Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was supposed to be feted on U.S. campuses this week. Instead, he’s in Israel, waiting to be sentenced after being convicted of corruption.
The man who prosecuted Israel’s devastating 2008-09 assault on Gaza was convicted of taking bribes on March 31st. While mayor of Jerusalem, Olmert took $160,000 in cash to speed along the building of the Holyland housing estate. The Israeli judge castigated Olmert for lying in court about the bribery.
The conviction threw a big wrench in Olmert’s travel plans. He’s not allowed to leave the country, and he faces up to 10 years in prison.
The former prime minister will miss out on the Jerusalem Post‘s big annual confab in New York City, where he was booed last year for arguing in favor of a Palestinian state. And his tour on college campuses, sponsored by the Jewish National Fund (JNF), has also been nixed.
Olmert’s talk on college campuses was to be focused on Israeli democracy. “Our goal is to reach a diverse population at each of these campuses and for thousands of students to hear a Positively Israel message of how Israel is helping to make the world a better place through the unique viewpoint of a prime minister,” the JNF’s Mara Suskauer told the Jewish Press.
His tour would have hit Texas A&M; Cornell; the University of Pennsylvania; and the University of Michigan, where protests of Olmert were being organized. The Michigan Daily‘s Allana Akhtar reported that “graduate students delivered a petition to the University questioning the decision to invite an allegedly corrupt politician to speak and criticizing the nature of his scheduled lecture.”
The University of Michigan appearance would likely have provoked outside protests, particularly from residents of Dearborn, Michigan. The large Arab population of the Michigan city includes many people from South Lebanon, which bore the brunt of Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon, when Olmert was prime minister. More than 1,000 Lebanese died during the fighting, the vast majority of them civilians.
In October 2009, an Olmert lecture at the University of Chicago was repeatedly disrupted by activists who drew attention to Olmert’s role in Operation Cast Lead, the name given to the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2008-09. About 1,400 people in Gaza were killed during the operation, most of them civilians.