Last night was the official opening of the OU‘s biennial conference, which is being held in Jerusalem for the second time ever. I saw the schedule in last week’s Torah Tidbits: they had a pre-conference Yarchei Kallah learning program, and the range of speakers and honorees was quite impressive. Except for one name that is: on the first night of the conference, the OU would be going out of its way to pay its respect to “the Honorable Ehud Olmert“.
While all of the “missions” and trips to Israel are very nice, and their deciding to have their conference in Jerusalem is a very nice “gesture of solidarity”, inviting Olmert and honoring him at their conference (where he received a standing ovation) is a direct slap in the face to the religous Zionist Jews in Israel and around the world.
This is the same Olmert who was Sharon’s Right-Hand man in expelling the Jews of Gaza, in devoting so much effort to destroying their homes and so little effort to helping them find new places to live and work (and then hyporcitically bemoaning the facts of their misfortune that continues until today while still failing to help them find solutions to their problems). This is the same Olmert who refused to compromise with the residents of Amona and instead sent in vicious soldiers to beat them, all to exert his political power (and then after the fact helped protect his cronies who were responsible for documented police brutality from any of the consequences that they deserved). (Ironically, the OU itself officially called out to Olmert to investigate the brutality at Amona)
For all of their good wishes and efforts at feeling solidarity with their poor brothers living in Israel, I find this to be completely insulting. As Jameel points out, it is not like Olmert is exactly a popular person in Israel right now, and by featuring him on the first night of their big conference, the OU is only giving the impression that they belive that despite all that has happened (and all that Olmert would like to do in the future), they see him as someone worthy of veneration and honor. I find this to be at the best a grossly misinformed and ignorant position, and at the worst a statement by the OU that they completely disassociate themselves with the bulk of Religious Jews who care about the Land of Israel, and that they have no problem standing behind and propping up people who are determined to destroy Jewish homes and settlements. (Let alone someone who is still under the delusion that Israel won the war with Lebanon a few months ago, as Olmert proudly proclaimed to applause on Wednesday night).
The Gemara in Sotah 17a states (among other extreme criticisms of people who engage in inappropriate flattery): כל המחניף לחברו (נ”א לרשע) סוף נופל בידו – Anyone who flatters his friend (different version: a wicked person) will eventualy fall into his hands. When you flatter people like Olmert, and stand them up as a role model and a person to be venerated, don’t complain if you eventually end up on the receiving end of nastiness from the same people that you had previously honored. I sincerely hope that the decision-makers in the OU will realize the mistake in inviting Olmert and the reasons why the Religious-Zionist community (both in Israel and the US) should be finding this insulting. However, based on past precendent, I wont be shocked if this decision is very much in-line with the official positions being held by the leaders of the OU.
(And of course, no article criticizing the speakers at the OU conference for their lack of sensitivity and hositility towards Religious Zionist Jews would be incomplete without mentioning the speech by outgoing Israeli Ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon in which he told the conference that American Jews should not make aliyah. I don’t think that any further comment is necessary on that).