updated 12/16/2006 5:12:00 PM ET 2006-12-16T22:12:00

Former President Jimmy Carter issued a letter to American Jews on Friday, explaining the use of the term “apartheid” in his new book and sympathizing with Israelis who fear terrorism.

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Carter, author of a book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that advocates “peace not apartheid” in the region, wrote the letter following a meeting this week with a group of rabbis in Phoenix.

The letter was released by the Carter Center, a human rights organization founded by the former president.

Carter wrote that the letter’s purpose was to reiterate that his use of “apartheid” did not apply to circumstances within Israel, that Israelis are deeply concerned about terrorism from “some Palestinians,” and that a majority of Israelis want peace with their neighbors.

Carter wrote that he understands Israelis’ fear of terrorism, and “reiterated my strong condemnation of any such acts of terrorism.”

The rabbis said that they would not call for a boycott of the book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” but that they also would not suggest that anyone read it.

Carter: Apartheid refers to settlers
The group’s chairman, Rabbi Andrew Straus, said he was “very appreciative” of the letter and believes Carter is sincere, but disagrees with the use of “apartheid.”

“Even though he doesn’t mean it in a racial term, to use that term can be nothing less than overly provocative,” he said.

The reference to apartheid, the word for South Africa’s former system of state-sanctioned racial segregation, has angered some rabbis because it appears to equate that system with the treatment of Palestinians.

Carter wrote that “apartheid in Palestine is not based on racism but the desire of a minority of Israelis for Palestinian land and the resulting suppression of protests that involve violence.” He called it “contrary to the tenets of the Jewish faith and the basic principles of the nation of Israel.”

Rejects proposed debate
Carter had planned to go Brandeis University to discuss the book but decided against it after the university requested that he debate Alan Dershowitz about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Carter said the outspoken Harvard law professor “knows nothing about the situation.”

“I don’t want to have a conversation even indirectly with Dershowitz,” Carter said in Friday’s Boston Globe. “There is no need ... to debate somebody who, in my opinion, knows nothing about the situation in Palestine.”

The school’s debate request, Carter said, is proof that many in the United States are unwilling to hear an alternative view on the nation’s most taboo foreign policy issue, Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.

Carter brokered the 1978 Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

Simon & Schuster said the book is in a fourth printing, with 395,000 copies in print. Most of Carter’s books have been best-sellers. The latest is on The New York Times’ best-seller list.

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