Apology Accepted (Cautiously)


“Al Het” refers to the Yom Kippur prayer asking God for forgiveness for sins committed against God. In modern Hebrew, Al Het has come to mean any plea for forgiveness. Former President Jimmy Carter, who caused much distress in the Jewish community and among other supporters of Israel with his book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” offered his Al Het during the recent holiday season.


Carter had attempted to arrange a talk before a Jewish audience, according to a JTA story by Rich Kampeas, “but was rebuffed,” so he opted for issuing a written statement, which said, in part: “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.” He added, “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 [stigmatized Israel].”

When an Al Het is publicly offered by a past President and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, it would not be consistent with Jewish values to decline to accept Carter’s long-overdue offer of amends and apology. His controversial book was published in 2006, setting off a firestorm of criticism and resulting in the resignations of 14 Jewish members of the Atlanta-based Carter Center’s board of directors.

Carter acknowledged from the start that he was aware that his choice to include the word “apartheid” in his title was “provocative,” and yet he decided to use it, thus linking Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to the segregationist policies of the past in South Africa. All of Carter’s previous attempts to rationalize his one-sided and highly-biased book and its title only served to make things worse. His appearance at Brandeis University to explain things away was generally not well received.

Some observers have cynically suggested that Carter’s apology was an effort to help his grandson, Jason Carter, 34, an Atlanta lawyer who is considering a run to fill a seat in suburban DeKalb County. In his JTA interview with Kampeas, Jimmy Carter laughed off the suggestion that his apology had anything to do with his grandson’s political goals. But Abraham J. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League told JTA that he was “not disturbed” even if the elder Carter’s outreach was partly influenced by concerns for his grandson’s political future. “If it turns out that President Carter’s love for his grandson brought about an ephiphany in his relationship with the Jewish people, that’s fine,” Foxman said.

It has been well-established that the verbal part of an apology, an amends or Al Het is only the first step. If the former President simply returns to his one-sided bashing of Israel and excusing acts of terrorism by Hamas and Fatah, his recent statement will amount to empty words. On the other hand, we should not forget that Jimmy Carter played a pivotal role in the Camp David accords between the late former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. After days of intensive negotiations with the two Middle East leaders, Carter got them to agree to what would become the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, which was signed on the White House South Lawn in March 1979.

As a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Carter has enormous political and diplomatic capital around the world. If he dedicates himself to a truly balanced and constructive approach to working towards peace between Israel and the Palestinians, it would go a long way toward removing any lingering doubts among Jews and other friends of Israel as to the sincerity of his Al Het.

We join with Jewish leaders like Abe Foxman and Stuart Eizenstat, his former White House advisor, in warmly welcoming Carter’s offer of an Al Het. He has talked the talk, and we hope that he will walk the walk away from bias and towards a constructive role in encouraging the parties in the Middle East to make peace in the spirit of his Camp David legacy.