Jimmy Carter’s apology to the Jewish people

What is it about Atlanta and Israel?

First, in response to a firestorm of criticism and vilification, Atlanta resident and iconic film star Jane Fonda issued a mea culpa about the wording of a petition she signed protesting the Toronto International Film Festival’s celebratory spotlight on Tel Aviv. She said she signed it, “without reading it carefully enough, without asking myself if some of the wording wouldn’t exacerbate the situation rather than bring about constructive dialogue”. To her credit, Fonda did not remove her signature. But it was still an extraordinary move that reflected the intense pressure she was under. (This level-headed group of Atlanta Jewish leaders rose to her defense.)

And now, Jimmy Carter, reportedly in an effort to ease his grandson’s political path to a Georgia state Senate seat, has written an open letter of apology to, well, the entire Jewish people.

An open letter to the Jewish community at the season of Chanukah from former President Jimmy Carter:

The time of Chanukah and the Christian holidays presents an occasion for reflection on the past and for looking to the future. In that vein, I wish to share some thoughts with you about the State of Israel and the Middle East.

I have the hope and a prayer that the State of Israel will flourish as a Jewish state within secure and recognized borders in peaceful co-existence with its neighbors and with all the Moslem States, and that this peaceful co-existence will bring security, prosperity and happiness to the people of Israel and to the people of the Middle East of all faiths.

I have the hope and a prayer that the bloodshed and hatred will change to mutual respect and cooperation, fulfilling the prophetic aspiration that the lion shall lie down with the lamb in harmony and peace. I likewise hope that violent attacks against all civilians will end, which will help set a better framework for commencing negotiations. I further hope that peace negotiations can soon commence, with all issues on the negotiating table.

I have the hope and a prayer that just as Chanukah is the Festival of Lights, the State of Israel will fulfill its destiny as a light unto the nations.

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.

May we work and pray for that better day.

Hag Semach and Happy Chanukah.

Few people anywhere have endured more vicious demonization regarding the Israel issue than Nobel-prize-winning former US president Jimmy Carter. It is a sad statement that the man who did more for peace for the Israelis than any other U.S. president, is now vilified as an anti-Semite in Jewish communities across the land, most notably for titling his book Palestine: Peace, not Apartheid. In fact, Carter is one of Israel’s few true friends who remains impressively committed to doing whatever he can to bring about some kind of resolution, rather than taking the easy road by giving the self-destructive government more of what it wants- arms and money to occupy more land.

And now, forced to do this?

The crux of Carter’s open-letter apology is this: “.. we must not permit criticisms for improvement to stigmatize Israel.”

Frankly, I’m of two minds about the issue of Israel’s stigmatization. On the one hand, it actually gives me great personal pain to see how much Israel is hated all over the world. Despite the obvious, the massive unnecessary death and suffering that has caused the hate, I am deeply sad because I picture my now dead grandparents and everything they imagined Israel might be–the best Jewish values embodied in a state- compared to what is. It’s scary because we Jews are undoubtedly less safe when the world hates Israel, and it’s heartbreaking to see anyone hate an entire country so much, no longer able to even see the many remarkable Jewish Israelis, including those who would give their lives for the most basic principles of fairness and equality.

On the other hand, what has become absolutely apparent is that stigmatization might be the only thing Israel does respond to, since no other form of pressure seems to have made a dent in the government’s strategy of working in collaboration with settlers to appropriate land, slowly ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their homes, and so much more. Israel and its unconditional supporters have left us with no choice. And they see that they, not those of us trying to set Israel on a course of justice, are the ones who have stigmatized Israel.

That said, of course this apology from one of the world’s greatest peacemakers is a capitulation.  And the whole business of speaking to the “Jewish community” is so corrupt, I wish Carter hadn’t engaged in such a game. Who gets to judge Carter’s apology on behalf of we Jews? Not you or me.

Of course, the New York Times has determined it’s Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, (the people who want to build a Museum of Tolerance on top of a Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem);  Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League (the group that fought Congressional recognition of the Armenian genocide because it might be bad for Turkish-Israeli relations); CAMERA (the folks who claim credit for stopping $1 million in donations to a Boston-based NPR affiliate for reporting not deemed sufficiently pro-Israel) and most shocking of all? The hate-filled crazies at the ironically named Shalom International, where they proudly called Muslims “Nazis” in regular dispatches, and sport a lovely picture of members with a sign that says “Islam is not a religion.”

How sad indeed. These are our moral arbiters? And Carter has decided to play their game, which he must know by now you can never win. With judges like these, the deck is stacked.

But to Carter’s credit, he shows no signs of shutting up, which is, after all, the only way he could ever earn full acceptance from the Hier/Foxman crowd.

–Cecilie Surasky