Carter defends his book before Brandeis crowd


WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) – Jimmy Carter acknowledged Tuesday at a historically Jewish college that his new book on the Middle East has “caused great concern in the Jewish community,” but noted that it has prompted discussion nonetheless.

The uproar over “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” has been going on for several months and recently prompted 14 members of an advisory board at the former president’s international-affairs think tank, the Carter Center, to resign in protest over the book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”

The Nobel Peace Prize winner gave a brief address to Brandeis University students and faculty, and later responded to 15 questions selected in advance. He responded to criticism of his book and discussed his efforts as president for peace in the Middle East.

“With my use of apartheid, I realize this has caused great concern in the Jewish community. The title makes it clear,” Carter said.

“I can certainly see now it would provoke some harsh feelings. I chose that title knowing that it would be provocative, but in the long run it has precipitated discussion and there has been a lot of positive discussion.”

Carter also said, responding to a question about how he deals with being called an anti-Semite, that the fact that the debate degenerated into “ad hominem attacks on my character has probably been a greater obstacle than my choice of that word.”

He said the book is about conditions in Palestinian territory, not Israel, and urged Brandeis to send a formal delegation to visit the occupied areas to see for themselves.

“It would have a great impact on this nation, on members of Congress and on the nation of Israel,” he said.

“Israel will never find peace until it is willing to withdraw from the terrorities,” Carter said in his speech. “and permit the Palestinians to exercise their basic human rights. The current policy is leading to an immoral outcome that is undermining Israel’s standing in the world.”

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who had hoped to debate Carter, but was instead invited to speak in the same hall afterward, told the Brandeis audience he and Carter are both “pro-Israel and pro-Palestine.”

“Had he written a book that was similar to what he said from this stage, I do not believe there would have been much controversy,” Dershowitz said.

Dershowitz said he also favors an end to Israeli occupation and settlements in the terrorities, but he said Carter does not talk about the opportunities Palestinians have passed up to have their own state.

“President Carter makes it sound so simple,” he said. “I’m afraid those simplifications are not really conducive to an enduring peace.”

Metal barricades were erected along the road leading to the athletic center, where Carter spoke, and people entering the place had to go through a metal detector.

About 60 peaceful demonstrators gathered. Many carried 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.”

A smaller number of demonstrators passed out leaflets pointing out five portions of Carter’s book that they say contained falsehoods.

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.

Carter “thinks it is important to present his ideas directly to audiences that can be influential today and in the future in finding permanent solutions to bring peace and security to Israel – and peace and justice to the Palestinians,” Carter spokeswoman Deanna Congileo said.

The university originally invited Carter on the condition that he debate 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.

“I didn’t think Brandeis needed a Harvard professor to come in and tell you how to think,” he said on Tuesday, to applause.

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.

Carter, who brokered the 1978 Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt and won the Peace Prize in 2002, has said his use of “apartheid” did not apply to circumstances within Israel.

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.”

Director Jonathan Demme, who is making “He Comes in Peace,” a documentary about Carter, had wanted to film the former president’s speech and question-and-answer session. But Brandeis officials said no documentary crews would be admitted because of logistical problems.

The 15 questions were selected 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.

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AP-ES-01-23-07 2016EST