Update: Melvin Konner’s entire letter to John Hardman is reprinted below. See also Konner’s letter to Jimmy Carter.
Melvin Konner, a professor of anthropology at Emory University, added his voice to the list of prominent critics of Jimmy Carter’s new book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. Konner expressed his thoughts in a letter to the Carter Center and in an Op-Ed in the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
In the letter, addressed to Carter Center Executive Director John Hardman, Konner explained why he chose to decline a position on the Carter Center’s advisory panel, and urged the Center to distance itself from the former president’s “irrevocably tarnished legacy.”
According to the Journal Constitution, Konner stated that Carter’s “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.”
The newspaper also quoted Konner describing a passage in the book that he believes condones murder:
“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,” Carter wrote in a passage near the end of the book.
Konner said that sentence condones “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,” he said.
Konner’s letter comes just weeks after another Emory professor, Kenneth Stein, resigned from the Carter Center in a widely circulated letter to Hardman.
In his Op-Ed, Konner described the admiration he once had for Carter, then noted:
Carter has changed. Something has happened to his judgment. I don’t understand what it is, but I know it is very dangerous. At a minimum, his legacy is irrevocably tarnished, and he will never again be a factor in the quest for Middle East peace. At worst, he is emboldening terrorists and their apologists in the Arab world, encouraging them to go on with their terror campaign and refuse even to recognize Israel’s right to just exist.
The full text of Konner’s letter follows:
TO: Dr. John Hardman, M.D.
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 mur der 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 Medicine