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Activism

Waiting for Olmert

Israeli war criminal Ehud Olmert was to deliver a speech at the University of Chicago, but was met by protesters who shut down his hate-filled speech.  Electronic Intifada caught the protest, which it helped organize:

I am sure many will argue the former Israeli prime minister’s free speech rights were violated. This tends to be the mindless, reactionary position, and is not morally defensible.

Of course, holocaust-deniers and Al-Qaeda supporters should and would not be invited to deliver a speech, so why would the university welcome a violent leader who oversaw the senseless killing of thousands of Palestinians and Lebanese, the littering of South Lebanon with cluster bombs, the collective punishment of Gaza through a crushing siege? The same holocaust-deniers and Al-Qaeda supporters who would not be invited to speak on moral grounds have much less actual blood on their hands. So what is the moral standard here? I agree they should not be welcome, but their ultimate crimes are ideological, while Olmert’s are ideological (Zionist-apartheid) and actual (war crimes and crimes against humanity).

That he would be invited to speak on American university campuses after the Goldstone report’s damning findings shocks the conscience.

Also, there is the obvious counter-argument that the protesters have free speech rights as well. I applaud them exercising it. For too long, Palestinian-Americans have been too afraid to protest like this and disrupt such events.  We need more of this, especially as the norm-enforcing institutions of high-learning and similarly-situated elites have completely failed to bring any sense into this issue — continuing to treat Israel and its leaders as a normal and respectable, and beyond boycott.

As Gaza is quarantined and Palestinian “leadership” is come to be seen as even more in the pocket of oppressive powers, we the people will have to take to activism to bring about the real change promised last year through the mindless incantation of the Obama campaign slogans. And no charade of a peace process should stop us.

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Discussion

16 Responses to “Waiting for Olmert”

  1. Olmert's invitation can be reviled because of his culpability in the Gaza war, for which credible institutions have found evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity. However it is baffling, indeed even suspicious, that Olmert would be invited by a public policy institute when he has been indicted on corruption charges in his very own country. This is an Israeli politician that was forced out of leadership by his own people because of these indictments and yet the Israeli foreign ministry establishment still finds him suitable for foreign audiences. He is on the lecture circuit in the United States, but he has little credibility as a leader in Israel and what amounts to moral criminality when it comes to his role in the region at large.

    Posted by yaman | October 19, 2009, 8:49 pm
  2. its amazing the work uofc students as well as students city-wide did to organize this protest. im curious though as to why there wasnt much protest of a similar nature when livni came to yale.
    the students at uni of kentucky as well as tulane held it down too.

    Posted by Go Chicago! | October 19, 2009, 9:15 pm
  3. Will, I understand your outrage that this villain should be invited to speak anywhere, but I don't think your argument in favor of the disrupters is sound.

    First of all, I reject the premise that Al-Qaeda guys or holocaust deniers should not speak. I agree that they would not likely be invited, but why do you take it as axiomatic that they should not be? Let a hundred flowers bloom, even when some might be weeds.

    Second, I don't see shouting down a speaker as the exercise of one's free speech rights. How do you come to this conclusion?

    I would welcome Olmert's arrest as a war criminal, which he surely is. But your explicit standard, that those with blood on their hands should never be invited or allowed to speak is worrisome. How far do you go? Should Clinton, the author of untold iraqi deaths subsequent to his relentless bombing of infrastructure there, get the same treatment? How about Gore, who was at his right hand. Obama? Ask the Gazans who watched his silence during Cast Lead, or the Afghanis killed on his instructions.

    You need to do better than simply announce that any position but yours is mindless, reactionary and morally indefensible. I'm not convinced by your argument, although I agree that it's outrageous that this scumbag is walking around in my country free.

    And your point that his own people booted him out but we treat him as a statesman is spot on.

    Posted by Ismail | October 21, 2009, 1:44 pm
    • Ismail,

      I will address each of your excellent criticisms:

      1) I tend to agree with absolute free speech ideals such as your's but have accepted the fact that certain speakers are off-limits when it comes to university-sponsored events. I accept that Zawahiri and David Irving would be sponsored by a university as respectable speakers, the moral standard being that their views are marginal. They are marginal because the inflict suffering on others and deny the suffering of others. If that is the standard, then, let's apply it universally. It would cover Olmert and Clinton, just the same. Universities should not sponsor as speakers people eho have done so much wrong.

      2) When a university invites a speaker, it privileges their speech, especially if there is no allowance for audiences to have a chance to talk back, question or protest within the event. In such a situation, there is no free speech for anyone but the speaker. Disruption is civil disobedience, it is the right of Palestinians — and anyone — who are directly victimized by the speakers to assert their own speech rights. Disruptions are not actual silencing, but are de-legimizations, are critical footnotes, are part of what truly dialogic and free speech situations should be like. Think of the British parliament in session: Olmert had the floor, and protesters jeers sent a clear message that he was being opposed.

      3) My analysis does not say everyone like Olmert should get the same treatment — i.e. disruptions — but that protesters have a right to give the same treatment. I sat through a nauseating and condescending speech by Bill Clinton and the ADC convention. All I could think about was his butchery of Iraqis. That did not morally bind me to disrupt, though some argue it would, but it certainly would make me defend anyone who did.

