Ehud Olmer Speaks at UK

[Archived from October 23, 2009]

On Wednesday, October 14, a couple of dozen members of Louisville’s Jewish community braved the cold, drizzly weather and made the trip to hear a lecture in the Otis A. Singletary Center for the Arts at the University of Kentucky by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The event was sponsored by the university to expose its student to important world affairs. A companion event featuring a speaker who will present the Palestinian perspective is scheduled later in the year.

The lecture drew a diverse audience of around 1,300 people from across the state, including Gov. Steve Beshear, a number of members of the Kentucky legislature, a sizeable contingent of Christian Zionists (including many from Louisville) and many others.

Despite tight security, there were a number of pro-Palestinian hecklers in the audience, the loudest of whom were escorted out of the hall. There was also a group of approximately 150 anti-Israel protesters outside the building.

After UK President Lee Todd introduced Olmert, the former prime minister was passionate and eloquent, particularly when he described the pain that the IDF always takes to minimize civilian casualties, contrary to Israel’s portrayal in the Goldstone Report on the Gaza war.

Olmert pointed out that Hamas takes actions that maximize civilian exposure. They launch their attacks from behind civilians, Olmert said, and they warehouse arms and ammunitions in mosques and hospitals. Then they complain to the world that Israel is guilty of committing war crimes. Hamas’ tactics and accusations are not legitimate.

The former prime minister was unflappable while he was faced with numerous hecklers who are passionately anti-Israel. He told the audience not to be upset, that Israelis live with much worse every day.

Olmert fielded many questions during an extended question and answer period. Many of the questions, submitted in writing, were quite pointed.

When asked if Israel would agree to inspections of its nuclear facilities or would engage in nuclear non-proliferation talks, he answered that he could not agree to inspections of something that Israel had never admitted to having in the first place.

He congratulated President Obama for winning the Nobel Prize for Peace and joked, “He’s never signed a peace agreement or accord that I know of.”  Olmert thinks that President Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize is a great honor but it puts him under tremendous pressure to deliver results very quickly, which is not often possible in our complex world.

He described Palestinian President Abbas as a decent, well-meaning person who simply doesn’t get much support from his Palestinian constituents.

The University of Kentucky and the Jewish Federation of Lexington sponsored a well-attended catered reception after the lecture, at which Gov. Beshear made Olmert a Kentucky Colonel, and Linda Ravvin, the president of the Lexington Federation, presented him a copy of Lee Shai Weissbach’s book, The Synagogues of Kentucky.

Jewish Community of Louisville’s Community Relations Council Chair Helene Kramer and CRC member Leon Wahba provided the information for this story.

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