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Jimmy Carter's Mideast book polarizes opinion
Yahoo News/Reuters
By Matthew Bigg
December 17, 2006

ATLANTA (Reuters) - A new book by Jimmy Carter in which he compares Israel's treatment of Palestinians to South Africa's Apartheid system has sparked a bitter debate over the former U.S. president's reputation as a peacemaker.

Jewish groups have expressed outrage at the book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," arguing its comparison of Israel to the racist South African regime could undermine the perception of Israel's legitimacy.

Carter, 82, has been dogged by protests during a promotional tour and Ken Stein, a long-time advisor on Middle East issues who was also the first executive director at the Carter Center in Atlanta, resigned over the book's content.

In an interview with Reuters, Stein cited a passage from the book that said it was imperative for Arabs and Palestinians to "make it clear that they will end the suicide bombings and other acts of terrorism when international laws and the ultimate goals of the Roadmap for peace are accepted by Israel."

Stein said: "Does that mean killing Jews is legitimate? Did I misread this? I don't think so. If he wrote it, he is endorsing violence, which is not the original purpose of the Carter Center."

But Douglas Brinkley, who published a biography of Carter focusing on his post-presidential years, said the book could enhance Carter's reputation in the Middle East and beyond among those who see him as an independent voice.

"This flap only enhances his reputation globally. It makes him seem somebody who doesn't just speak an American government line but who is an international peacemaker and a candid analyst," Brinkley told Reuters.

"The damage he has done is in the U.S. and Israel and in those countries his reputation has taken a hit," he said.

In the book, Carter, who won the Nobel peace prize in 2002 for conflict resolution, traces the history of the Middle East from the 19th century to the present through the Camp David Accords in 1978, a year into his presidency.

"Anyone that goes there can't deny that a system of apartheid is going on," Carter said in a speech in Atlanta after the book was published in November.

He said he was "completely at ease" with the book, and that its title was deliberately provocative.

WEDGE ISSUE

Carter's assertion that U.S. debate on the Middle East has been stifled by a pro-Jewish lobby is aimed at causing people within America's evangelical community to question support for Israel, according to Michael Jacobs, managing editor of the Atlanta Jewish Times.

He said the assertion would likely backfire.

"It's damaged the way he is seen in the Jewish community of Atlanta and ... a large portion of the evangelical Christian community. But people who aren't friends of Israel see this as an example of him being courageous," Jacobs told Reuters.

Carter is a native of Georgia, where he served as governor before launching his bid for the White House, and is widely seen as the state's leading citizen.

Judy Marx, executive director of the Atlanta chapter of the American Jewish Committee, said the book would undermine Carter's reputation for conflict resolution "because he is not offering balanced opinions and being an honest broker."

But she said the controversy had in the short term opened doors for dialogue with African American, Latino and other groups in Atlanta who had invited her group to address them over the book.

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