A few years back Jimmy Carter published an idiotic book called Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. The book, and Carter’s statements in interviews promoting it, kicked off a discussion in Jewish circles about whether the former President is an anti-Semite, a question raised both by his passionate hatred for the Jewish state, and by his “feeding into conspiracy theories about excessive Jewish power and control,” in the words of Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League. For those of us who had been paying close attention, these weren’t new questions; both Carter’s Israel-hatred and his tendency to indulge in conspiratorial tones when discussing US policy toward Israel (not to mention his friendship, in the 1990s, with prolific Jew-killer Yasser Arafat) were known long before the book was published.
Now Carter is asking for forgiveness:
In a letter released exclusively to JTA, the former U.S. 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 assures us, by the way, that this has nothing to do with his grandson’s outreach to influencial Jewish leaders as he considers a run for state Senate. (Of course not.)
Foxman advocates giving Carter the benefit of the doubt. “When a former president reaches out to the Jewish community and asks for forgiveness, it’s incumbent of us to accept it,” he tells the AP. “To what extent this is an epiphany, only time will tell. There certainly was a lot of hurt, a lot of angry words that need to be repaired. But this is a good start.”
It’s a noble sentiment, but it’s complicated by the fact that Carter’s mea culpa came just days after he published an op-ed on Gaza written from the same cartoonish perspective he’s always had.
One might add that Carter’s habit of viewing international politics through a preposterously blinkered lens is hardly limited to Israel. Over the years Carter has lavished embarrassing praise on tyrants in Yugoslavia, Romania, Syria, Ethiopia, Haiti, North Korea, and Nicaragua. It seems rather myopic for Carter to issue an apology directed at “the Jewish community” when he owes an apology to a much wider swath of humanity.
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