Protesters heckled former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during a speech in San Francisco Thursday, denouncing him as a war criminal and demanding his arrest.
As soon as Olmert took the stage at the Westin St. Francis Hotel — and following a warning by the discussion’s moderator that no disturbances would be tolerated — a woman and man rose from their seats and shouted: “war criminal,””mass murderer.”
Minutes after they were pushed out by police, another person stood up and yelled, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
All in all, more than 20 people interrupted Olmert’s 90-minute appearance, during which he answered questions on Middle East peace, Iran, the Lebanon War in 2006 and last winter’s Gaza offensive, which was the point of attack for the protesters.
A United Nations report has accused Israel and Palestinian militants of committing war crimes during the three-week operation aimed at halting years of Palestinian rocket fire. Each side has rejected the allegations.
Some 1,400 Palestinians, including civilians, were killed, according to human rights organizations and the Palestinian government. Thirteen Israelis, including four civilians, also died.
Olmert, who was prime minister during the offensive, was unfazed by the jeers, even saying that one of the protesters likely traveled from Chicago, where Olmert was greeted similarly last week.
“He was unsuccessful there,” Olmert said as the man was dragged away by police. “Let him shout. Who cares.”
After another interruption, Olmert said he was “impressed by the amount of energy that some of them have,” but added, “they know nothing about the facts.”
Olmert rejected the report, calling it distorted, because, he said, it failed to address the background of the war.
“To come to Israel ignoring the fact that for 8 years Israel was attacked almost on a daily basis by rockets and missiles, and to talk only about the reaction of Israel is unfair, is unjust, is unacceptable, is intolerable and Israel will not cooperate with it,” he said.
The protesters inside were part of a bigger demonstration that took place outside the hotel in downtown San Francisco.
On one side of the street, people carried placards with the names of children who they said were killed during the Gaza war and signs that said “Let Gaza Live” and “Israel X-prime minister Ehud Olmert mass murderer.”
Jim Harris, of Berkeley, said Olmert should be “held accountable” for his actions.
“He should be facing the Hague,” he said.
On the other side of the street, less than a dozen counter-protesters carried Israeli flags.
Marshall Schwartz, a board member of “San Francisco Voice for Israel,” said his group was there to show their support of Israel.
“There certainly was no plan except to protect the people of Gaza as much as possible while achieving the goal of stopping relentless rocket fire,” he said of the offensive.