“As a Jew, I was ashamed at the scenes of Jews opening fire at innocent Arabs in Hebron. There is no other definition than the term ‘pogrom’ to describe what I have seen,” he told Cabinet members, according to public radio.
“We are the sons of a nation who know what is meant by a pogrom, and I am using the word only after deep reflection.”
Video from an Israeli human rights group showed two settlers shooting Palestinian rock-throwers on Thursday.
About 600 Jewish settlers live in the city, with several thousand more in surrounding settlements.
It is not the first time Mr Olmert has used the word to condemn Jewish settlers – in October he described a rampage through a Palestinian village in the West Bank as a pogrom.
He is right.
There is a difference between a pogrom and Holocaust. Neither is Hebron the Warsaw Ghetto.
However, the scenes of hate-fuelled, racist violence against Palestinians (and, as we have seen black and Druze Israelis) is an undoubted hate crime. In other words, a pogrom.
Olmert speaks ‘as a Jew’. But more importantly, he speaks as an Israeli. Israel is a country that is the home to people who have suffered pogroms, in locations as diverse as Eastern Europe, Ethiopia, and the Arab world. It is also a liberal democracy. For those reasons it is right that crimes against groups of people, on the basis of their ethnicity or religion, be condemned and then punished with the utmost severity.
Liberals in Israel have had no difficulty in calling these vicious attacks on Palestinians, and those that have been filmed by cameras provided by B’Tselem what they are. Frankly, it is about time that Olmert did so as well.
The West Bank will ultimately be evacuated of any Jews who cannot live at peace with their fellows. That day is coming closer.