Olmert speaks at JMU Brother of Israeli prime minister lectured Monday

This is a republication of an original article written by Mary Frances Czarsty in the Breeze on Thursday, November 16, 2006.

Wherever Yossi Olmert goes, security is tight.

“When I went to Atlanta last month, they insisted I travel with 50 policemen and dogs,” he said. “Do I look so bad to you?” he asked at the start of his speech Monday night, hosted by the Caravan for Democracy in Taylor.

The author of three books and frequent lecturer on college campuses, Olmert is considered by many to be an expert on the Middle East, Islamic militants, terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We wanted him here to talk to students because he presents a more balanced view than a politician would,” sophomore Ben Fenigsohn of the Caravan for Democracy and Hillel said. “We owe it to students to get someone not out for himself.”

Olmert, the brother of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, came to JMU to get students thinking about and discussing democracy and terrorism in the Middle East.

“It’s not about politics,” Olmert said. “It’s about life.”

Olmert has an extensive background in Israeli relations, both in the classroom and in the field. He graduated from the London School of Economics with a Ph.D. in Middle East history.

In addition to being an educator, Olmert has taken part in numerous diplomatic missions, including the Madrid peace talks in 1991 between Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine. It was the first time Israel entered into direct negotiations with them, with the United States and the Soviet Union sponsoring the discussion.

Olmert said Palestinians’ refusal to acknowledge Israel and Israelis as a people and a nation is the main reason peace talks fail, something former President Clinton recognized during the Madrid talks.

“I remember Clinton saying to me that in that moment, he understood why Arab-Israeli relations were so impossible,” Olmert said.

Olmert said it was important for him to speak to students so they can better understand the gravity of the current tensions mounting between Iran and Israel.

“We in the West sometimes do not like to believe what we hear, because we don’t like to hear bad news,” he said.

“But if we don’t believe, we are punished with a vengeance,” he said, referring to Iran’s repeated threats of wiping Israel off the map with the development of their nuclear program.

Olmert said Iran’s nuclear program was not only a problem for Israel, but for the rest of the free world.

“I’ll tell you this,” Olmert said. “They call Israel the Little Satan. They call America Big Satan.”

David Beard made the five-hour trip from Murphysburg, N.C., with his 11-year-old son to hear Olmert speak.

Beard asked Olmert to comment on the responsibility of civilians to get out of the way during a conflict, like the two-month war this summer between Israel and Syria.

“You want to minimize civilian casualties as much as possible because it is so tragic when they are killed,” Olmert said. “But the fact remains that terrorists only respond to force, and you can’t always do it. I hate to think of what the people would suffer if they are seen as passive.”

Freshman Brandon Brown said it was refreshing to hear a firsthand account.

“It’s always interesting to hear someone speak that isn’t just on CNN or Fox,” he said. “I really think he gave a balanced perspective.”

About the Author

Mary Frances Czarsty is the assistant news editor for the Breeze.