The people behind Jimmy Carter’s letter on Israel

Last month, while much of the world was distracted by the holidays, former President Jimmy Carter issued what he called “an open letter to the Jewish community.”

In four paragraphs, Carter expressed his hopes for the state of Israel. He ended the letter with a fifth paragraph that the world quickly came to call an apology.

“We must not permit criticisms for improvement to stigmatize Israel,” the former president said. “I offer an Al Het for any words or deeds of mine that may have done so.”

The statement might be better termed a confession. Al Het refers to the Yom Kippur prayer recited by a supplicant who begs God to forgive a sin.

In the weeks since, the abrupt nature of the Carter statement has led many to speculate about its purpose and the former president’s motives.

What very few know is that this first step toward reconciliation was the private initiative of several influential members of Atlanta’s Jewish community, whose ties to Carter date three decades and more. Conversations behind the confession/apology lasted a full year.

The former president’s grandson Jason Carter, a Decatur attorney, served as go-between.

This was a case of Jewish outreach to the former president, not vice versa. Which puts Jimmy Carter’s statement in a different light, and no doubt makes it more significant, not less.

The episode is also an example of the connections that make Atlanta work.

You’re probably familiar with much of the background. In November 2006, Carter published his 21st book, “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid.” (The former president insists there is no punctuation in the title.)

Many Jews — along with others — viewed the book as one-sided and thinly researched, but were perhaps most outraged by use of the word “apartheid” and all its implications. Fourteen members of a 200-member Carter Center advisory board, most of them Jewish, resigned in protest.

The former president, who said he was trying to provoke a discussion of Arab-Israeli relations, declared himself shocked by the reaction and hurt by accusations that his work bordered on anti-Semitic.

The rift between the Jewish community and the man who engineered the Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt bothered Emmet Bondurant, a well-known Atlanta attorney who sits on the regional board of the Anti-Defamation League. He is not Jewish.

Bondurant’s career stretches back four decades — in the 1960s, he was the lead litigator in the U.S. Supreme Court case that brought the concept of “one man, one vote” to Georgia. More recently, he has led the legal opposition to the state’s requirement that voters supply photo ID before casting a ballot.

Serving with Bondurant on the ADL board was Miles Alexander, co-chairman of the Kilpatrick Stockton law firm — and perhaps the most influential behind-the-scenes figure in Atlanta politics that you’ve never heard of. The low-profile Alexander, who is Jewish, has backed the winner in every mayoral race since Sam Massell. His wife, Elaine Alexander, was co-chairman of the campaigns for both Kasim Reed and Shirley Franklin.

Bondurant persuaded Alexander to join him on the Carter Center advisory board in June 2008. It did not go over well with many of Alexander’s friends. In December of that year, as a member of the advisory board, Bondurant said he and Alexander began talking about the need to reconcile the former president with the Jewish community.

“Some way needed to be found to heal this wound and bring back people who were once together, and should be together again,” Bondurant said.

Attending the same meeting was another member of Bondurant’s law firm, who had been helping Bondurant in the voter ID case: 33-year-old Jason Carter.

“Miles and Emmet came to me to see if my grandfather would be open to a discussion of this type of outreach to the Jewish community,” the grandson confirmed. The grandfather agreed, and so began a careful exchange of letters and e-mail.

(The timing here is critical. Some have speculated that President Carter, in issuing his statement, was trying to clear an obstacle for his grandson, who is now engaged in a state Senate campaign. But Jason Carter began his role as go-between months before the seat became available.)

At this point, Bondurant drops out of the picture. Alvin Sugarman, the retired senior rabbi of The Temple in Atlanta, was recruited into the effort. Others involved included former Congressman Elliott Levitas. President Carter would later single out Sugarman, Alexander and his former White House aide, Stuart Eizenstat, who began his career here.

One confidence-builder may have occurred last February. The ADL gave Jason Carter its young-attorney-of-the-year award for his pro bono work on voter ID litigation. Bill Nigut, the ADL’s Southeast regional director, said the award came at the recommendation of a panel of independent attorneys.

