WALTHAM, Mass. (BP)–Admitting that he was hurt by the criticism surrounding his latest book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” former President Jimmy Carter apologized Jan. 23 for the wording he selected in a passage that led many readers to believe he supported Palestinian violence against Israelis.
“That was not my intention,” Carter said, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I have been hurt, and my family, by some of the reaction. I have been stigmatized and condemned by political opponents before, but this is the first time I have ever been called a liar, a bigot, an anti-Semite, a coward and a plagiarist. This is hurtful.”
Meanwhile, National Review Online has posted a story questioning the Carter Center’s financial ties to anti-Israeli Arabs.
Carter spoke to a group of students Jan. 23 at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., where he was questioned about the controversial passage. On page 213 of the book, he wrote, “It is imperative that the general Arab community and all significant Palestinian groups make it clear that they will end the suicide bombing and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the Roadmap for Peace are accepted by Israel.”
“I apologize to you personally and to everyone here,” Carter told the student who presented the question. He said the passage was “worded in a completely improper and stupid way,” and he has asked publisher Simon & Schuster to change the wording in future editions.
Significant opposition to the book, which was released in December, included the resignation of 15 board members at the Carter Center in protest of the book’s content. Carter has been accused of getting facts wrong, mislabeling maps and slanting the book against Israel.
Critics also take issue with the former president’s choice of the word “apartheid” in the title, saying it unnecessarily stirs up memories of racism from South Africa. But Carter said he did not mean to “equate Zionism with racism.”
“I chose that title knowing that it would be provocative, but in the long run it has precipitated discussion and there has been a lot of positive discussion,” he said.
In a phone interview with National Public Radio after his appearance at Brandeis, Carter said the book is based on his 33 years of experience with Middle East affairs. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of his presidency was helping negotiate a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
“I doubt that any other prominent human being has been blessed with such a great opportunity as I have to actually know what’s going on there,” Carter said.
When questioned by NPR about how he could adequately recollect high-profile meetings from years ago, Carter said his wife, Rosalynn, took notes. Kenneth Stein, who was the Carter Center’s Middle East fellow and accompanied Carter on several diplomatic trips, challenged Carter’s accounts of some meetings. Stein was one of the first board members to resign.
Carter reiterated to NPR that he shouldn’t have written the section on page 213 as he did.
“That was a terribly worded sentence which implied obviously in a ridiculous way that I approved terrorism and terrorist acts against Israeli citizens,” he said. “… The ‘when’ was obviously a crazy and stupid word. My publishers have been informed about that.”
Despite the uproar during the past two months, Carter told NPR he believes the book serves a good purpose.
“I had two basic hopes for this book,” he said. “One, that it would stimulate peace talks. Second, that it would reveal for the first time to the American public the horrible oppression and persecution of the Palestinian people, and that it would precipitate for the first time any substantive debate on these issues.”
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, a critic of the book, spoke to the same group of Brandeis students after Carter finished his talk. Organizers had wanted the two to debate, but Carter declined. The professor halfway complimented the former president for his clarification of some “ambiguities that are present in the book.”
“You heard the Brandeis Jimmy Carter today, and he was terrific,” Dershowitz said. “I support almost everything he said. But if you listen to the Al Jazeera Jimmy Carter, you’ll hear a very different perspective.”
In related news, National Review Online posted an article raising the question of whether Carter wrote Peace Not Apartheid because the Carter Center has accepted millions in Arab funding.
“If there is a silver lining to any of this, it is that Carter’s book has drawn much-overdue attention to some of the funding that pours into the Carter Center, whose intriguing donor list includes anti-Israeli tycoons and Middle East states,” reporter Claudia Rosett wrote.
“In recent weeks, a number of articles have noted that Carter’s anti-Israeli views coincide with those of some of the center’s prime financial backers, including the government of Saudi Arabia and the foundation of Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, whose offer of $10 million to New York City just after Sept. 11 was rejected by then-mayor Rudy Giuliani because it came wrapped in the suggestion that America rethink its support of Israel,” Rosett added.
Other major donors include the Sultanate of Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, OPEC and a brother of Osama bin Laden, Rosett reported.
National Review made the point that Carter’s dealings could be dismissed as a private individual running a private foundation, but the fact that he wields a lot of power as a former American president means he should be held to a higher standard.
“In all his waging and fighting and building (and fundraising), Carter has been trading for years on the respect accorded to his former public office,” Rosett wrote. “Regardless of whatever room for murk the law allows, full financial disclosure is what sound judgment demands.”
Compiled by Erin Roach.