[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/06/03/art.carter.gi.jpg caption=" Jimmy Carter's comments on Israel over the years have proven controversial."]
(CNN) – Former President Jimmy Carter – whose comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have drawn criticism from many Jewish leaders over the years - has written an open letter asking the Jewish community for forgiveness
"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," Carter wrote in a letter provided to Jewish news service JTA. "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."
In Hebrew, "Al Het" is a plea for forgiveness. Traditionally, the term referred to the prayer offered on Yom Kippur asking God to forgive any sins committed against Him.
Carter’s book “Palestine: Peace not Apartheid” drew criticism from some in the Jewish community for language that seemed to place most of the blame for the continued Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Israel, and to compare the country’s settlement activities with South Africa’s historic apartheid policy.
In a JTA interview, the former president dismissed charges that the letter was released to coincide with his grandson Jason Carter’s prospective plan to enter politics.
The younger Carter is reportedly weighing a bid for the Georgia state Senate, to fill a seat that would open if incumbent David Adelman is confirmed as the new U.S. ambassador to Singapore.
"Jason has a district, the number of Jewish voters in it is only 2 percent," said the former president.
The title of his controversial book was not an assessment of the current situation, said Carter. It was, rather, his view of what might happen in the future if Israel’s policies were not altered. “I never intended or wanted to stigmatize the nation of Israel, even though I have disagreed with the settlement policy all the way back to the White House," he noted.