts may create something of a chilling effect on writers and publishers with fewer resources than Carter and Simon & Schuster.

The suit (which seeks compensatory as well as punitive and exemplary damages, and a jury trial) asserts that it “is not in any way an attempt to challenge defendant Jimmy Carter’s right to write a book, or defendant Simon & Schuster’s right to publish a book which serves as a forum for Carter to put forward his virulently anti-Israeli bias or any other agenda he or his financial backers wish to put forward.” Indeed, these characteristics of the book “should come as no surprise,” the plaintiffs say, “given [Carter’s] well known bias against Israel and the interests of Israel’s sworn enemies who have given millions of dollars to support the Carter Center.” The rub, rather, was the defendants’ allegedly “deceiving the public by promoting and selling this book as a factually accurate account” instead of as “the anti-Israel screed that it is.”

Schoen wrote me last night:

Carter is free to to say whatever he wants whenever and wherever he wants to say it about Israel or any other subject, no matter how false, reprehensible, or how much it is to do the bidding of his funders or his branch of his church. The lawsuit, though, is about using the status of the office of President to present purported historical facts and events which color a subject a certain way, when those events never happened or never happened as presented, and then marketing it in a way meant to convince the public that they did, in order to get the public to think certain things about Israel. His former aids and closest confidantes expose his lies best of all. All he/the publisher had to do was acknowledge errors; instead he says everything is 100% accurate and that is demonstrably false. A lawsuit is a last resort in my view; but that’s all folks who want to have a voice on the subject and expose it for what it is had left.

(I then asked him if the suit is essentially just meant to start a conversation.)

I often say, I think lawsuits are a particularly inefficient way of trying to resolve anything; but they can at least give a voice to someone without access to the media or to otherwise being heard. I fully expect Carter to litigate this thing all the way, so if we can get to a jury and let them hear from those former friends and colleagues of Carter who became disgusted with him when they recognized his agenda and his willingness to falsify to support that agenda and if some of that message gets out in the media, perhaps people will look behind what he says a bit and it will remove this aura he has for some as one of the “elders” now. He is an Israel basher and that is his right; but people look up to him and believe him and he is not worthy of that when it comes to these issues and these plaintiffs want people to know that and to know the truth. If this starts that conversation, as you put it, then it is a success. Some people will be turned off by it being in the form of a lawsuit and won’t get past that I am afraid. But if they read it and think about it and consider what Dennis Ross and Ken Stein have said (and Ken Stein was as close to Carter as anyone) then it will mean something.

Unterberg et al. v. Carter et al.