In an open letter released this month to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), former U.S. President Jimmy Carter apologized to the Jewish community, saying, “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 … I offer an Al Het [a Yom Kippur prayer for forgiveness] for any words or deeds of mine that may have done so.”
Two questions arise after reading President Carter’s letter: Was it necessary? And why now?
Anyone who has seen the film “Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains” knows him to be an individual of sincere faith and extraordinary patience. Chronicling his book tour after the release of “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” in 2006, both book and movie reveal Carter’s deep commitment to finding a just and equitable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while tirelessly explaining the desperate conditions of life under occupation to the unaware.
The title of the book, his visit to Gaza, meetings held with Hamas officials, and bold, courageous statements of simple truths (such as, “The citizens of Palestine are treated more like animals than like human beings”) have earned him the contempt of Israelis, the Israel Lobby, members of his own party, and even those associated with the Carter Center.
All the while he remained courteous and dignified, yet unrepentant.
In a Dec. 19 article in The Guardian entitled “Gaza must be rebuilt now,” Carter laments the stagnant peace process and chides the Obama administration for its lack of engagement in it. Repulsed by the continued embargo of reconstruction materials prohibited from entering Gaza, he writes:
“I visited Gaza after the devastating January war and observed homeless people huddling in makeshift tents, under plastic sheets, or in caves dug into the debris of their former homes. Despite offers by Palestinian leaders and international agencies to guarantee no use of imported materials for even defensive military purposes, cement, lumber, and panes of glass are not being permitted to pass entry points into Gaza. The U.S. and other nations have accepted this abhorrent situation without forceful corrective action.”
On the heels of this piece came Carter’s Yuletide apology. So what prompted it?
Apparently, the political aspirations of his 34 year-old grandson, Jason Carter.
Issued just one week after Jason announced he would be running for the Georgia State Senate seat likely being vacated by David Adelman (an Obama nominee for ambassador to Singapore), the March special election would be held in a district with a “vocal Jewish population” according to the AP.
Denying the letter had anything to do with his campaign, Jason characterized it as a “great step toward reconciliation.”
But, as JTA writes:
“It seemed clear, however, that Jason Carter saw the apology, issued earlier this month through JTA, as a means of outreach. The younger Carter has been trying for days to reach Liane Levetan, a former state senator and CEO of DeKalb County, and as soon as they connected Tuesday, he directed her to the JTA Web site to read the letter.”
It is mentioned that “Levetan is one of 14 Jews who split with the Carter Center in 2006 after the publication of ‘Palestine: Peace not Apartheid.’”
In an interview with the JTA, Carter said ethnic electoral consideration were not reason enough to reach out to the Jewish community, although he did not deny they were a factor.
It seems you can take the man out of politics, but not politics out of the man.
Merry Christmas Jason Carter.
RANNIE AMIRI is an independent Middle East commentator. He may be reached at: rbamiri AT yahoo DOT com.