Jimmy Carter apologizes for ‘mistake’ in book

Defends viewpoints on Middle East

Greeted by a standing ovation at Brandeis Jan. 23, and speaking to a polite audience, former President Jimmy Carter apologized for a language mistake in his new book on the Middle East but stood by its widely controversial treatment of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Carter spoke for 15 minutes and answered questions for about 45 minutes in Shapiro Gymnasium, which was packed with more than 1,700 Brandeis students, faculty and staff members. Introduced by David Hackett Fischer, University Professor and Earl Warren Professor of History, President Carter talked about his experiences in dealing with the Middle East conflict and the content of his book, “Palestine Peace not Apartheid.” Some have charged that Carter espouses an anti-Israel bias in the book, while others have criticized the work for being sloppy, for leaving out important information, and for being off the mark factually in some instances. In many passages, the book is harshly critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Mari Fitzduff, professor of coexistence and director of the Master’s Program in Intercommunal Coexistence, moderated the Carter program, which drew about 50 protesters, many of whom defended the 39th President. With signs and banners, they gathered outside in the crisp winter air, across the street from Gosman Sports and Convocation Center.

Long regarded as a statesman for world diplomacy that earned him a Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, Carter said he is concerned over personal attacks that have been made against him since the book’s release. “This is the first time that I’ve ever been called a liar and a bigot and anti-Semite and coward and plagiarist,” Carter said. “This has hurt me.” Using the word “Apartheid” in the title provoked controversy, but Carter defended that choice, saying he used it knowing that it would be provocative.

“In the long run it has precipitated positive discussion and it has brought the issue of a lack of progress on peace for Israel, and a lack of progress on the end of the Palestinian suffering to the forefront,” he said.

“I realize that this has caused great concern in the Jewish community. The title makes it clear that the book is about conditions and events in the Palestinian territory and not in Israel. And the text makes clear on numerous occasions that the forced separation and the domination of Arabs by Israelis is not based on race.” Carter explained that he is not using the word to describe racism, but the desire to acquire, occupy, confiscate and then to colonize Palestinian land.

The Faculty and Student Committee to bring Jimmy Carter to Brandeis invited the former President to campus. It screened 178 questions and chose 15 for Carter to answer. The panel opted to solicit questions before the event to save time and create a smoother flowing format for the event. President Carter did not know what he was going to be asked, and the committee said it put no preconditions on the questions’ content.

Asked about a sentence in his book that seemed to justify terrorism by saying that suicide bombings should end when Israel accepts the goals of the “road map” to peace with Palestinians, Carter said, “That sentence was worded in a completely improper and stupid way. I’ve written my publishers to change that sentence immediately in future editions of the book. I apologize to you personally and to everyone here.”

Carter described a dire situation for Palestinians in the West Bank, because of roads that Palestinians could not use, a huge dividing wall, and more than 500 checkpoints. He suggested that a group of Brandeis students and professors visit the occupied territories for a few days and meet with leaders and citizens “to determine whether I have exaggerated or incorrectly described the plight of the Palestinians.”

“While there,” he added, “you could also assess a subject that I have not mentioned: whether treatment of Arabs inside Israel is fair and equitable.”

Carter says in his book that Israel is responsible for making peace. He told the audience, “Israel will never find peace until it is willing to withdraw from its neighbors’ land and to permit the Palestinians to exercise their basic human and political rights.”

Criticism of his book focuses on Carter’s suggestion that Israel has committed human rights abuses against Palestinians, that the American Press is extremely pro-Israel, and that Israel lobbyists stifle debate. Carter said he never claimed nor believed that American Jews control the news media. He emphasized that he wants to rejuvenate the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, which he argued has been completely dormant in the past six years. He said he would like to see negotiation orchestrated or promoted by the United States with participation by the “quartet” of the United States, Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union. And he said he hopes his book will provide an avenue to “a secure Israel living in peace with its neighbors, while exemplifying the principles of ancient sacred texts and the philosophy of Justice Louis D. Brandeis: justice and righteousness.”

One student, Gideon N. Katsh ’09 asked about Carter’s criticism of the security fence that Israel says has reduced by 95 percent the number of suicide bombings. Carter answered that he opposed the fence because “on occasion it penetrates deeply within the West Bank to encompass not only the existing Israeli settlements, but also to encompass beautiful land and hilltops for the construction of future settlements. So this is the difference. I would have no objection and neither would the international community if this barrier would be built along the border.”

While some students were critical of Carter’s views, others felt that the controversy he has sparked creates valuable debate that could fuel progress towards a solution.

President from 1977 to 1981, Carter brokered the 1978 Camp David Peace Accord between Israel and Egypt. He established the Carter Center to support humanitarian outreach, and has won respect for his efforts through Habitat for Humanity, which, among other initiatives, has constructed homes for people too poor to buy them.

After the completion of the Carter program at Brandeis, Professor Alan M. Dershowitz spoke in the same venue to about 800 members of the university community. He, too, was invited by a group of students and faculty that said it wanted to hear alternative analyses about the situation in the Middle East. Dershowitz criticized Carter’s book but said he had many views in common with what Carter imparted in his Brandeis address. “Had he written a book similar to what he said on stage, I don’t believe there would have been much controversy,” said Dershowitz, adding, “There are two different Jimmy Carters.” He criticized Carter for being overly simplistic.

“President Carter suggests that everything rides on Israel’s decision not to give back land. Somehow this is about land and the small percentage of Israelis who live in the occupied areas, that they are the only barriers to peace. That simply is not the reality.”

Dershowitz said that he and Carter agree on one thing: they want “an un-militarized Palestinian state living in peace side by side with Israel.”

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