Carter's Efforts To Mend Ties With Community Get Cold Shoulder
Foxman: 'I Didn't Want To Be Used'
Wed. Oct 31, 2007
The Jewish Daily Forward
Washington - Jimmy Carter's newest efforts to repair relations with
the Jewish community were rebuffed not once but twice last week ? and
at the very highest levels.
Carter's first outreach effort came in an invitation to Jewish groups
to discuss ways that the former president could help make the upcoming
Middle East peace conference a success. While Carter invited most of
the major Jewish organizations, the event was only attended by
representatives of the Reform movement and by several smaller dovish
"I didn't want to be used," said the Anti-Defamation League's national
director, Abraham Foxman, one of the leaders who turned down Carter's
invitation. "I didn't think anything constructive could come out of
the meeting, except for him being able to say he met with Jewish leaders."
Carter has encountered similar difficulties in reaching out to Jewish
lawmakers on Capitol Hill. A closed-door meeting he held with Jewish
members of Congress turned into a passionate rebuke of the former
president's views on Israel and the Middle East.
"He left the room less happy than Lincoln was when he left the Ford
Theatre," said Rep. Gary Ackerman, a New York Democrat who attended
Carter has had strained relations with much of the organized Jewish
community since the publication of his book "Palestine: Peace Not
Apartheid" and his ensuing remarks regarding the Jewish lobby's
influence on American foreign policy. The reception he received last
week suggests that the resentment is still strong and that it may pose
an obstacle for him as he attempts to offer his help in brokering
peace in the Middle East.
His renewed appeal is part of his work with a group known as The
Elders. Founded by South Africa's Nelson Mandela last summer, The
Elders consists of 13 senior statesmen who attempt to use their
international clout and their experience to deal with the world's most
pressing conflicts. Along with Carter, members include Desmond Tutu,
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and former United Nations
secretary general Kofi Annan. The group's first mission was to Darfur,
and it is now looking into taking an active role in the
The invitation to Jewish organizations, sent out by Elders liaison
Mickey Bergman, stated that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss
ways in which The Elders can help out with the Middle East peace process.
The invitation was not totally unrewarded. The Wednesday lunchtime
meeting was attended by five Jewish members, including the Reform
movement's Religious Action Center, which was represented by Rabbi
David Saperstein. Other groups that sent representatives were Israel
Policy Forum, Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek V'Shalom and the
New Israel Fund. All are strong advocates of a two-state solution
between Israel and the Palestinians. Another participant in the
meeting was Tom Dine, a former executive director of the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee who is also known for his dovish views.
"We did not raise the issue of the book in the meeting; it is old
news," one participant told the Forward.
Another attendant, Brit Tzedek V'Shalom's new president, Steve
Masters, said the atmosphere was good and that he sensed no tension
between Carter and the Jewish activists in the room.
"We all recognized that he is one of the only people in the world who
were successful in brokering peace between Israelis and Arabs,"
A Jewish organizational official speaking under condition of anonymity
said that Carter invited "almost all major groups" but most of them
turned down the invitation. This decision was criticized by those present.
"I think the refusal of Jewish groups to show up is offensive," said
M.J. Rosenberg, Israel Policy Forum's policy analysis director, who
was in attendance. "It is very unfortunate when a former president
invites and people don't show up."
It was not clear if the decision not to attend was made by groups
separately or was a result of consultations. Malcolm Hoenlein,
executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major
American Jewish Organizations, did not return calls from the Forward
regarding the meeting with Carter.
Foxman rejects the claim that turning down the invitation was improper.
"I don't disrespect him," Foxman said, adding that his reason for not
coming to the meeting was Carter's refusal to apologize for arguing
that Jews control the media and academia. "He is entitled not to
support Israel, but he is not entitled to come out and fuel
Bergman, who accompanied Carter in his meetings with the Jewish
leaders, would not comment on the talks, saying they were "off the
record and private."
Carter's chilly reception by the Jewish organizations only got worse a
few hours later, when he met with Jewish lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
The event, hosted by California Democrat Tom Lantos, served as a forum
for Jewish Democrats to vent their outrage at Carter's book.
"I told him that the Jewish community, that has great respect for his
work around the world, is extremely hurt, disappointed and frustrated
from his views and that he cannot serve as an honest broker," Ackerman
A similar message was also voiced by Lantos and three other Jewish
lawmakers who attended the meeting: Henry Waxman, Howard Berman and
The members of Congress told Carter that he needs to apologize, but
the former president did not do so.
Another stop during Carter's day in Washington was at the State
Department, where he met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to
discuss his views on the Middle East. Rice has recently conducted a
series of consultations with former administration officials in order
to "draw on the historical record and experiences of others," as
described by spokesman Sean McCormack. The consultations included
talks with former president Bill Clinton and several of Rice's
predecessors: Madeleine Albright, James Baker and Henry Kissinger.
But a State Department official told the Forward that the meeting with
Carter was not part of these consultations.
"She was not seeking advice from him," the official said, stressing
that it was Carter who asked for the meeting and that Rice agreed "out
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