JTA reports that Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli prime minister who was a key figure in the removal of close to 10,000 Jews from their homes in Gaza, and then blundered the Second Lebanon War, is scheduled to be the keynote speaker at the annual J Street conference.
Olmert will speak at the pro-Palestinian state group’s gala dinner on March 26, according to an invitation sent Thursday morning to members of the US Congress. JTA obtained an invitation, and a J Street official confirmed its authenticity.
As of early Friday morning, the J Street website has made no mention of Olmert’s participation in the event, to be held in the Washington DC Convention Center from March 24-27 .
Olmert, who was forced to step down as prime minister in 2008 to face criminal investigations, is still facing corruption trials in Israeli court. But corrupt or not, J Street has found the one Israeli ‘right-wing’ politician (Olmert started his political career in the Likud Party) with whom it has a true understanding.
Although J Street describes itself as a pro-Israel organization that supports peace between Israel and its neighbors, many Israelis and US Jews, including many public figures, have said that J Street is anti-Israel, particularly in relation to the security challenges facing the Jewish state. Several US Jewish leaders have objected to J Street’s position on Israel, and have publicly disassociated themselves from the organization.
J Street has had tense relations with Olmert’s replacement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose government has sought to marginalize the group for failing to support Israel’s efforts to push back against investigations of Israel’s conduct in the 2009 Gaza war, and for equivocating on Iran sanctions until late 2009.
Following Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke in 2006, Olmert became prime minister and led their Kadima party to a decisive victory in elections that year. He then led negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, and now says he was prepared to make the most far-reaching compromises with the Palestinian leader in 2008, only to be turned down.
Palestinian officials say Olmert by that time was too damaged by corruption scandals for the offer to be credible.
As a member of Sharon’s government, Olmert participated in forging Israel’s unilateral disengagement plan to evict all Israelis from the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the Samaria. Israeli citizens who refused to accept government compensation packages and voluntarily vacate their homes prior to the August 15, 2005 deadline were evicted by Israeli security forces over a period of several days. The eviction of all residents, demolition of the residential buildings, and evacuation of associated security personnel from the Gaza Strip was completed by September 12, 2005. The eviction and dismantling of the four settlements in Samaria was completed ten days later.