(CNSNews.com) - A row between American Jewish leaders and former President Jimmy Carter over his attempts to link Israel with apartheid deepened Tuesday, when a leading Jewish group called for an apology, decrying the role Carter has taken "with regard to Israel and American Jews."
Responding to an open letter to "Jewish citizens of America" issued by Carter on Friday, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said that "the damage to the good name of Israel and the American Jewish community from your unwarranted attacks remains. As does our outrage."
Carter, the Georgia Democrat who served as president from 1977 through 1980, wrote the letter in a bid to explain the positions he has taken in his new book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid."
Many Jews and others responded forcefully to the use of the term "apartheid" -- South Africa's pre-1994 system of legally entrenched racial segregation -- in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Under sustained fire, Carter met with rabbis in Phoenix, Ariz. In the open letter, he said he told the rabbis he defined "apartheid" as "the forced segregation of two peoples living in the same land, with one of them dominating and persecuting the other."
"I made clear in the book's text and in my response to the rabbis that the system of apartheid in Palestine is not based on racism but the desire of a minority of Israelis for Palestinian land and the resulting suppression of protests that involve violence," Carter wrote.
"This cruel oppression is contrary to the tenets of the Jewish faith and the basic principles of the nation of Israel," he added.
The letter did nothing to mollify the ADL, however.
"No matter the distinction you articulate in your letter, using the incendiary word 'apartheid' to refer to Israel and its policies is unacceptable and shameful," ADL National Chairman Glen Lewy and National Director Abraham Foxman said in a letter of their own addressed to Carter Tuesday.
"Not only are Israel's policies not racist, but the situation in the territories does not arise from Israeli intentions to oppress or repress Palestinians, but is a product of Palestinian rejection of Israel and the use of terror and violence against the Jewish state," they wrote.
The publication of Carter's book prompted Ken Stein, a professor at Emory University, to resign from his post as a fellow at the Carter Center.
Stein, a former executive director of the Carter Center, said the book was "replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions, and simply invented segments."
Carter's use of the term "apartheid" also drew criticism Monday from Gil Troy, professor of history of McGill University.
"By alleging that Israel practices apartheid, Jimmy Carter's title reflects a sloppy and nasty form of historical analogizing seeking to de-legitimize Israel and Zionism, perpetuated by pro-Palestinian groups on campuses and elsewhere," Troy wrote in a commentary.
"Using the 'apartheid' label without seeking to impute racism would be akin to calling Carter a redneck and claiming it only has to do with his tanning habits," Troy argued. "If Carter is so innocent as to be unaware of the resonance that term has, he is not the expert on the Middle East or world affairs he purports to be."
In his Dec. 15 letter, Carter wrote: "I am familiar with the extreme acts of violence that have been perpetrated against innocent civilians and understand the fear among many Israelis that threats against their safety and even their existence as a nation still exist. I reiterated my strong condemnation of any such acts of terrorism.
"When asked my proposals for peace in the Middle East, I summarized by calling for Hamas members and all other Palestinians to renounce violence and adopt the same commitment made by the Arab nations in 2002: the full recognition of Israel's right to exist in peace within its legally recognized 1967 borders (to be modified by mutual agreement by land swaps)," the former president stated.
"I have spent a great deal of my adult life trying to bring peace to Israel, and my own prayer is that all of us who want to see Israelis enjoy permanent peace with their neighbors join in this common effort," Carter added.
"No country is perfect or above criticism," Troy conceded, but "the one-sided zeal of critics like Carter, singling out Israel in inflammatory ways, raises doubts about the critics more than the criticized."
"Not only has Carter palled around with Yasser Arafat, Kim Jong-il, Fidel Castro and the Chinese oligarchs, he has always bristled at those who dared label his buddies 'terrorists' or 'dictators,' Troy said.
Lewy and Foxman wrote to Carter that they "continue to be distressed about the role you have taken upon yourself with regard to Israel and American Jews. Indeed, we know that the rabbis with whom you met in Phoenix are similarly distressed.
"True sensitivity to Israel and American Jews would be demonstrated by ceasing these one-sided attacks and apologizing for damaging the good name of the State of Israel and the Jewish people," they noted.
"We look forward to such a statement," Lewy and Foxman added.
A resolution equating Zionism -- the Jewish national movement for a homeland that led to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 -- with racism was on the U.N. General Assembly's books from 1975 to 1991.
See Earlier Stories:
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Not Like Apartheid, South African Lawmaker Says (Oct. 17, 2003)
Accusations Fly as US, Israel Walk Out of 'Bizarre' UN Conference (Sept. 4, 2001)
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