Monday, December 21, 2009

President Carter asks for forgiveness

Via Solomonia:

"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."

Hardly an impressive mea culpa. He does not sound convinced of his own wrong doing:

"... for any words or deeds of mine that may have done so."

"may have done"?

What does that mean?

Does he accept his responsibility for stigmatizing Israel, or doesn't he?

What he is saying, in fact, is "if I caused any damage, I'm sorry". The problem is the "if".

"If" suggests doubt. It means that he, Carter, is not so sure if indeed, words he wrote or said, deeds he committed, caused damage to Israel's good name.

When genuine forgiveness is asked for, the person needs to feel remorse, in order to make amends to those he harmed. Asking for forgiveness means, at least in the Judaic code of ethics, that the supplicant acknowledges, openly, publicly, and fully, his responsibility for having done wrong, having slandered the good name of a person, or a people or a nation.

Carter's formulation does not meet that onus. This is not an apology, not a request for forgiveness. There is no regret and contrition, no understanding of what he has wrought forth, persistently, repeatedly, insistently. This is a prevarication, a public relations stunt, a mockery of the idea of "al het".

"The harm done by speech is worse than the harm done by stealing or by cheating someone financially: money lost can be repaid, but the harm done by speech can never be repaired. For this reason, some sources indicate that there is no forgiveness for lashon ha-ra (disparaging speech). This is probably hyperbole, but it illustrates the seriousness of improper speech.

A Chasidic tale vividly illustrates the danger of improper speech: A man went about the community telling malicious lies about the rabbi. Later, he realized the wrong he had done, and began to feel remorse. He went to the rabbi and begged his forgiveness, saying he would do anything he could to make amends. The rabbi told the man, "Take a feather pillow, cut it open, and scatter the feathers to the winds." The man thought this was a strange request, but it was a simple enough task, and he did it gladly. When he returned to tell the rabbi that he had done it, the rabbi said, "Now, go and gather the feathers. Because you can no more make amends for the damage your words have done than you can recollect the feathers."

Speech has been compared to an arrow: once the words are released, like an arrow, they cannot be recalled, the harm they do cannot be stopped, and the harm they do cannot always be predicted, for words like arrows often go astray." (Judaism 101)

A commenter on Solomonia suggested that his suddenly found conscience is more to do with political calculation than anything else. I would not be surprised.

Update: Camera suggests a test..


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