Former President Jimmy Carter recently sent a letter to the JTA, which is a wire service for Jewish newspapers. The letter was made public by the JTA on Dec. 21, along with the following statement:
“Jimmy Carter asked the Jewish community for forgiveness for any stigma he may have caused Israel. 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 has angered some U.S. Jews in recent years with writings and statements that place the burden of peacemaking on Israel, that have likened Israel’s settlement policies to apartheid, and that have blamed the pro-Israel lobby for inhibiting an evenhanded U.S. foreign policy.”
Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, a leading advocate for the Jewish community, responded as follows:
“We welcome any statement from a significant individual such as a former president who asks for Al Het. To what extent it is an epiphany, time will tell. There certainly is hurt which needs to be repaired.”
Having known Jimmy Carter when I was a congressman and mayor, I have a minimum of high regard for him. I believe that he has often used his position — most recently as a writer of books — to damage the state of Israel, and in doing so, he has injured the Jewish community worldwide.
Catholics in every land have a special reverence for the Vatican as they should, it being the heart of the Catholic religion, the abode of the Pope. Jews likewise hold a special tie with Israel.
That bond comes from, among other things, the knowledge that wherever there is a Jewish community somewhere in the world in peril, there is a country — only one country — that will immediately take Jews in and provide them with assistance, protection and full citizenship. That of course is Israel.
That is why Jews feel so protective about that small land, which now for the first time reportedly has a Jewish population, 5,435,800, that is the largest of any country in the world. Formerly, that distinction was held by the United States with 5,128,000 Jews making up its population.
When Jimmy Carter asks the Jewish community for forgiveness, I believe it is incumbent upon him to list what he believes he has done that requires forgiveness.
I also think we should know, if after leaving the presidency he received any gifts, lecture fees, or loans from Arab nations. He should make available any correspondence he has had during that period with Arab governments and list all the compensation he has received from them.
I also would suggest that he hold a press conference at which journalists could ask him questions on the entire subject. Then and only then would the Jewish community be in a position to decide whether or not to grant him forgiveness.
He also should know there is no one person who can grant him forgiveness in the Jewish community.
One thought surely has occurred to many as it has to me: Why is he suddenly so concerned and in need of forgiveness?
I believe he, like most of us at his age, 85, have thoughts concerning our mortality. I know that I do.
He is a religious man, and occasionally, a Sunday School teacher. His Baptist faith tells him that he will be held accountable by God for his statements and actions here on earth. I suspect he is mindful of the Biblical admonition in Psalms 129, “They will be humiliated and will fall backwards, all enemies of Zion.”
Skeptics say his sudden interest in bettering relations with the Jewish community comes as a result of his grandson’s running for public office in a community with a large Jewish population.
My advice to Jimmy Carter is to come clean. I believe that we Jews are a forgiving people, but we are also a people who, having been brutalized through the centuries, are suspicious of those who at the end of their lives wish to make amends but have not demonstrated any repentance.
What does President Carter intend to do with the balance of his life to remedy the harm and injury to the Jewish people that he has inflicted over the years?
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