But there’s the possibility that the award also served as proof to former President Carter that the Jewish community would not hold the grandson to account for the actions of the grandfather. “I have no proof,” Nigut added.

A September deadline of Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, was missed. But a single face-to-face meeting occurred in early December. In attendance were Alexander, Sugarman, Jason Carter and the former president. A few tears were shed.

The Al Het followed days later.

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111 comments Add your comment

puff

January 30th, 2010
3:25 pm

Actions that would be reviled if they occured anywhere but Gaza are excused or brushed aside. Palestinians are the most justifiably aggrieved people on the planet. The ability of elites, liberal and conservative, to compartmentalize has no bounds.

Michael Kagan

January 30th, 2010
3:49 pm

Former President Carter was not the first person to use the word “apartheid” in reference to the situation of the Palestinians and in fact a former Israeli cabinet minister used the word long before Carter and several preceded both of them.

I thought that the reaction to the book and the subsequent outrage from many American Jews including Ken Stein was unjustified and the full force of the Israeli lobby was brought out. One major figure among American Jews even suggested that Carter was “bought.”

I think he owes no one an apology here and if any apologies were due it should come from Ken Stein and all of those who will tolerate not a word of criticism of Israel.

I am not pro-Palestinian and I think many of them have gone off the Islamic deep end with their support of suicide bombing, Hamas, and admiration of bin Laden according to Pew surveys. However, the entrenched and influential attitudes of Jews in America which manifest themselves every time any one is the slightest bit critical of Israel is another obstacle to accomplishing anything in the Middle East.

Jeff Ballard

January 30th, 2010
3:59 pm

Jimmy Carter’s grandson has done a great deal of admirable work for the area. However, his work has only been recent, and the sincerity of his merit is relatively unproven. I had never heard of him until he decided to waltz down the red carpet with a silver spoon in his mouth into a career in politics. He seems to be about as qualified as W. was.

Dagny

January 30th, 2010
4:34 pm

I’m glad to see that Jimmy Carter finally got a brain to go with his heart.

Joe

January 30th, 2010
4:42 pm

Jeff, I would suggest that you research Jason Carter before comparing him to W. First, the young Carter is not running for president, but rather for a seat in the state senate. Second, not only is he an excellent lawyer who clerked for the 11th Cir. Federal Court of Appeals, he has distinguished himself as a lawyer, working for one of the finest firms in the State. I see many good things coming from this young man. I hope that his Grandfather’s failings don’t become a hindrance for him.

Amy D

January 30th, 2010
4:42 pm

This all sounds like repair work to me. I recall that the apology issued immediately after criticism was leveled about Jason Carter’s run for Adelman’s Senate seat. Now, thirty days later, the sanitized version comes out. The original version reflects credit on no one. Carter knuckles under from his long-time position in order to help his grandson. The Jewish community leaders aim their cannons at Jason because of his grandfather’s statements. (No longer “sins of the fathers,” we now have “sins of the grandfathers.” I recall that NPR stated plainly that the the Jewish community would have trouble with Jason because of his grandpappy’s sins. I recall Jason distancing himself. They all looked bad.

Well, doesn’t take long to polish up this image! Now everyone can be happy. And, like Jimmy, I am sure that Jason will never lie to us either.

Ramses Dizon

January 30th, 2010
4:54 pm

It’s sad that if you do not agree and speak out about Israel actions and policies you are considered anti- Semitic; instead of the real issue being discussed. We as Americans know more about the holocaust of the Jews in Europe than the holocaust of Native American Indians who are still treated with distain and prejudice. During South Africa Apartheid it was Israel that sold them military and small arms. Israel is following closely in their foot steps.

Richard

January 30th, 2010
5:00 pm

Change of heart all of sudden-Don’t believe him.ONlY, because his grandson is running in mostly jewish District

Joey

January 30th, 2010
5:10 pm

The thing that really ticked me off when this incident first happened was all the conservative “Christians” making accusations of anti-Semitism and shedding crocodile tears. Fox News darlings like Pat Buchannan and Ann Coulter have said some pretty offense things about Jews, but Carter suggests that maybe they should abide by the provisions of the same treaties that actually led to the creation of the modern state of Israel and by the same human rights protocols that other nations in the UN adhere to and — oh the outrage and (self) righteous indignation!

