WASHINGTON — Fourteen members of a leadership group under former President Carter’s think tank resigned Thursday over concerns that Carter’s book on the Middle East does not represent “the Jimmy Carter we came to respect and support.”
The members of the 200-member Board of Councilors, a leadership advisory group founded in 1987, join a longtime Carter aide, Jewish groups and lawmakers who have publicly criticized the former president’s best-selling book “Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid” for inaccuracies and distorting history.
“It comes to the result of deep soul searching and a tremendous amount of angst,” said Steve Berman, a member who was appointed six months ago.
Berman, an Atlanta commercial real estate developer, said he was led to resign after becoming deeply troubled after reviewing Carter’s book, shocked by factual errors and a message that doesn’t serve the cause of peace.
“We’re trying to send a message that the issue of the Middle East is very complicated and complex,” Berman said. “There are two narratives that need to be heard.”
Berman refers to two narratives between the Israelis and Palestinians in contesting one piece of land. “Palestinian leaders have had chances since 1947 to have their own state, including during your own presidency when they snubbed your efforts,” the letter reads.
The members submitted a joint resignation letter, saying the book confuses opinion with fact.
“We can no longer endorse your strident and uncompromising position. This is not the Carter Center or the Jimmy Carter we came to respect and support. Therefore it is with sadness and regret that we hereby tender our resignation from the Board of Councilors of the Carter Center effective immediately,” the letter said.
Liane Levetan, a former Georgia state senator who served on the board for about 10 years, said Carter’s book “really hurt me.”
“To me, it’s a situation of telling the facts that are the facts. This is not a piece of fiction,” Levetan said. “There are some things in life that you just cannot overlook. The truth is something that has got to be told. And certain portions of this book do not tell the truth.”
Levetan said despite her respect for the Carter Center, she could not remain quiet over concerns of the book.
“When you are convinced that there’s something that’s wrong or not truthful, you can’t sit by on the sidelines and let things get by,” Levetan said.
The list of members resigning includes Alan Abrams, Berman, Michael Coles, Jon Golden, Doug Hertz, Barbara Babbit Kaufman, Levetan, Jeff Levy, Leon Novak, Ambassador William B. Schwartz Jr., William B. Schwartz III, Steve Selig, Cathey Steinberg and Gail Solomon. Another member plans to resign privately, Berman said.
The members say the book “portrays the conflict between Israel and her neighbors as a purely one-sided affair with Israel holding all the responsibility for resolving the conflict.”
“In light of the publication of your latest book ‘Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid’ and your subsequent comments made in promoting the book, we can no longer in good conscience continue to serve the Center as members of the Board of Councilors,” the letter reads.
Carter stands by his book and defends it against what he called “lies” and “distortions” against his book in an op-ed published in the LA Times last month.
Carter Center Executive Director John Hardman said the members of the group aren’t a governing board or associated with implementing work of the center.
“We are grateful to these Board of Councilors members for their years of service and support for The Carter Center in advancing peace and health around the world,” Hardman said in a statement.
The resignations come after Kenneth Stein, director of the Institute for the Study of Modern Israel of Emory University, resigned in December, saying the book distorts history to shape the reader’s opinion to one side of the issue.
“I just want to be sure that when people write history, people don’t do it for purpose of special pleading,” he said. “They write it the way it was. They don’t try to shape a person’s opinion and slide them down a path in order to come to an inevitable conclusion.”
Stein said the book contained “factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions and simply invented segments.”
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights group based in Los Angeles, received more than 23,000 signatures for an online petition urging action against “Carter’s one-sided bias against Israel.”
Hier said he agrees with the 14 members decision to cut ties to the Carter Center because the book offers a distorted view of the Middle East.
“I think they did the right thing,” Hier said. “I think that the book was unworthy of a former president of the United States.”
The latest resignation also follows other questions to surface over the book.
Last month, Ambassador Dennis Ross, a former Mideast envoy and FOX News foreign affairs analyst, claims maps commissioned and published by him were improperly republished in Carter’s book.
“I think there should be a correction and an attribution,” Ross said. “These were maps that never existed, I created them.”
After Ross saw the maps in Carter’s book, he told his publisher he wanted a correction.
When asked if the former president ripped him off, Ross replied, “It sure looks that way.”