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Olmert invite sparks outrage at US university

Oct. 16, 2009 8:18 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 20, 2009 9:49 A.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an/Agencies - As many as 150 people demonstrated at an American university in Chicago on Thursday for inviting former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to the campus, according to US news reports.

The Chicago Tribune reported that 12 police officers observed protesters nearby waving Palestinian flags and holding signs condemning Olmert for his role in two infamous military assaults on Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008-9, which left thousands dead.

"This is a one-sided conversation," Aya Odeh, 19, told the newspaper. "I don't mind listening to what he has to say, but if all he has to say is that we're wicked people, I refuse to listen to that."

The visit came a day before the UN Human Rights Council voted to endorse a damning investigation that found evidence Israel's military committed war crimes during the winter assault on Gaza. The operation was authorized by Olmert, who resigned in February amid corruption allegations.

The newspaper said demonstrators were drawn predominantly from a coalition of Palestinian and Muslim organizations who rejected the University of Chicago's decision to allow Olmert to deliver a speech on campus.

Students told the Tribune that the university should have given equal time to a Palestinian speaker, while another called Olmert a murderer. At least 25 students were removed from the auditorium where the former prime minister spoke, and one was reportedly arrested.

The University of Chicago defended its invitation on free speech grounds, saying its campus had hosted speakers of diverse opinions in the past.

"We are dedicated to fostering a wide-ranging exchange of views on issues of importance to society, and the appearance by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is part of that dialogue," university spokesman Jeremy Manier was quoted as saying in a statement.

About six pro-Israel activists voiced support for the prime minister, while others honked car horns and yelled epithets at the anti-Olmert protesters, according to the newspaper.
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