Chicago Jewish leaders stand tough after disruption of Olmert speech

Chicago Jewish leaders s

A few days after former prime minister Ehud Olmert was incessantly heckled by pro-Palestinian attendees during a speech at the University of Chicago, local Jewish leaders vowed on Monday to continue hosting forums to state Israel's case. "We will not be intimidated by an overall effort to delegitimize Israel," said Chicago Jewish Federation President Steven Nasatir and Executive Vice President Michael Kotzin. Olmert addressed approximately 400 people for the King Abdullah II lecture series at the university's Harris School of Public Policy on Thursday, and was interrupted and berated by shouts of "war criminal" and "murderer," and citations of the death count from Operation Cast Lead throughout his speech. It was the second time in one week that Olmert came under such attack in the United States, as he received a similar cold response at the University of Kentucky at Lexington on Wednesday. Nasatir and Kotzin were defiant and optimistic in the face of elements in the Jewish community who are becoming more vocally hostile toward Israel. Asked whether there is a growing lack of support in Chicago for Israel, the Federation leaders responded in a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post: "This was a campus phenomenon aimed at intimidation and there is by no means a growing Jewish apathy in Chicago. It would be grossly erroneous to think that there has been a sense of diminishing support for Israel in the community. There was strong support for Operation Cast Lead, full condemnation for the Goldstone Report, and frankly, Chicago is definitely one of the most pro-Israel communities in the United States." The Chicago Jewish Federation and the school's Hillel chapter are "heavily involved on the University of Chicago campus, with its faculty, and are working hard to make sure that Israel's reality is understood. "We are working with the local Hillel on Israel advocacy and staying in touch with the UOC [University of Chicago] administration on campus, so they absolutely take what occurred seriously," they said. Nasatir and Kotzin emphasized that the organizers of the Olmert lecture knew there would be pro-Palestinian demonstrations and they were definitely "not caught napping, we knew that they aimed to intimidate and blatantly delegitimize Israel." "We believe that the university did the appropriate thing in the moment by throwing them out of the lecture." During Olmert's address, it was forbidden to photograph or videotape the proceedings. But on Friday, video from the speech surfaced on the Web page Electronic Intifada. The Jewish leaders acknowledged that there is a growing sense that there are anti-Israel agitators on campus, and both believed that "they are against intellectual discussion, debate and an orderly consideration of the issues. They had no interest in even listening, which suggests this isn't a clash of different political views, but rather, they are aiming to escalate the rejection of Israel's right to exist." Both Nasatir and Kotzin stressed that future lectures "will continue to happen."