Saturday, January 9, 2010

Jimmy Carter aplogizes to "the Jewish Community"

Well, it's pretty late in coming but the former president offered an apology of sorts to the Jewish community for statements he has made. Of course, what Mr. Carter does not seem to recognize is the genuine harm many of his comments and symbolic actions have actually caused.

Brad Hirschfield writes:

Former President Jimmy Carter offered the following words in a letter addressed to the Jewish community: "We must recognize Israel's achievements under difficult circumstances, even as we strive in a positive way to help Israel continue to improve its relations with its Arab populations, but we must not permit criticisms for improvement to stigmatize Israel. As I would have noted at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but which is appropriate at any time of the year, I offer an Al Het for any words or deeds of mine that may have done so."

The remarks should be welcomed especially in light of both the healing they could bring and the deep awareness of Jewish liturgical tradition which they reflect. I wonder in fact how many Jews would reach for the penitentiary prayer, Al Het ,as their model for public apology. Yet here we have a devout Baptist, sufficiently learned and comfortable in a tradition not his own, doing so. That alone is noteworthy.

Like many of Mr. Carters past comments, his words appear well-intentioned and sincerely offered. And yet, like so many of his past utterances, these latest mix profound sensitivity with much potentially unhelpful ideological baggage.

For starters, who is the "we" to whom he refers? If it is only himself, then he should say "I" and be done with it. Doing otherwise distances him from the responsibility he claims to take. On the other hand, if he is speaking for others, it would be helpful to know for whom he speaks. Are his comments also an admission that he has rallied a great many people to a position which he now regrets having taken? If so, that too should be noted.

It's also somewhat troubling that his comments are offered to the "Jewish community". His past comments, which attacked Israel as an apartheid state and worse, were not problematic because they offended Jews; they were problematic because they were rooted in faulty comparisons and flawed analyses of very complex realities that did not fit with Carter's idealized understandings of "big bad Israel" and "good little Palestine".

Too often, Mr. Carter made the easy, and dangerous, decision that whoever held the smaller weapon was automatically more moral. While such thinking assuages the moral concerns of those who are inherently uncomfortable with power, it is often false. While it is certainly true that power, especially military power, is easily abused, so is a people's lack of it - often becoming an excuse for horrific forms of terrorist violence.

Read the entire article HERE.

No comments: