President Carter: Collect Those Feathers and All is Forgiven!

President Carter: Collect Those Feathers and All is Forgiven!

Rabbi Abraham Cooper Rabbi Abraham Cooper

Much has been said about former President Jimmy Carter's surprise apology to the Jewish Community in a recent open letter.

We must not permit criticisms for improvement to stigmatize Israel... As I would have noted at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but which is appropriate at any time of the year, I offer an Al Het [Judaism's Mea Culpa] for any words or deeds of mine that may have done so.

During his presidency, Mr. Carter helped broker the first Israeli-Arab peace treaty alongside the late Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. But over the years he has developed a long track record of ridiculing Israel at home, in the international arena, and before audiences in the Arab world.

What has especially angered critics on the matter was the former president's decision to travel to Gaza to meet with the leaders of Hamas, which is recognized a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union. This is the same Hamas that appears to invoke the infamous anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion in its founding charter to legitimize calls for the destruction of Israel. This is the same Hamas that sent waves of suicide bombers and 8,000 Kassam rockets targeting Israeli civilians, ultimately leading to last winter's war in Gaza.

But the final straw for many -- including the Simon Wiesenthal Center -- was Mr. Carter's 2006 book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. President Carter and his publisher were well aware that the book's title would ignite outrage among the Jewish community, but fit nicely with ongoing international campaigns to demonize the Jewish state of Israel as the 21st century heir to the former racist South Africa, deserving of the same fate of the now defunct, illegitimate regime.

When Rabbi Marvin Hier called Jimmy Carter out for the apparent lies he articulates in his book, the former president wrote a note in his own handwriting, accusing the Wiesenthal Center of "falsehoods and slander."

So while the book title Palestine/Apartheid may have succeeded in selling books, it also catapulted Mr. Carter to the top of America's list of Israel-bashers.

Now we are confronted with this unexpected Mea Culpa. So how should we deal with Mr. Carter's apology?

I think that the best advice to consider on the matter comes from a great Jewish sage and ethicist, Yisrael Meir Kagan (d. 1933), known popularly as the "Chafetz Chaim" -- "seeker of life," the same title of a book he wrote denouncing slander, lies and rumor mongering.

One day, a distraught member of the Chafetz Chaim's congregation sought a private audience with the sage.

Rebbe: You know me for a long time. I am loyal and devoted follower and I have always striven to follow your example of never repeating any gossip or falsehoods. Last week, I was told a terrible story about a neighbor which I just knew to be true. And so I repeated it to a third party. This morning, I learned that it was all a lie! How can I do Teshuva (Repentance); how can I be forgiven for unwittingly repeating a slander? Is there any way to set things right?

The gentle sage replied: "Do you have a chicken?"

"Yes", was the response. "Go home then, pluck the feathers from the chicken and use the feathers to make a path from your door to my study".

Three hours later, the distraught parishioner returned. He asked hopefully, "Rebbe, I have followed your instructions, I took a chicken from my coop, plucked the feathers, and used them to make a path between my house and your study. So am I forgiven now?"

"Yes, my son. But there is just one last task you must complete: Collect the feathers!"

I commend the sentiments expressed by President Carter. As a former president of the United States there is much he can do -- not only to assuage Jewish feelings, but in thwarting the further demonization of Israel.

The feathers he needs to collect though, are not to be found at Jewish Community Centers or University Hillels or Synagogues, but at the doorsteps of his "Elder"-in-arms Bishop Desmond Tutu, from the many Arab audiences and the millions of readers of his books and speeches. Mr. Carter, give some interviews to Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya and tell them you were wrong to "stigmatize Israel!"

Mr. President: Collect those feathers and all is forgiven!