Former aide criticizes Carter
A former executive director of the Carter Center whose resignation from the institution has been a focal point of the furor over former President Jimmy Carter’s new Middle East book said his decision to step down was a matter of “intellectual honesty.”
In his first detailed public comments since his resignation last month, Kenneth W. Stein, who was the center’s first executive director, told a Los Angeles audience Thursday that his concerns grew out of what he called Carter’s “gross inventions, intentional falsehoods and irresponsible remarks.”
Stein, a professor of Middle Eastern history at Emory University in Atlanta, said that in two of the most serious errors, Carter misrepresented the wording of a key U.N. resolution and gave a false account of a 1990 meeting he held with former Syrian President Hafez Assad, which Stein attended.
A spokeswoman for Carter, Deanna Congileo, said Friday that he was not available for comment. But Congileo noted that Carter and his publisher, Simon and Schuster, “have said that if there are any factual errors, they will be corrected in subsequent editions.”
Stein, who was director of the Carter Center from 1983 to 1986 and had continued to serve as a fellow there, spoke to a crowd of nearly 1,000 Thursday night at Los Angeles’ Sinai Temple. His comments came against a backdrop of escalating controversy over the former president’s bestselling book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.”
In the book, Carter traces the stops and starts of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, beginning with his first visit to Israel in 1973 and continuing to the present, through his 1977-1981 presidency and the historic peace accord he brokered between Israel and Egypt.
The book apportions blame for the ongoing conflict to Israel, the Palestinians and the United States, among others, but is most critical of Israel, saying its policies and long occupation of Palestinian lands have been the main obstacles to peace.
The book has drawn fire from American Jewish and pro-Israeli organizations and from former Middle East peace negotiator Dennis Ross, who accused Carter of using -- without permission -- maps Ross had created, and of mislabeling them in the book.
This week, 14 members of an advisory board to the Carter Center resigned in protest over the book and comments Carter has made suggesting that Israel’s supporters in the U.S. have stifled debate over the Middle East. An organization of Reform rabbis has also said it would cancel a planned visit to the center.
Carter has defended the book, including his use of “apartheid” in its title, and has said he intended to spark discussion.
But Stein, in his comments at Sinai Temple and a later interview, said he did not see the book until several weeks after its publication in November. Stein, who made Middle East trips with Carter in 1983, 1987 and 1990, was coauthor with Carter on an earlier Middle East volume, “The Blood of Abraham,” published in 1985.
Stein said he decided to resign after discovering errors in the book and after several former students contacted him to criticize it and ask whether he had been involved. “I had to make a clean break,” he said. “My professional reputation was being affected.”
Stein, who is writing a lengthy review of the book for the Middle East Quarterly, said that Carter misstates United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which has been used as the basis for Arab-Israeli negotiations since it was enacted in 1967. Stein asserts that Carter’s references to the resolution, which insert a “the” not included in the original, make it appear more specific than it was in requiring Israel’s withdrawal from occupied territories.
But it was in his account of a 1990 meeting with Assad that Carter made his most egregious error, Stein said. Carter wrote that Assad had said that he was willing to negotiate with Israel on the status of the Golan Heights, which Israel has occupied since the Six-Day War in 1967.
But Stein said his own notes of the Damascus meeting show that Assad, in response to a question from Carter, replied that Syria could not accept a demilitarized Golan without “sacrificing our sovereignty.”
Stein also disputed Carter’s statement in the book that Assad expressed willingness to move Syria’s troops farther from the border than Israel should be required to do. “Why does Carter do that?” Stein asked his audience. “To make Israel appear intransigent.” Carter also wrote of his attempts to report on his talks with Assad and other Middle Eastern leaders to White House staffers who were preoccupied with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. However, Stein said the White House briefings occurred in the spring of 1990 and the invasion was not until August.
But Stein, who received numerous rounds of applause from the Sinai Temple audience, also painted a complex, nuanced portrait of Carter and of the two men’s friendship and working collaboration over nearly 25 years.
Stein said he continues to admire Carter’s role in negotiating peace between Israel and Egypt and agrees with Carter on many Middle East issues, including the need for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He also said he is grateful for his travels and other work with Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, from 1983 to 1993, which he described as “a glorious experience akin to a second graduate school.”
Stein said the two men have had no direct contact since his resignation and said he does not know whether the relationship will survive.
Carter, Stein said, “well knows that my respect for him will outlast this particular controversy ... but that doesn’t keep me from speaking out on this book.”