D.C.-based activists disrupted a speech by former Israeli Primer Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday, pointing to Olmert’s role in authorizing the 2008-2009 invasion of Gaza that left 1,400 people dead, including hundreds of women and children.
Olmert had been invited to speak at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., a recognized think tank emphasizing research and dialogue in national and foreign policy. A lone panelist, Olmert was asked to share his opinion on Syria’s civil war, Israel’s heightened tension with Iran, the Arab Spring, and the future of Israel-Palestine relations.
Throughout his lecture, community and student activists stood up and walked out, revealing facts, statistics, and personal experiences relating to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
Olmert attempted to dismiss the disruptions in a few cases by jokingly praising democracy at work. In one specific case, although the audio isn’t entirely audible, it appears as though he questioned one activist’s declared identity as Palestinian.
In another instance, a woman in red attempted to forcefully remove an activist from the audience. Whether or not she is an employee of the Wilson Center remains unconfirmed.
After learning of Olmert’s invitation, local activists gathered to draw up plans that would bring attention to his long history of violating Palestinian rights. Lena Ibrahim, a student a Palestinian student based in D.C., says the point of the protest was to remind Olmert and his supporters that Palestinians won’t be silenced.
“It was really important for us to make it clear to Ehud Olmert and the Woodrow Wilson Center that we would not allow a criminal to be honored in a way that deliberately normalizes and denies his crimes,” she said, referencing Olmert’s indictment on several counts of corruption as well as the overwhelming evidence of war crimes committed under his oversight in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.
Olmert faced the same kind of disruption at the University of Chicago in late 2009 where he was invited to speak about peace and responsibility.
Coincidentally, the Wilson Center’s webpage quotes Woodraw Wilson as having said that “[w]e are not put into the world to sit still and know, we are put in it to act”. That is exactly what these activists did.