WASHINGTON (JTA) – Former President Jimmy Carter, who has garnered much criticism in recent years for his harsh words about Israel, will address the Democratic National Convention in prime time.
The Democratic National Convention Committee and Obama for America announced that Carter will speak Sept. 4 via video on the second day of the convention in Charlotte, N.C. .
“President Carter is one of the greatest humanitarian leaders of our time and a champion of democracy around the globe,” said convention chair Antonio Villaraigosa, who also called the former president “a lifelong champion of human rights and investments in education and energy." He said that Carter “will provide unique insight” for economic recovery.
Abraham Foxman, national director of Anti-Defamation League, sharply criticized the invitation.
“I wish he wouldn’t [speak]," Foxman said. "I don’t think the convention should provide a platform for someone with such a biased obsession with Israel that borders on anti-Semitism.”
“I know it’s very difficult for any political party to deny a platform" to living former presidents, Foxman said, adding he hoped Carter’s speech would not be aired during any discussion about the Middle East or foreign policy.
David Harris, the president of the National Jewish Democratic Council, which in the past has been critical of Carter’s Middle East pronouncements, told JTA he was "confident" Carter would not speak about the region at the convention.
“Whether it’s Israel in particular or the Middle East in general, President Carter’s analysis has been consistently wrong, and harmful to the peace process to boot," Harris said. "I’m confident that he won’t be speaking about Middle East policy at the Democratic Convention; today’s Democratic Party leaders — including one of the most pro-Israel presidents in U.S. history, President Obama — are best suited to that task."
Republican Jewish Coalition director Matt Brooks said the decision showed how "out of touch" the Democrats had become. "Giving a platform to someone who has been openly hostile to Israel and equated the country to the South African apartheid regime is offensive," Brooks said in an email.
Prime-time speakers at the convention include first lady Michelle Obama and keynote speaker San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who will also speak on Sept. 4 at Time Warner Cable Arena. Former President Bill Clinton and U.S. Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren will deliver their remarks on Sept. 5 at the arena. Both President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden will deliver their acceptance speeches on the final night of the convention, Sept. 6, at Bank of America Stadium.
Carter, in the statement from the convention organizers announcing his speaking tour, expressed his regrets at not being able to attend.
He said he and his wife Rosalynn "remain steadfast in our support for President Obama and the progress he will make in the next four years."
Carter, who was president from 1977 to 1981, appeared but did not speak at the 2008 Democratic convention.