Carter defends 'apartheid' book, says attacks on character hurt

By News Agencies


Shvat 5, 5767

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter defended on Tuesday defended his controversial book on Israel's treatment of Palestinians, telling students at Brandeis University that his goal was to revive Middle East peace talks.

Carter also told students that rge attacks on his character following the release of his book had hurt him and his family.

Jewish groups have expressed outrage at "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," arguing that its comparison of Israel's treatment of Palestinians with South Africa's reviled apartheid system of racial segregation could undermine perceptions of Israel's legitimacy.

Brandeis, in the Boston suburb of Waltham, is a secular university founded by American Jewish leaders, and about half of its 5,300 students are Jewish. The school is named after Louis Brandeis, the first Jew on the Supreme Court and a robust defender of the right to free speech.

The former United States president, in his first direct address to Jewish Americans on his book, said the title referred to human rights in the Palestinian territories, not in Israel.

He said the word "apartheid" was intended to provoke debate on the rights of Palestinians, who he said were being treated unfairly by Israel.

He said he never asserted that Jewish money was controlling the U.S. media, as some critics have charged, but only that the pro-Israel lobby was strong.

"I've been hurt and so has my family by some of the reaction," Carter, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002, told about 1,700 students at the university.

"I've been through political campaigns for state senator, governor and president, and I've been stigmatized and condemned by my political opponents. But this is the first time that I have ever been called a liar. And a bigot and an anti-Semite and a coward, and a plagiarist. This is hurtful," he said.

"I can take it," he added, joking that he could handle the attacks because as a former U.S. president he still had Secret Service protection.

Carter, 82, has been dogged by protests during a promotional tour. In the book, Carter traces the history of the Middle East from the 19th century to the present via the Camp David Accords in 1978, a year into his presidency.

He apologized for a passage that can be interpreted as supporting suicide bombings as a negotiating tactic, saying it was a "mistake" and would be removed from future editions.

But he said a full Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories was crucial for lasting peace.

The university originally invited Carter on the condition that he debate lawyer and Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, a critic of the book.

But Carter said he would only visit the campus without conditions. He later accepted an invitation from a committee of students and faculty to speak without taking part in a debate.

The event was tightly controlled and closed to the public, preventing Dershowitz, one of Carter's more scathing critics, from openly questioning him.

Dershowitz wanted to ask Carter why he had accepted money from Saudi Arabia and why the Carter Center, an Atlanta-based humanitarian organization, had criticized Israel while not looking into human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.

Instead, a student asked those questions.

Carter responded in part by saying all donations were audited with Arab nations contributing a tiny fraction with most of the money going to humanitarian programs.

About 60 protesters, detractors and supporters, gathered outside, some holding Israeli or Palestinian signs and flags.

"We support what Jimmy Carter is saying," said Alan Meyers, 56, a Jewish doctor from Boston. "We feel that there is not enough attention being paid to dissenting Jewish voices in the United States."

Nearby, Israeli-American Gilend Ini, 29, handed out fliers identifying five portions of Carter's book that he said contained falsehoods. "We're trying to let the public know that much of what he said in his book was factually incorrect information."

In preparation for Carter's appearance, metal barricades were erected along the road leading to the athletic center, where Carter was to speak, and people entering the place had to go through a metal detector.

But a few hours before the appearance, only about two dozen demonstrators showed up, and most were carrying signs with a pro-Palestinian view. Among them: "Closing our eyes to injustice is not a Jewish value" and "Support Jimmy Carter. End the occupation now."

Carter's book has been criticized by some Jewish leaders as riddled with inaccuracies and distortions. Some have complained that it appears to equate South Africa's former apartheid system of racial segregation with Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.

Fifteen questions were selected ahead of time from a list of least 120 by the committee that invited Carter, according to the university.

"The whole idea was that everyone would benefit if there is a more focused way of getting questions to the president, not having 1,700 people raise their hands to ask questions," said university spokesman Dennis Nealon.

Critics were particularly frustrated that Dershowitz was not allowed to debate Carter. "It's puzzling because he said that he wants to have a discussion of his book and then refused to appear with Professor Dershowitz," said retired Brandeis history professor Morton Keller.

Gordon Fellman, a sociology professor and a member of the committee that arranged the visit, said Dershowitz is neither a student nor faculty member at Brandeis and therefore "he can't get in - and it's not anti-Dershowitz.