Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Olmert Raises Eyebrows, Passions in New York

May 1, 2012 9:00 am 1 comment

Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert speaks at Sunday's Jerusalem Post Conference in New York. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

NEW YORK—Ehud Olmert or Neville Chamberlain?

The former Israeli prime minister told the crowd at Sunday’s Jerusalem Post Conference in New York City that he didn’t “want to walk into a minefield,” but that didn’t stop one audience member from comparing him to the British prime minister known for the infamous signing of the 1938 Munich Agreement with Adolf Hitler.

With his arms flailing more violently as the boos intensified throughout his speech, Olmert’s provocative remarks included a contention that Israel shouldn’t need to gain recognition as a Jewish state from the Palestinian state during peace negotiations.

Olmert deemed it too easy to “throw the ball to the other side” by demanding such recognition, calling that an excuse for the failure of the peace process. He said that Israel needs to see the process “with the other side” and compromise, adding that, “This is certainly what doesn’t happen now.”

“It is the interest of Israel to make peace, and if it is the interest of Israel, we have to be the initiators,” Olmert said.

“We are looking for excuses for why we don’t want to do this or that,” he said.

Perhaps the most vocal critic of Olmert in the audience, Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) activist Dr. Alan Mazurek, interrupted him by yelling “go home” in Hebrew. Olmert noticed, and responded, “I went home. I just wonder whether those who replaced me are making the right decisions.”

Mazurek told JointMedia News Service, “I couldn’t contain myself, and I had to speak up.”

“I thought that one can have differences of opinion about the way one should handle the problems that Israel faces, but one can’t have differences of opinion about the facts,” Mazurek said.

Olmert said Israel should not engage in a peace process that includes “lip service” and the repetition of “empty slogans,” a statement representing one of what Mazurek called Olmert’s “thinly-veiled attacks” on Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

The former prime minister also posed the question of whether having a neighborhood such as Abu Dis in Jerusalem is “worth the energy” of Jews who fight for it, asking “Is it that part of Jerusalem that Jews were praying for, for 2,000 years?”

Israeli Minister of Environmental Protection Gilad Erdan speaks at Sunday Jerusalem Post Conference, where he responded to former prime minister Ehud Olmert's remarks. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

Currently, Abu Dis is under joint Israeli-Palestinian control, meaning that Olmert’s statement “clearly called for the division of Jerusalem,” according to Mazurek.

“This is part of Jerusalem,” Mazurek said. “If you’re going to negotiate, you don’t negotiate in advance, you negotiate at negotiations. You don’t give up unilaterally part of the holy city of Jerusalem.”

On Iran, Olmert laid out a three-part question: “What needs to be done? Who should do it? When should it be done?” He said the Iranian nuclear threat is primarily the responsibility of the international community—led by the U.S., not Israel.

Israel’s conversations with the U.S. and the international community on Iran should be conducted with “quieter tones,” Olmert said, consisting of sharing concerns privately rather than being seen as “giving orders” to a “powerful friend” like America. “A nation has the right to determine what it should do to defend itself,” he said, but can’t act irrespective of the policies of other countries.

There is enough time to try “different avenues of pressure” on Iran without a direct military confrontation, Olmert said, echoing recent statements by U.S. President Barack Obama. On the topic of Obama, Olmert added that Israel should respect him and “not fight with him.”

Israeli Minister of Environmental Protection Gilad Erdan, whose speech followed Olmert’s, countered that Israel “must always be masters of our own destiny” and that the only way to stop Iran is to make the country believe that the “military option is on the table, and we aren’t just talking.”

While Olmert said Israel should “avoid unnecessary struggles, and try to focus on the heart of the matter” with the Palestinians, Erdan said the heart of the matter is specifically what Olmert de-emphasized.

“The conflict with the Palestinians won’t be solved only with a pencil line drawn on a map,” Erdan said. “Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel is the heart of the conflict.” Responding to Olmert’s statement against using “slogans,” Erdan said, “We must repeat slogans again and again and again, even if the international community doesn’t hear our truths.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon also gave his take on the peace process during remarks to the audience, saying that Israel has mistakenly allowed the Palestinian narrative to garner too much attention over the years.

“Israel was not established 64 years ago,” Ayalon said. “It was established 4,000 years ago.” Israeli governments, both on the left and the right, have been lax in pointing that out, he said.

For peace to materialize, Israel needs to see the Palestinian Authority teach peace and recognition, but now all the PA teaches is “that all the land is theirs, that we are crusaders,” Ayalon said.

When it comes to Iran, there is “no half-pregnancy,” Ayalon said, meaning the regime should not be allowed to enrich any uranium whatsoever.

Asked during a panel discussion later on Sunday about what lessons he learned after Mahmoud Abbas rejected his offer of virtually all of the West Bank and part of Jerusalem in 2008, Olmert said he is “not judging Abu Mazen” and will not specifically blame either Israel or the Palestinians for the failure of the peace process. Israeli ministers, Olmert added, discouraged Abbas from accepting its peace plan.

