Despite the storm it ignited, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter held fast on Thursday to his accusation that Israel oppresses the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza and seeks to colonize their land.
Speaking at The George Washington University to a polite but mostly critical student audience, Carter offered no second thoughts on his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid that prompted 14 members of the Carter Center's advisory board to resign and drew fire from Jewish groups and some fellow Democrats.
He said he was not accusing Israel of racism nor referring to its treatment of Arabs within the country. "I defined apartheid very carefully as the forced segregation by one people of another on their own land," he said.
Outside the university auditorium, some two dozen protesters gathered, a few carrying signs. "Carter is a Liar" read one held by a smiling demonstrator while the others chanted the refrain.
"We were trying to tell Carter his lies are not helpful," a local rabbi, Shmuel Herzfeld, said afterward. "It is very clear the lies are malicious, and it raises issues what his motives are," Herzfeld said.
"I believe Jimmy Carter is an anti-Semite and his intention is to hurt Jewish people," said Herzfeld, rabbi at Ohev Sholom, in an interview.
On the other side of the argument, a local group called the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation distributed a four-page brochure that said "without U.S. aid Israel could not continue to discriminate against its Palestinian-Israeli citizens nor violate international rights in the occupied territories."
On the West Bank, Carter said, Palestinians were victims of oppression, their homes and land confiscated to make way for subsidized Israeli settlers.
"The life of Palestinians is almost intolerable," he said. "And even though Israel agreed to give up Gaza and remove Jewish settlers from the territory, there is no freedom for the people of Gaza and no access to the outside world."
"They have no real freedom of all," Carter said.
By apartheid, Carter said he meant the forced segregation of one people by another. He said Israel's policies in the territories are contrary to the tenets of the Jewish faith.
"There will be no peace until Israel agrees to withdraw from all occupied Palestinian territory," he said, while leaving room for some land swaps that would permit Jews to remain on part of the West Bank in exchange for other Israeli-held land to be taken over by Palestinians.
"Withdrawal would dramatically reduce any threat to Israel," he said.
Carter recalled the role he played as president in negotiations that led to the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt and in a dramatic increase in Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union.
The treaty required Israel to relinquish all of the land Egypt lost in the 1967 Six Day War in exchange for recognition by the most powerful Arab country.
"I have spent a good part of my life seeking peace for Israel based on justice for the Arabs," he said.
In response to a student's question, Carter denounced as abominable anti-Israeli statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and said he supported U.S. dialogue with Iran and Syria.