Carter Defends Book on Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Former President Jimmy Carter defended his book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Tuesday, saying he didn't mean to offend anyone and was hurt by the negative reaction.

"I've been hurt and so has my family by some of the reaction," Carter said during an appearance at Brandeis University, a nonsectarian Jewish-founded college in the Boston suburb of Waltham, Mass. "This is the first time that I've ever been called a liar and a bigot and an anti-Semite and a coward and a plagiarist. This has hurt me."

Carter, author of "Palestine Peace Not Apartheid," released in November, attracted criticism from Jewish groups and academics who allege inaccuracies and distorted history. The book also prompted the resignation of a longtime Carter aide and 14 members on the board of the Carter Center at Emory University in Georgia.

Critics point to the use of the word "apartheid," which they say seeks to villanize Israel over its policy toward Palestinians.

"I am deeply concerned about the tensions that might have arisen. That was not my intention at all," Carter said.

"With my use of 'apartheid,' I realize this has caused great concern in the Jewish community. ... 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," he said.

Carter added that the critics of his book are an "extreme minority" and he was "willing to face the accusations." He added that he believes peace could be achieved in the Middle East if Israel withdraws from their own territory and lets "the Palestinians have a viable and contiguous state of their own, living side-by-side in peace."

Richard Shenkman, a presidential historian, said most Americans view Carter as sincere in his beliefs, but the 39th U.S. president suffers from "bad political antennae."

“He just doesn’t understand how his actions are going to play out with the American people,” Shenkman said. “What he has done over the past 30 years is try to be America’s best ex-president. And he’s done many good things, Americans give him very high marks. But he constantly gets in high water.”

Earlier on Tuesday, metal barricades were erected along the road leading to the athletic center to provide security for the venue where Carter was scheduled to speak.

About 60 peaceful demonstrators carried signs with a pro-Palestinian view and a smaller group passed out leaflets outlining five portions of Carter's book.

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

Of 120 questions submitted to the committee that invited Carter, the man who brought together Egypt and Israel in a 1978 peace agreement answered 15.

"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.

A student-led effort helped facilitate an agreement to allow a rebuttal from Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz, a harsh critic of Carter's. Despite having been booted from the earlier booking to debate Carter on his assertions, Dershowitz stepped on stage after Carter to say he is not an honest broker for the Middle East, but instead is pushing Palestinians to reject a reasonable peace agreement.

“President Carter makes it seem so simple. It’s not so simple. And experience shows how complicated it is,” Dershowitz said. “I’m afraid that those simplicities are not really conducive to an enduring peace.”

Dershowitz said he agreed with Carter's advice that Brandeis students should visit Israel and "see how complicated it is to bring about peace in this kind of situation."

In expectation of questions about contributions to the Carter Center received by Arab donors, the former president said, “Every contribution that we have received has been publicized on our annual reports... I’ve received no benefit at all, personally, from those sources. And I never will.”

Kevin Montgomery, a politics senior who led a petition drive to bring Carter to campus, said he expected fellow students to hold Carter accountable for his words.

"Brandeis is the type of community that will force Carter to be accountable for his words. I'm supportive of increasing the intellectual discussion at Brandeis on the matter of Israel and Palestine," he continued.

Other students demanded an apology.

"I hope to hear an apology for his book, but that's what I don't expect to hear," said Alan Meyerson, a politics junior who worked to bring Dershowitz to campus. "By becoming an advocate for one side, especially a very hostile advocate against Israel, he has sacrificed his legacy as a peacemaker for these short-sided goals."

Carter reportedly refused to debate Dershowitz because, he claimed, the Jewish law professor "knows nothing about the situation in Palestine."

“I think the inaccuracies of Carter’s points have to be pointed out. Carter said he wrote the book in order to stimulate a debate, but he won’t debate. I’m debating him whether he’s there or not,” Dershowitz told last week.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.