Columnist Isi Leibler, former head of the Australian Jewish community, said during a different panel discussion that it was unfortunate to see Olmert use “everything in the book” to be divisive at the conference and criticize the Israeli government to the extent that he did.

“There’s a lot we have to learn about a certain amount of restraint and dignity,” Leibler said.

1 Comment

  • Mort Scharfman

    Does a Jew live today other than Olmert, who doesn’t understand that by not recognizing Israel as a Jewish
    State a Palestinian one could justify , however speciously, a state of war(cold politically,hot terroristically) with Israel on the same old
    pretext that it is merely reclaiming its own homeland from an illigitimate usurper?

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.

Current day month ye@r *


  • Arts and Culture Features Opinion Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Playwrite Iddo Netanyahu: ‘Hitler Always Talked About Peace’ (INTERVIEW)

    Late Friday night, on November 13, I was headed for bed when an ominous news bulletin flashed across my computer screen – something about a shooting in Paris. It wasn’t long before the “small number” of shootings and casualties began to double and triple and quadruple. The locations of attacks seemed crazily disorganized, and the tweets and videos became more and more horrifying. It was a long night for many stunned observers. We tried to understand what was happening, and […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Theater BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    BDS Gives Belgian-Jewish Actress New Lease on Life in Tel Aviv

    In an interview with the Israeli site nrg on Wednesday, Belgian-Jewish stage actress Noemi Schlosser recounted immigrating to Israel after her career in Europe was destroyed by BDS. Schlosser said she had enjoyed success in Belgium and international acclaim until she was targeted by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for her pro-Israel stance during Operation Protective Edge — last summer’s war against Hamas in Gaza. She described watching the theaters where she performed go from packed to nearly empty over a short period of […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    In Israel for Champions League Soccer Match, Chelsea Manager Says Team Not Worried About Security Situation

    The manager of the Chelsea Football Club said on Monday that he is looking forward to playing in Israel this week against Maccabi Tel Aviv, in spite of the security situation, Israeli news site nrg reported. Jose Murinho, who is already in Israel with his team to compete against Maccabi in the Champions League soccer match, was  asked whether he was worried about the current wave of Palestinian violence sweeping the country. “I have no worries at all regarding the security situation, and neither do […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Opinion In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    In the Middle East, ‘The Tail Wags the Dog’ (REVIEW)

    Blaming the West has become the most pervasive method of teaching for many Middle East studies departments, which are becoming the heart of pop-culture academia. Efraim Karsh, a distinguished professor of Middle Eastern studies at Bar-Ilan University and professor emeritus at King’s College London, in his latest book The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East, dispels this myth. “Britain’s ‘original sin,’ if such was indeed committed, lay not in the breaking up of Middle Eastern unity but […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About

    With Popularity and Sales up, ‘Mensch on a Bench’ Has Much to Smile About – The Mensch on a Bench is so much happier now than he was a year ago. Look carefully and you will notice that, whereas the previous Mensch had a decidedly worried look, this latest version of the popular Hanukkah toy is flashing an exuberant grin. Is the erstwhile Mensch smiling because he expects to be in some 100,000 homes by year’s end? In truth, the change in visage was suggested last year by the “sharks” on ABC’s Shark Tank […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Adam Sandler Updates Famous ‘Chanukah Song,’ Includes Hulk Hogan, David Beckham and Scarlett Johansson in Latest Version

    Actor Adam Sandler unveiled a new version of his famous “Chanukah Song” on Saturday, adding a slew of Jewish celebrities to the ditty’s updated lyrics. The comedian — who released the original song about being Jewish during Christmas in 1996 — performed the latest version of the comedic track during the New York Comedy Festival at Carnegie Hall. Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, actor Jake Gyllenhaal and “the two guys who founded Google” are among the famous Jewish celebrities now in the line up. Sandler also included lyrics about Star Wars‘ Princess […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

    Famed Israeli Violinist Itzhak Perlman to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom – Famed Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman will be among the 17 recipients of America’s Presidential Medal of Freedom next week. He is the fourth Israeli to receive the highest civilian honor in the US. “A native of Israel, he came to the United States at a young age and was introduced to Americans broadly when he appeared on the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’ in 1958. Mr. Perlman made his Carnegie Hall debut in 1963 when he was 18,” a White House […]

    Read more →
  • Features Spirituality/Tradition Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots

    Don’t Think Israel is a Luxury Destination? Check Out These 6 Spots – While Israel is a common destination for cultural and religious pilgrimages, travelers seeking the best hotels, fine dining, and upscale relaxation less often find themselves in the Holy Land. Yet in recent years, the country’s burgeoning tech scene has attracted a business crowd accustomed to ritzy accommodation. Besides, the permanent summer of Tel Aviv and Eilat makes them prime destinations for European vacationers. Israel’s populace managed to tame the swamps and irrigate the desert — so going luxury should […]

    Read more →