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 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.
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