WPWW

January 30th, 2010
5:15 pm

“Gimpy” Carter is bowing down to the ZOG to score points for his grandson. I’m no fan of the Muhamedans, but (in the past) Carter has made valid references to Israel’s abuse(s)…at least against Palestine. Unfortunately, Carter never had the stones to address the ZOG’s influence here in the U.S.

http://www.realzionistnews.com/

jb

January 30th, 2010
5:15 pm

Do you folks really believe that Jimmy Carter would recant (repent?) for the sake of a State Senate seat? His actions go way beyond the State’s border.

Whitt

January 30th, 2010
5:16 pm

Why doesn’t THE Worst President in history just go away and build houses. The American people made it very clear in 1980, exactly what they thought of his ideas and policies.

Keith

January 30th, 2010
5:34 pm

It’s more than his book. Carter has a 30 year track record of siding with despots and terrorists. He heaped praises many times on one of the most reviled terrorists and thieves in history, Yassar Arafat. Jimmy Carter is no friend of Israel. Ask him now if Jerusalem should be the eternal capital of Israel as the Bible instructs and he will say no… he believes the Palestinians have rightful claim to it. Carter’s comments throught the years resonate the anti-Jewish theology of his south Georgia Baptist upbringing.

Colonel Sanders

January 30th, 2010
5:46 pm

Why doesn’t President Carter just crawl back under the rock that he crawled from under and let his Alzheimer’s continue to deteriorate?

Not only is an embarrassment to Georgia, but also to the United States and the whole free world.

He has had dementia praecocia a long time.

Bawney Fwank

January 30th, 2010
6:18 pm

Still glad you forced out the US friendly Shah of Iran and helped put in place the present “pillar of human rights and peace” government in Iran?

Michael Kagan

January 30th, 2010
7:06 pm

Whit, I think that you confused Carter with “W” when said “worst president in history.” But given that the subject here has to do with the Middle East name a single policy of the United States which reduced conflict in that region more so than the Camp David accords brought about by Carter’s efforts.

What did Reagan do in the Middle East? Nothing but put marines in a position to get blown up. What did “W” do? Invade a Iraq and we all see how well that went don’t we? Eight years in office and all he managed to do was produce more dislike of the United States than any president in memory. Not to mention the mess he left domestically.

Michael Kagan

January 30th, 2010
7:08 pm

Colonel Sanders or Colonel Bozo would be better. Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize for the Camp David Accords which did more to bring about peace in the Middle East than any effort made under any presidency. Carter is respected and admired abroad for the work he has done for fair elections and reducing disease in poor countries. It is the cowboy “W” who is and was the embarrassment.

Great ATL Guy

January 30th, 2010
7:08 pm

I’m no conservative, but Jimmy should shut up and stop making waves. He has been trying to make up for his bad presidency for the past 30 years and nothing has worked. HFH is nice, but other than that, what has he really accomplished? And yes, JB, he would recant for the very reason you mentioned, he is a politician. And haven’t you ever read “Catcher in the Rye?”

Michael Kagan

January 30th, 2010
7:11 pm

Bawney, the Shah was forced out by his own people as his regime had become corrupt, its secret police Savik was notorious in its torture and spying on its citizens. Carter came into office when his regime was on the verge of collapse and initially tried to shore it up. Read some history man.

Jesus you conservative Carter bashers are an ignorant, ill mannered, lot.

Michael Kagan

January 30th, 2010
7:12 pm

Great Atl read the above posts if you want to know more about Carter.

BehindEnemyLines

January 30th, 2010
7:12 pm

I’m just mystified why anyone would believe a word Carter says. Utterly worthless excuse for a human being.

