BOSTON – Former President Jimmy Carter turned down a request to debate Alan Dershowitz about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying the outspoken Harvard law professor "knows nothing about the situation."
Carter, author of a new book advocating "peace not apartheid" in the region, said he will not visit Brandeis University to discuss the book because the university requested he debate Dershowitz.
"I don't want to have a conversation even indirectly with Dershowitz," Carter said in Friday's Boston Globe. "There is no need ... to debate somebody who, in my opinion, knows nothing about the situation in Palestine."
The school's debate request, Carter said, is proof that many in the United States are unwilling to hear an alternative view on the nation's most taboo foreign policy issue, Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory.
Carter brokered the 1978 Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. He said the goal of his book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," is to provoke dialogue and action.
"There is no debate in America about anything that would be critical of Israel," he said.
The reference to "apartheid," the word for South Africa's former system of state-sanctioned racial segregation, has angered some rabbis because it appears to equate that system with the treatment of Palestinians.
"President Carter said he wrote the book because he wanted to encourage more debate; then why won't he debate?" said Dershowitz, a vocal First Amendment advocate who has worked for O.J. Simpson and other high-profile clients.
Brandeis was founded in 1948 as a nonsectarian university under the sponsorship of the American Jewish community. Carter said he initially was interested in going there.
"I thought it would be a good idea to go to a campus that had a lot of Jewish students and get a lot questions," he said. But then the initial proposal evolved into a plan for a debate.