The Carter Center
453 Freedom Parkway Atlanta, GA 30307
Dear Dr. Hardman,
I am sorry to say that after careful and frankly painful reflection, I have
decided not to participate in your group advising President Carter and The
Carter Center regarding his recent book on the Middle East conflict. During our
telephone conversation on December 11 (perhaps not incidentally my late father's
birthday) I spoke from my heart when I agreed to participate; it is not easy for
me to lose one of my greatest heroes.
In less than a week since then, events have progressed in such a way as to
persuade me that I cannot in good conscience participate in such an effort.
First, President Carter has proved capable of distorting the truth about such
meetings and consultations in public remarks following them. In particular, he
mischaracterized the meeting he had with the executive committee of the Board of
Rabbis of Greater Phoenix, saying he and they had positive interactions and prayed together, when in fact others present stated that
the meeting was highly confrontational and that the prayer was merely a pro
forma closing invocation. (See "Letters," The New York Times, Dec. 15, 2006, p.
A32.) However modest my reputation may be, I will not jeopardize it by
participating in a meeting that might subsequently be so starkly misconstrued.
Second, in television interviews I have seen over the past week, President
Carter has revealed himself to be so rigid and inflexible in his views that he
seems to me no longer capable of dialogue. In an interview with Soledad O'Brien
of CNN he failed to address a single one of the criticisms she quoted from
various experts in a very serious tone of voice, pointing out that she was not
reading the worst of the criticisms; he began laughing inappropriately while she
spoke, and when she asked him how he would respond to the criticisms he stated,
"With laughter." In a number of interviews I have seen and heard him respond to
highly specific questions merely by stating again and again in one form or another,
"My book is completely accurate." This rigidity of thought and complete failure
to engage criticisms from much greater experts than me about his numerous and
serious errors of commission and omission make it clear to me that an attempt by
me to advise him would be pointless and counterproductive.
In addition, his
repeated public insinuations that the Jews control the media and the
Congress- well-worn anti-Semitic slurs that, especially coming from President
Carter, present a clear and present danger to American Jews- are offensive to
me beyond what I can politely say.
Third, I am now carefully rereading parts of this very puzzling and
problematic book, having read it through once quickly. I am not going to point
out again here all the mistakes and misrepresentations pointed out by others (
to take just one example, his flat contradiction of the accounts by President
Clinton and Dennis Ross of events at Camp David at which they were present and he was not)- none of which he has answered--nor explain the
grotesque distortion caused by his almost completely ignoring Jewish history
between ancient times and 1947 (he devotes five lines on page 64 to that
millennial tragic story and mentions the Holocaust twice; his "Historical
Chronology" at the outset contains nothing- nothing- between 1939 and 1947).
However, I will call your attention to a sentence on p. 213 that had not stood
out for me the first time I read it: "It is imperative that the general Arab
community and all significant Palestinian groups 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."
As someone who has lived his life as a professional reader and writer, I
cannot find any way to read this sentence that does not condone the murder of
Jews until such time as Israel unilaterally follows President Carter's
prescription for peace. This sentence, simply put, makes President Carter an apologist for terrorists and
places my children, along with all Jews everywhere, in greater danger.
I am sure you will now understand why I cannot participate in your group
advising President Carter.
However, if I may, I will share this advice to you: If you want The Carter
Center to survive and thrive independently in the future, you must take prompt
and decisive steps to separate the Center from President Carter's now
irrevocably tarnished legacy. You must make it clear on your web site and in
appropriately circulated press releases that President Carter does not speak for
The Carter Center on the subject of the Middle East conflict or the political
role of the American Jewish community. If you do not do this, then President
Carter's damage to his own effectiveness as a mediator, not to mention to his
reputation and legacy will extend, far more tragically in my view, to The Carter
Center and all its activities.
Meanwhile, in my own private and modest public capacity as a university professor and writer, I will work very hard in
the foreseeable future to help discredit President Carter's biased, intemperate
and inflexible mischaracterizations of the reality of Israel, Palestine,
terrorism, and the American Jewish community. I will urge all my colleagues and
students to do the same. And, most painfully, I will discourage any connection
with The Carter Center until such time as you make perfectly and publicly clear
your independence from President Carter on this tragically difficult set of
questions, which he has chosen so dangerously to distort and oversimplify.
I emphasize that I have been a decades-long supporter of President Carter and
of The Carter Center and have defended him, his legacy, and The Center's work at
every possible opportunity. It is a grave loss for me to acknowledge that this
will no longer be possible.
Melvin Konner, M.D., Ph.D.
Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor
Department of Anthropology and Program in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology, Emory University
Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology (by courtesy), Emory School of