RGB

January 30th, 2010
7:17 pm

Keith,

I was with you until you wrote about “the anti-Jewish theology of his south Georgia Baptist upbringing.”

While Carter has earned his stripes regarding his infatuation with ruthless dictators, there is nothing anti-Semitic about a “Georgia Baptist upbringing”. In fact, the converse is true. Georgia Baptists are true friends and strong supporters of Israel.

You should get your facts straight before you attempt to malign a group of people about whom you know little.

Your education can begin tomorrow morning.

Great ATL Guy

January 30th, 2010
7:28 pm

RBG, I grew up Southern Baptist and every Baptist I know think Jews are going to hell… isn’t that anti-Semitic? Aren’t Baptists really friends of Israel because of its “Holy Land” associaton and Biblical references, held sacred by Christians, and not because of its Jewish population?

Carter is a Fool

January 30th, 2010
8:05 pm

Michael Kagan – I lived through the nightmare that was Carter as a Governor and later when he conned the country into electing him President. These were sad times for our state and even sadder for our country as he cowered in the White House in his sweater while thugs held our diplomats hostage.

Carter was the worst President in US history. He topped off this by being the worst former President in history. He was FIRED for being incompetent. We are still dealing with his screw-ups. The problem of Iran and the crazy government has it’s beginnings in Carter Crazy policies. Never before have we seen double digit inflation, unemployment and home mortgage rates in history until this fool was elected. He hid in the White House while Iran held him and our country hostage.

The Nobel Prizes were once prestigious until given to Crazy Carter, Gore’s Junk Science and Obama’s apology tour. Now they are worthless aluminum foil trinkets.

He should SHUT UP and go back under his rock. He is irrelevant and delusional in thinking that he matters. He never has met a dictator that he does not love.

Sic semper tyrannis

January 30th, 2010
8:42 pm

Some of the posts here seem angry with Jimmy for not killing the requisite number of brown skinned people, especially women and babies, that is in the job description of President. There certainly are a lot of death/war fans posting here. Perhaps W would give JC credit for some of his kills. Would that satisfy you?

Bill Orvis White

January 30th, 2010
10:00 pm

Jimmah is an anti-Semite. I say to all my Hebrew friends: With friends like Jimmah, who needs enemies? With Lil Hussein Nobama installed into the White House, I fear for America’s + Israel’s futures. As for Jimmah’s grandkid, why would you want someone who grew up in a tax and spend environment. This kid will rai$e your taxe$ and let debauchery run rampant in your neighborhood. Jimmah’s only saying sorry to get this kid into the GA Senate to re-Carterize America. We all know how that turned out.

RGB

January 30th, 2010
10:21 pm

GAG,

The definition of an anti-Semite is: “One who discriminates against or who is hostile toward or prejudiced against Jews.” I know no Baptists (or other Christians) who are hostile towards Jews. Why should any thinking, well-balanced Christian hold hostility towards a Jew? This excludes former President Carter.

John 14:6 says “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Christians don’t hold hostility towards individuals who do not believe this. We may pray that they come to believe and accept this, but surely you don’t regard praying for someone as being hostile, do you?

You unfortunately apply the label “anti-Semite” to Christians who believe the Bible.

Would that make you anti-Christian? Or just uninformed?

Al Hawhaw

January 30th, 2010
11:13 pm

President Carter is a good man who is just telling it like it is. Thankfully, the new administration doesn’t kowtow as much to AIPAC as did the previous ones. Israel MUST respect human rights and lawful boundaries if it is to have peace.

Roja

January 30th, 2010
11:52 pm

Carter’s Grandson is MORE qualified than “H” is!!

Carter is a Fool

January 31st, 2010
12:02 am

He is a failure and it is time for him to shut up and go away.

alan

January 31st, 2010
12:05 am

I’m sorry jimbo, apology not accepted. You are a president who was rejected by your own political party, should have disappeared into the sunset. Your were a failed miserable president. I remember becaause I was a young parent at the time and times were hard. Now that you are very old and have a son who wants to run for political office you want to smooth it over. Your past books and speeches have been anti-semitic you are trying to tell the public in your pathetic way that your sorry. Well jimbo, with this Jew it doesn’t fly so go into the sunset and really contemplate your words and deeds. Georgia should be ashamed of you as you should be when you look into the mirror.

History will remember you in fifty yrs. as a failed president who harbored anti-semitism in his heart all his life.

Joel Weymouth

January 31st, 2010
12:25 am

It is amazing how people forget or don’t know history.
1. The Balfour Declaration gave ALL of the land from DAN to BEERSHEBA to the Jews or in other words – everything West of the Jordan. This same declaration gave what is now Jordan to the Palestinians.
2. The British and the American reniged – OIL. In the 20’s the ARAMCO was busy finding lots of oil in Saudi Arabia.
3. When they finally did give the land – they gave half of what was promised and the Arabs immediately attacked Israel – saying, “let’s finish what Hitler started.” During WW2, the Grand Mufti lived in BERLIN. And it was only the fact that America entered the war against Germany that kept the Muslims out of it – even Germany knew the war was lost the second the USA got involved.
4. There is a Palestinian State promised to the Palestinians – it is Jordan – take their land.
5. Carter claimed to be a Christian, but he is not one – he is a charlatan and a deceiver: the sooner you get that fact through your head, the better. He is a shameless huckster that will assume any face to be popular. I don’t agree with the quote that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel – frankly I believe it is philanthropy – look at all of the monsters that became philanthropists – Rockefeller, Carnegie, Soros (a Nazi callaborator), and look at Carter.
6. As for his granson – I am sick of dynastiies – Kennedy, Bush, and now Carter – forget it.

Keith

January 31st, 2010
12:53 am

I know today most Baptists and other conservative leaning denominations are true friends of Israel, but back during Carter’s youth there was a lot of anti-Semitism in Baptist churches in the south.

PJ

January 31st, 2010
6:45 am

I don’t understand why we Americans have this unrelenting support for Israel. The fact of the matter is that their military is not as innocent as they claim. Why do over a thousand Palestinian men, women, and children have to die for 13 Israelis (3 of which were civilians)? Why does the US give more humanitarian aid to the prosperous state of Israel than to any other country annually? I just recently saw video footage on NYT.com of a protester dying from an Israeli bullet because he was peacefully protesting. Iv’e seen footage of the absolutely horrid conditions Israel’s blockade on the West Bank has forced innocent Palestinians (women & children) to live in. They can’t get clean water, electricity for hospitals, or food. People really need to wake up and learn about what is going on in the world. Get your news from various TV, Newspaper, & internet sources to better escape biases. I am not pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli and quite frankly I hate those terms. Both Hamas and the Israeli army have committed war crimes. I am Pro-human.

Rightwing Troll

January 31st, 2010
6:49 am

If wanting armageddon and conflagration to commence in Israel to herald the coming of Christ is “being a true friend to Israel” who needs enemies?

Just like most issues embraced by the SBC it is a sham, propped up by clueless old white men. They don’t love the people of Israel, they want them to burn so they can meet Christ.

Bitter EX democrackkk

January 31st, 2010
7:13 am

As a Senior Advisor to the CPD, Commission on Presidential Debates, Jimmy Carter has had YEARS to equalize the debates by allowing 3rd party candidates to routinely appear on the most important election forums in the world. Yet, democrackkk Carter refuses multiple opportunities to
even ACKNOWLEDGE such demands from the citizens. He is a good Sunday School teacher I hear…

Not A Carter Fan And Never Will Be

January 31st, 2010
8:58 am

BehindEnemyLines

January 30th, 2010
7:12 pm
I’m just mystified why anyone would believe a word Carter says. Utterly worthless excuse for a human being.

To Behind enemy lines – Amen Brother

dagnabit

January 31st, 2010
9:00 am

Kagan: I agree with everything you said. Carter……..fool: Please follow your own advice. I read these comments for information; not stupidity.