      4) A final point is that when the powerless challenge the powerful, there will always be a double standard inflicted upon the powerless, and it will always resemble a certain etiquette about how to protest properly. These rules are webs that only capture the powerless. Our disruptions of their speakers are slim compared to the actual exclusions of various scholars and speakers, i.e. Norm Finkelstein at nearby DePaul. That was a systematic silencing but was civil and fair by the absolute free speech ideal you espouse. The powerful use lobbyists and paid organizers to silence, yet it is not 'disruptive' and all seen as fair play. I think we need a moral universality about speech freedoms that account for the whole picture, the total power discrepancies and socio-economic biases of free speech and protest.

      That Olmert has a high level of access and privilege means that his speech is much more free than any of our's. Disruptions do not compensate for the imbalance, but they are a step in that direction — more important than the boring instrumental argument, civil disobedience is a moral right.

      Will

      Posted by KABOBfestWill | October 25, 2009, 9:57 pm
  4. "but was met by protesters who shut down his hate-filled speech"

    No they didn't, they just frequently interrupted him.

    The first sentence of the article you linked said they only "disrupted" his lecture.

    Your lack of reading comprehension also shocks the conscience. Anyway, what's sad is that this behavior does not help Palestinians one bit, yet it's touted as a major "victory" by "activists."

    Depressing.

    Posted by whoops | October 22, 2009, 12:40 am
    • whoops,

      Please be serious when you comment. Your attempt at semantic games is childish and leaves me with the impression you are in over your head arguing here.

      Will

      Posted by KABOBfestWill | October 26, 2009, 1:58 am
      • wow.

        you mischaracterize what happened in a fundamental way, and when that's pointed out, you label it "semantic" and "childish." even someone who protested at the event posted and said he didn't shut olmert down. whatever.

        crazy.

        your "impression" is even crazier.

        if by "in over your head" you mean not slavishly accepting everything you write even when your own link contradicts your characterization, then i guess so.

        classic.

        Posted by whoops | October 26, 2009, 10:09 pm
  5. As someone who was one of the "disrupters" let me say that i think the idea that we should listen to a war criminal is heinous. The University had no right to give a platform to a known international law violator. If the speaker was Milosevic, I would do the very same thing.

    We were also, however, protesting the censored nature of the speech. No one was allowed to FREELY ask a question, but were instead told that they would be pre-screened from index cards. So there was no way this was befitting of a University that keeps priding itself in "free inquiry" and the "life of the mind."

    If the University actually cared about "free speech" and being "neutral" then it would have invited the democratically elected Ismail Haniyeh to speak as well. HA.

    Posted by Waltzing with Olmert | October 22, 2009, 1:40 am
  6. "then it would have invited the democratically elected Ismail Haniyeh to speak as well"

    fair enough, but just curious…

    if haniyeh was, in fact, invited – would you have "disrupted" him? the goldstone report accused hamas of international war crimes as well – so haniyeh fits your description of both Milosevic and Olmert.

    and would you have protested further if his questions were pre-screened?

    by the way, by certain interpretations, president obama is a "known international law violator" (drone strikes in afghanistan/pakistan, guantanamo still open, bagram prison and other black sites even worse than guantanamo and he's not even trying to close them – he's resisting attempts, etc…)

    would you protest him?

    anyway, i do find it interesting that the idea of listening to Olmert is "heinous" on the grounds that he is a war criminal – but Haniyeh (also a war criminal according to the goldstone report) should be given a platform.

    Ismail has the best ideas here.

    Posted by whoops | October 22, 2009, 2:21 am
  7. Glad to see that plug for boycott!
    It's long past due.

    Posted by Lick Your Wounds | October 22, 2009, 6:12 pm
  8. lol @ that picture of Olmert!

    Posted by eagle007blogger | October 22, 2009, 9:33 pm
  9. Isn't shouting down someone and preventing them from speaking actually denying that person free speech?

    And I agree with the idea that this behavior, touted as some sort of big win, actually just makes these hoodlums look bad.

    For too long, Palestinian-Americans have been too afraid to protest like this and disrupt such events.

    Disrupting events just shows these people to be hoodlums.

    And no charade of a peace process should stop us.

    That attitude is actually pretty pathetic, and sad to see. But it's the attitude that has been driving this thing for so long. The Palestinians probably thought that the Munich Olympics idea was a good idea before they did it.

    Posted by eagle007blogger | October 26, 2009, 5:50 am
  10. Hilarious!

    Have you ever seen THIS? (it gets bigger if u click it)

    Posted by eagle007blogger | October 26, 2009, 5:56 am
  11. Ehud Olmert is a war criminal? Let me get this straight – Israel has the right to defend itself and to try and stop rockets attacks… but they just have to follow the rules of war better?

    They should allow Hamas' use of civilian cover to be more effective, right? And they should be limited in their ability to return fire, right? If Hamas attacks from a school, as they did, the Israelis should under no circumstance try to neutralize the threat? The terrorists should just be tolerated, like naughty children?

    Posted by eagle007blogger | October 26, 2009, 6:24 am
  12. Ehud Olmert is a war criminal? Let me get this straight – Israel has the right to defend itself and to try and stop rockets attacks… but they just have to follow the rules of war better?

    They should allow Hamas' use of civilian cover to be more effective, right? And they should be limited in their ability to return fire, right? If Hamas attacks from a school, as they did, the Israelis should under no circumstance try to neutralize the threat? The terrorists should just be tolerated, like naughty children?

    Posted by eagle007blogger | October 26, 2009, 6:24 am
  13. Of course, holocaust-deniers and Al-Qaeda supporters should and would not be invited to deliver a speech

    I guess you forgot about Madman Dinnerjacket speaking at the U.N. ? A speech which you praised?

    Posted by eagle007blogger | October 26, 2009, 6:47 am

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