October 20, 2009

Lecture protests were neither “extreme” nor “absurd”

One would have hoped an article dealing with this touchy subject would have remained more unbiased and objective.

On October 16, the Chicago Maroon published an article entitled “Jeers Stifle Olmert’s Speech.” One would have hoped an article dealing with this touchy subject would have remained more unbiased and objective. Instead—whether it was the author’s intention or not—the article appeared overly sympathetic to Ehud Olmert and hostile to those protesting a speech by a belligerent and possibly criminal former prime minister.

For instance, the article told readers that “shouting from the audience dominated the event from the beginning, and ranged from the extreme to the absurd.” The Maroon already contains a section where authors may editorialize like this—namely, the Viewpoints section. This kind of language does not befit an article published in the News section. As evidence, the article quotes a few notably ridiculous statements made by protestors, omitting the many dissenting voices during the speech that were neither “extreme” nor “absurd.”

Perhaps the article simply meant to characterize the act of shouting mid-speech as “extreme” and “absurd,” rather than the actual complaints and accusations expressed therein. For this, it deserves the benefit of the doubt; nonetheless, some clarification is necessary so that readers do not walk away thinking the actual accusations against Olmert are “extreme” and “absurd.”

Ehud Olmert initiated not one, but two destructive and disproportionate wars against Israel’s neighbors, first in Lebanon in 2006 and then in Gaza in 2008. The latter in particular has drawn righteous outrage at the Israeli government for its long and thoroughly documented list of crimes and wrongdoings. These include the maintenance of a total economic blockade on the Gaza Strip as a form of collective punishment, the use of white phosphorus as a weapon in contravention of international law, and the targeting of dozens of health facilities and thousands of housing units. For its actions, the Israel Defense Forces were accused by a United Nations fact-finding mission, led by eminent jurist Richard Goldstone, of war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. As of the writing of this letter, the U.N. is currently deliberating the finding of the report. In all, Olmert’s war swallowed 13 Israeli lives and nearly 1,400 Palestinian lives within one month.

In addition, Olmert has overseen the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories—a contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention—as well as the construction of the West Bank separation barrier, which seriously impedes freedom of movement and cuts through communities near the border with Israel.

More recently, Olmert was indicted for corruption charges, becoming the first Israeli Prime Minister to be brought up on criminal charges by his own people.

Though this list of crimes is by no means exhaustive, it is sufficient to show that calling Olmert a “war criminal,” displaying a list of Palestinian victims of the Gaza War, and vowing that “justice will be served” is neither “extreme” nor “absurd,” but is in fact a very reasonable protest based on a sober analysis of world events.

For a former prime minister confronting such grave human rights accusations to be invited by the University under the aegis of a “Leadership Lecture”: Now that’s “extreme” and “absurd.”

While one can disagree with the actual method of protest—I certainly do—the Maroon is misleading its readers by appearing to characterize the viewpoints underlying it as “extreme” or “absurd.” It is not as if the protestors are a jeering mob of angry, delusional hysterics; that is, however, the conclusion one might surmise from reading the article.

Chase Mechanick

Class of 2012