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Carter's Views on Middle East Prompt Resignations

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Carter's Views on Middle East Prompt Resignations


Carter's Views on Middle East Prompt Resignations

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Fourteen members of the community board at former President Jimmy Carter's Carter Center resigned today. They did so to protest his latest book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." Last month, a Carter fellow and long time Carter adviser also resigned over the book, which has also brought criticism from Jewish groups and many Democrats across the country.

From Atlanta, NPR's Kathy Lohr reports.

KATHY LOHR: The 14 people who resigned are members of the board of counselors, a group of community leaders who advise the Carter Center. In a joint letter, they said it's been a difficult time for them. They say in the conflict resolution work that the Carter Center has been part of for years it's always played the role of honest broker and mediator, but in this case they tell the president, quote, "you have clearly abandoned your role as broker in favor of becoming an advocate for one side."

Those who resigned say it's clear that Carter is blaming Israel for the Middle East conflict. The title of the book has been divisive. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressman John Conyers are among those who have spoken out against it.

In an interview on WHYY's "Fresh Air," the former president defended his use of the word apartheid in the title.

President JIMMY CARTER: What I wanted to do is to express a fact that is almost completely avoided and not expressed in the United States, but is well known in other parts of the world. And let me repeat, I am not referring to the nation of Israel. I did not include that in the title at all. I'm just referring to Palestine, which is the area outside of Israel, in the West Bank and Gaza that in which Israelis are practicing apartheid. Within Israel, they are not doing that. So that's a distinction that should be drawn. And I realized, when I chose this title that it would be provocative.

LOHR: But members of the Carter Center board of councilors say they dispute the facts as Jimmy Carter presents them, and they contend it's wrong for Carter to inflame the public who will read his book. Liane Levitan is a former CEO of the DeKalb County, Georgia and former Georgia legislator.

Ms. LIANE LEVITAN (Former CEO; DeKalb County, Georgia): This book - the word apartheid to me is - it's not a word that I think, you know, needed to be used. I think it's very degrading. I think, also, when you know that something is not true, you're just as guilty if you sit back.

LOHR: Another board of councilor member who resigned, Steve Berman, said it was a personal decision, and one he considered for sometime. A real estate developer in Atlanta, Berman only served on the board for six months. He says the book misstates the language of a U.N. security resolution. He takes issue with the historical chronology, and what Berman says is the president's effort to jumpstart the peace process at the extent of those who support Israel.

Mr. STEVE BERMAN (Former Board Member, Carter Center): Well, clearly, the fact that there's no attraction in the peace process on the Middle East that has to be addressed. And I think all the players would welcome a new effort by either the United States or the quartet, on implementing the road map. This book was an attempt to do that and it's a poor attempt at that, because what this does is it only alienates one side: the Israeli side.

LOHR: After the resignations today, the Carter Center thanked the members for their service, and noted that those who resigned were not engaged in implementing the work of the Carter Center, nor were they part of the center's governing board.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News, Atlanta.

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