Jimmy Carter asked the Jewish community for forgiveness for any stigma he may have caused Israel.
In a letter released exclusively to JTA, the former US president sent a seasonal message wishing for peace between Israel and its neighbors, and concluded: "We must recognize Israel's achievements under difficult circumstances, even as we strive in a positive way to help Israel continue to improve its relations with its Arab populations, but 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 for any words or deeds of mine that may have done so."
"Al Het" refers to the Yom Kippur prayer asking God forgiveness for sins committed against Him. In modern Hebrew it refers to any plea for forgiveness.
Carter has angered some US Jews in recent years with writings and statements that place the burden of peacemaking on Israel, that have likened Israel's settlement policies to apartheid, and that have blamed the pro-Israel lobby for inhibiting an evenhanded US foreign policy.
Abraham Foxman, the Anti-Defamation League's national director, welcomed the statement, calling it the "beginning of reconciliation."
"We welcome any statement from a significant individual such as a former president who asks for Al Het," Foxman said. "To what extent it is an epiphany, time will tell. There certainly is hurt which needs to be repaired."