ATLANTA, Ga. (AP) - Facing continuing controversy over his new book on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, former President Jimmy Carter issued a letter Friday to American Jews explaining his use of the term ''apartheid'' and sympathizing with Israelis who fear terrorism.
In a ''letter to Jewish citizens of America,'' released Friday by The Carter Center, the former president also said that American Christians, not Jews, are responsible for an ''overwhelming bias for Israel'' in American media.
Carter wrote the letter following his meeting Tuesday with a group of rabbis in Phoenix, Ariz. The rabbis said they would not call for a boycott of Carter's book, ''Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,'' but they also would not suggest that anyone read it.
In the letter, Carter said the group's chairman, Rabbi Andrew Straus, ''suggested that I make clear to all American Jews that my use of 'apartheid' does not apply to circumstances within Israel, that I acknowledge the deep concern of Israelis about the threat of terrorism and other acts of violence from some Palestinians, and that the majority of Israelis sincerely want a peaceful existence with their neighbors. The purpose of this letter is to reiterate these points.''
Straus said he was ''very appreciative'' of the letter and believes in Carter's sincerity. However, he still disagrees with the former president's use of apartheid.
''Even though he doesn't mean it in a racial term, to use that term can be nothing less than overly provocative,'' Straus said.
The rabbi also said he would like to see Carter further acknowledge Israel's efforts in achieving peace and fighting terrorism in the Middle East.
Carter's letter asserted that ''apartheid in Palestine is not based on racism but the desire of a minority of Israelis for Palestinian land and the resulting suppression of protests that involve violence.'' He called it ''contrary to the tenets of the Jewish faith and the basic principles of the nation of Israel.''
The former president also said, ''I have never claimed that American Jews control the news media, but reiterated that the overwhelming bias for Israel comes from among Christians like me who have been taught since childhood to honor and protect God's chosen people from among whom came our own savior, Jesus Christ.''
He went on to say the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has a ''powerful influence'' in American politics to the extent that, ''There are no significant countervailing voices.''
Carter added that he knows of ''the extreme acts of violence that have been perpetrated against innocent civilians,'' in Israel, and understands Israelis' fear of terrorism.
''I reiterated my strong condemnation of any such acts of terrorism,'' he said.
Carter's book follows the peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians during his presidency in 1977-1980. He's critical of all players in not reaching a better accord, but he's especially critical of the Israelis. He previously told The Associated Press that Americans are rarely exposed to anything other than pro-Israeli views in the news media.
Simon & Schuster said the book is in fourth printing, with 395,000 copies in print. Most of Carter's books have been best sellers. The latest is on The New York Times best seller list.