Video: Former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert called “war criminal” in heart of Washington establishment

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was publicly denounced as a “war criminal” by students who interrupted a 4 June speech he gave at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC.

The goal was “to challenge Olmert and interrupt the Wilson Center’s complicity with the ongoing normalization of Israeli occupation, settler colonialism, and apartheid,” George Mason University Students Against Israeli Apartheid, which led the protest, explained in a statement to The Electronic Intifada.

The action is reminiscent of 2009 protests in which Olmert’s speeches were publicly interrupted at The University of Chicago and in San Francisco, among other venues.

“War criminal”

The video shows several students standing up and challenging Olmert before walking out. Among some of their statements:

“I’m appalled that the Wilson Center would host a war criminal such as yourself.”

“To hell with you and your occupation. Free my people and free Palestine. We will never be silenced.”

“You’re wanted in several countries.”

“You’re a murderer.”

“Shame on Woodrow Wilson for inviting a war criminal. This is disgusting.”

“1400 people were killed in Operation Cast Lead. My former partner was there. It was her job to collect the bodies. She was working for the American Red Cross.”

The woman who made the last statement was was physically assaulted and forced to toward the back of the room, video shows.

Olmert tried to laugh off the protests saying, “Americans are allowed to protests so it’s alright. We have some Israelis who do it the same way.”

He did not mention, however, that under Israeli military occupation, Palestinians have no right to protest and are frequently jailed, injured or killed by Israeli forces for attempting to do so.

Olmert also quipped, “These people say I am a war criminal. For many Israelis this may restore some of my reputation,” an indicator of how extreme Olmert and Israeli public opinion are.

Double standards

At one point, Woodrow Wilson CEO and former Congresswoman Jane Harman, notorious for her close ties to and possible unethical dealings with the Israel lobby, AIPAC, declared, “The Wilson Center is proud of inviting people to express a broad cross section of views as President and CEO of the Wilson Center.”

Harman’s statement is utterly disingenuous. While the Wilson Center routinely welcomes Israeli war criminals and military leaders, there appears to be no record of it holding, say, a public forum even by video conference with leaders of Hamas or Hizballah, two of the main military resistance groups that were among the targets (along with civilian infrastructure and noncombatants) of Olmert’s war on Lebanon in 2006, and frequent attacks on Palestinians throughout his time in office, including “Cast Lead.”

Surely a commitment to balance and hearing all viewpoints would require that these other voices be heard.

Statement from GMU Students Against Israeli Apartheid

On 4 June, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited Washington, DC’s Woodrow Wilson Center to offer a so-called “moderate” perspective on Middle East affairs and the Palestinian-Israeli impasse. A DC area coalition of Palestinian justice activists, led by George Mason University Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA), were there to challenge Olmert and interrupt the Wilson Center’s complicity with the ongoing normalization of Israeli occupation, settler colonialism, and apartheid. Making clear that no Zionist presence is welcome in the DC metropolitan area, throughout the event activists interrupted Olmert, discrediting the supposed “peace plan” he has been parading around as a viable solution.

Far from the generous offer Olmert would have the Wilson Center audience take it for, Olmert’s two state plan is a Zionist strategy that frames Palestinians as “against peace” for rejecting it. As activists in the audience insisted, a plan which refuses rights of refugees, maintains occupation, and keeps in place the Wall and the apartheid system it reinforces, offers no peace at all.

At one point during the disruptions, Jane Harman, CEO of the Wilson Center and former member of Congress, presented for the audience what passes for the “common sense” perspective of a peaceful and just solution to the conflict. The hegemonic rationale grounding a two-state solution permeates nearly every discussion of Palestine in the United States. This view is presented as the moderate, reasonable position for peace and justice. Meanwhile, Olmert justifies his aggressive advocacy for a two- state solution out of fear that the Palestinians will soon demand their fundamental human rights under a one state solution.

As members of SAIA, we represent a growing international movement to deconstruct and undermine this false rationale of a just solution in a Palestinian state alongside a Zionist, Israeli state. The two state solution is not only exclusionary, racist and anti-democratic, but moreover, structurally impossible. The territories designated for a future Palestinian state have been sliced, diced, and carved up over decades of Israeli military encroachment, followed by the on-going construction of illegal settlements. With little-to-no control over water, trade, transportation, or governance, the vision of a Palestinian state is merely a fabrication propagated by Israeli hawks to buy more time for further encroachment. It is in this spirit that we claim that the only just solution to the Israeli occupation is a democratic, one state solution led by the three tenets of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign:

  • (1) Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall;
  • (2) Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
  • (3) Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.

It is appalling that the Wilson Center would host a war criminal of Olmert’s caliber. It is less surprising that Olmert would jump at the invitation since opportunities to speak must be shrinking, as nations across Europe revoke Olmert’s diplomatic immunity, leaving him susceptible to arrest and prosecution for his violations of international law.

GMU Students Against Israeli Apartheid

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Comments

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It would have been more interesting to engage him in a debate rather than name-calling. I would like to challenge people on their beliefs and find the truth, rather than stop the debate in its tracks as these protesters did. Aside from embarrassing themselves, I'm not sure if they accomplished much. I would assume in a school such as that, and in that lecture, most people would be informed about both sides of the arguments. So they were not raising awareness, just engaging in self-humiliation. If I say to someone 'hey, I think you commited an international crime, and this is why' it gets people thinking, 'if i say hey you war criminal, go to hell' I'm casting myself in a bad light.

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It's hard to imagine they would have been any more receptive of debate than heckling.

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Of course a debate would be nice but I seriously doubt that the powers that be at the Wilson Centre would allow a debate to take place if it was to seriously undermine olmert's lies and propaganda.

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You fight the battle with the tools available. Disruption is a tool! Open debates about Israel and charges of war crimes are very rare in this country. There are arrest warrants for the former prime minister as there are for Bush. Will they ever be served?

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In answer to your question. No they will never be served. Judges are empowered by governments to handle specifics of implementations of laws. Going after major figures whether they Prime Ministers or former Presidents by a foreign power are acts of extreme importance that can lead to war.

When Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie of Hohenberg were killed not only were all the people remotely involved either imprison or killed but it led quickly to the declaration of war against Serbia and then to World War I. The idea that some nobody judge has the right to issue an arrest warrant that could quickly escalate into the death of millions is ludicrous.

What George Bush did in Iraq was done with the full consent of the United States Congress after a public debate that took months had the strong support of the people of the United States and continued to have majority support until 2005. The punishment for Iraq was $1-3t wasted and the economic damage to the people of the United States.

Tony Blair there have been several inquests. The Liberal Party fully understood, as did everyone that George Bush intention was to go to war. When they voted to allocate troops to Iraq they voted for war with Iraq. They knew it, and any trial would show they knew just as the inquests show. The British left has to come to terms with the fact that the British government and the British people do not support the UN's position on non aggression.

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Mr. Abunima,
I am grateful for your courageous work. I admire your articulate presentation. I try to do the best that I can with regards to the Israeli Occupation. Palestine, Gaza, West Bank. Also what has been perpetrated in Lebanon, etc, I am Alice Walker's travel partner. Aid, assistant, and partner. We both admire you grately. We have some common acquaintances. Let us keep our shoulder to the wheel while remembering the importance of rest and good health. Carry on dear, dear brother.
Your Compañero,
~ Kaleo ~
.,/\,. (two hands touching in salutaion)

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As a GMU alumnus (1975) I want to express my pride in the actions of the students to expose Israeli crimes and WWC's complicity. Keep up the good work!

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.