WASHINGTON – Jimmy Carter has accused an international Jewish human rights group of "falsehood and slander" for launching a petition that resulted in thousands of signatures being sent to the former president in protest of his controversial book about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"I don't believe Simon Wiesenthal would have resorted to falsehood and slander to raise funds," Carter wrote last month in a handwritten letter to the head of the human rights center that bears the name of the late Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter. The petition does not require payment to be sent, though Carter's letter suggests it is being used as a fundraising tool.
"I believe that Simon Wiesenthal would have been as outraged by your book, 'Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,' as I was," Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, wrote in a Feb. 2 response to Carter.
Carter's fiery exchange with Hier is the latest in the controversy over the book, which last year prompted resignations of a longtime Carter aide and 14 members of a Carter Center board.
Critics allege the book contains inaccuracies and distorts history to shape the reader's opinion to one side of the issue. Carter has defended the book, saying he didn't mean to offend anyone.
Hier sent 25,000 signed petitions to the Carter Center to show concern over the book among the Jewish community. The center's online petition called visitors to "act now against President Carter's one-sided bias against Israel." The Wiesenthal Center has about 400,000 members.
Carter's response shows that the number of petitions delivered to the Carter Center "touched a raw nerve," Hier said.
"He could be the director of public relations for the Palestinian cause," Hier told FOXNews.com. "The book was a litany of complaints blaming Israel for everything."
Carter's letter "indicates to me that he's uncomfortable with this criticism but this criticism is well-deserved," Hier said.
Deanna Congileo, Carter's press secretary, confirmed on Wednesday that the former president sent Hier the Jan. 26 letter but Carter is out of the country for a few weeks and Congileo had no further comment.
"It is incredulous to me that, after your historic achievement of brokering peace between Israel and Egypt, you could write such a book," reads Hier's letter.
During an appearance last month at Brandeis University, a nonsectarian Jewish-founded college in the Boston suburb of Waltham, Mass., Carter publicly defended himself and his book.
"I've been hurt and so has my family by some of the reaction," Carter said. "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."
Hier said Carter wrote the book to be hostile to Israel.
"The reason he wrote this book is because he has become a spokesman for the Palestinian cause," Hier said.
"Having read the book, I can tell you these are not the words of a person who is objective, who is trying to see a way out of this. He has come down 100 percent on the Palestinian side."