Jimmy Carter has not exactly been a favorite of many Jewish people, partially because some have charged that he didn’t exactly sympathetic to some of their concerns, particularly on the issue of the Middle East. So now he has issued an apology to clear the air:
Former President Jimmy Carter apologized for any words or deeds that may have upset the Jewish community in an open letter meant to improve an often-tense relationship.
He said he was offering an Al Het, a prayer said on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. It signifies a plea for forgiveness.
“We must not permit criticisms for improvement to stigmatize Israel,” Carter said in the letter, which was first sent to JTA, a wire service for Jewish newspapers, and provided Wednesday to The Associated Press. “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.”
Carter, who during his presidency brokered the first Israeli-Arab peace treaty, outraged many Jews with his 2006 book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” Critics contend he unfairly compared Israeli treatment of Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza to the legalized racial oppression that once existed in South Africa.
Israeli leaders have also shunned him over his journey to Gaza to meet with Hamas, considered a terror group by the U.S., the European Union and Israel.
Carter’s apology was welcomed by Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a vocal critic of Carter’s views on Israel.
This will only go so far. The issues in the Middle East will remain volatile for some time to come. Middle East policy is often a touchy one for debate since each side often defines those with whom they disagree on policy in the most enemy-like terms. There is also a mirror-like image in the way each side perceives their situation and the behavior of the other.
So Carter’s apology will win him some approval. Until the next time he and those who lock horn on policy or perceptions clash.
Then it’ll likely be back to square one. The reason: just as in the Middle East itself, the bad blood and unflattering perceptions on both sides of the ongoing Carter controversy go back a ways and will not likely be erased with a simple act or apology. Each side will have to see the other side as more flexible and less set-in-concrete in perception. And as the Middle East shows, it’s hard to break that cement.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.