Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jimmy Carter apologizes to the Jewish People

Reports are surfacing that former President Jimmy Carter has apologized to Israel for any stigma he may have caused the country.  From the Jerusalem Post:
In a letter released exclusively to JTA, the former US president sent a seasonal message wishing for peace between Israel and its neighbors, and concluded: "We must recognize Israel's achievements under difficult circumstances, even as we strive in a positive way to help Israel continue to improve its relations with its Arab populations, but we must not permit criticisms for improvement to stigmatize Israel. As I would have noted at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but which is appropriate at any time of the year, I offer an Al Het for any words or deeds of mine that may have done so."

"Al Het" refers to the Yom Kippur prayer asking God forgiveness for sins committed against Him. In modern Hebrew it refers to any plea for forgiveness.

Carter has angered some US Jews in recent years with writings and statements that place the burden of peacemaking on Israel, that have likened Israel's settlement policies to apartheid, and that have blamed the pro-Israel lobby for inhibiting an evenhanded US foreign policy.
At first blush this might remind readers of the late-life redemption of George Wallace which officially began when he was rolled to the front of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery and asked for forgiveness for his racist past.  I sincerely hope this is a clean rejection of the overt anti-semitism that this former president has exhibited during the last quarter century of his life.  But I am not convinced.

It was three years ago today that Emory anthropology professor Melvin Konner wrote an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution condemning Jimmy Carter's behavior toward Israel.  It stated in part:
We are in that season when Jews celebrate one of their few successful rebellions against oppression. Christians celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. How ironic, then, that Jewish-Americans are embroiled in a grim struggle against a Christian former president who is tainting our holiday joy.

A former president whose legacy has rested on bringing about peace between Arabs and Jews has turned his back on that to become a partisan. A man whose Christian values made him see both sides in a tragic conflict has become blind to one side's suffering. A man who walked in paths of peace has now become an obstacle to peace.
Konner's statement came on the heels of the resignation of Dr. Kenneth Stein from the Carter Center of Emory University, in protest of Carter's book Palestine:  Peace Not Apartheid.  Here is an excerpt of a contemporary letter that Stein sent to his friends regarding his decision to resign:
This note is to inform you that yesterday, I sent letters to President Jimmy Carter, Emory University President Jim Wagner, and Dr. John Hardman, Executive Director of the Carter Center resigning my position, effectively immediately, as Middle East Fellow of the Carter Center of Emory University. This ends my 23 year association with an institution that in some small way I helped shape and develop.

My joint academic position in Emory College in the History and Political Science Departments, and, as Director of the Emory Institute for the Study of Modern Israel remains unchanged.

Many still believe that I have an active association with the Center and, act as an adviser to President Carter, neither is the case. President Carter has intermittently continued to come to the Arab-Israeli Conflict class I teach in Emory College. He gives undergraduate students a fine first hand recollection of the Begin-Sadat negotiations of the late 1970s. Since I left the Center physically thirteen years ago, the Middle East program of the Center has waned as has my status as a Carter Center Fellow. For the record, I had nothing to do with the research, preparation, writing, or review of President Carter's recent publication. Any material which he used from the book we did together in 1984, The Blood of Abraham, he used unilaterally.

President Carter's book on the Middle East, a title too inflammatory to even print, is not based on unvarnished analyses; it is replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions, and simply invented segments. Aside from the one-sided nature of the book, meant to provoke, there are recollections cited from meetings where I was the third person in the room, and my notes of those meetings show little similarity to points claimed in the book. Being a former President does not give one a unique privilege to invent information or to unpack it with cuts, deftly slanted to provide a particular outlook. Having little access to Arabic and Hebrew sources, I believe, clearly handicapped his understanding and analyses of how history has unfolded over the last decade. Falsehoods, if repeated often
enough become meta-truths, and they then can become the erroneous baseline for shaping and reinforcing attitudes and for policy-making. The history and interpretation of the Arab-Israeli conflict is already drowning in half-truths, suppositions, and self-serving myths; more are not necessary. In due course, I shall detail these points and reflect on their origins.
If Carter's Al Het is sincere, I think he should explain in clear detail to the people of Israel, exactly what he is apologizing for. Otherwise, this just looks like an opportunistic gambit to help his grandson get elected to the Georgia State Senate in a heavily Jewish district.

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