Rhonda Atlanta

January 31st, 2010
9:22 am

I wish Jimmy Carter would just go away

Lee

January 31st, 2010
9:58 am

All you need to know about Israel, the jews, and their treacherous ways can be summarized in the USS Liberty attack.

http://ussliberty.wordpress.com/

The sooner the US realizes that Israel is not our friend and we must disassociate our foreign policy from that little piece of hell on Earth, the better off we will be.

Chris Mathews is covered in his own spittle because he is drinking, again.

January 31st, 2010
10:30 am

Al Bin Carter is a tool. The one thing he has going for him is that Obama will soon take the mantle of worst President of mondern history from him.

miss mellie

January 31st, 2010
10:35 am

Actually, I was raised Southern Baptist, too, and I feel a much greater spiritual kinship with Jews than I do with Catholics….! How weird is THAT?!

Carter is a Fool

January 31st, 2010
11:48 am

dagnabit – You are WRONG. My post at 8:05pm summed up the miserable time that Carter was in Office. He is a fool and failure as President and Ex-President. He was fired. We can only hope that Obama will also be fired as he is mirroring Carter’s failures.

Ray

January 31st, 2010
1:12 pm

It has been difficult to show bigotry with President carter or other democrats. Even when it is so obvious. The fellow signing his name “Jesus”, please don’t do that – it makes you look bad/stupid!

Neil

January 31st, 2010
1:30 pm

First, to Joey, Pat Buchanan is on the failing cable network, MSNBC. Secondly, Ms. Coulter, who does appear regularly on the Fox News Channel, stated that she’s a Christian, and, thus, a “perfected Jew.” And, she wished that everyone was a Christian. As a Jew, I don’t consider that as “saying things that are pretty offensive to Jews.” It’s her religious belief system. MSNBC’S Buchanan, on the other hand, is another story. And, to Lee, et al, if you wish to have a WELL DOCUMENTED account of the tragic story of the U.S.S. Liberty, go to the ADL’s Website. It only deals with fact, not conjecture.

Frisco

January 31st, 2010
1:31 pm

God bless Israel. We support and love Israel. Israel is surrounded with enemies. Why don’t the mega rich ($) Arab nations build a nation for the Palestinians who were kicked out of Jordan years ago. Problem solved, but no their real goal is to destroy Israel.

?

January 31st, 2010
1:54 pm

Why do we give Israel $4 BILLION per year to kill women & children. To make things we are borrowing the money from the Chinese.. The way to middle east peace is to stop our foreign aid to Israel, Egypt and Jordon.

scott

January 31st, 2010
1:56 pm

Carter remains an embarassment to the state and the country. Both he and Clinton receive millions from Arabs ( look at his donors for his library at the entrance). He needs to just hammer his nails and learn to say no comment anytme his opinion is solicted.

AIPAC

January 31st, 2010
1:58 pm

On June 8, 1967, US Navy intelligence ship USS Liberty was suddenly and brutally attacked on the high seas in international waters by the air and naval forces of Israel. The Israeli forces attacked with full knowledge that this was an American ship and lied about it. Survivors have been forbidden for 40 years to tell their story under oath to the American public. The USS Liberty Memorial web site tells their story and is dedicated to the memory of the 34 brave men who died.

The Attack

After surveilling USS Liberty for more than nine hours with almost hourly aircraft overflights and radar tracking, the air and naval forces of Israel attacked our ship in international waters without warning. USS Liberty was identified as a US naval ship by Israeli reconnaissance aircraft nine hours before the attack and continuously tracked by Israeli radar and aircraft thereafter. Sailing in international waters at less than five knots, with no offensive armament, our ship was not a military threat to anyone.

The Israeli forces attacked without warning and without attempting to contact us. Thirty four Americans were killed in the attack and another 174 were wounded. The ship, a $40-million dollar state-of-the-art signals intelligence platform, was later declared unsalvageable and sold for scrap.

Jimbo

January 31st, 2010
2:09 pm

Israel is no friend of the USA.. They are just blood suckers of American foreign aid. Carter may not have been the best president but he has tried to bring peace to the middle east.