This piece was written by Alisa Rudy and first published in “The Ticker.” Alisa is a junior majoring in Middle East Studies at Baruch College, and is the current President of the CCAP group Youth Organization For Israel, Baruch’s student pro-Israel club.
Whenever a noteworthy figure passes away, the entire social network inevitably morphs into a news channel, as Facebook friends instantly become professional political analysts, their “statuses” bearing the final word on the deceased.
Comments range from praising (“Rest In Peace to a true hero <insert public figure here> who gave his life to <insert music genre, political party, nationality here> and changed <insert country, state, planet here> forever”) to scathing (<insert scathing post-mortem comments here, disparaging any idolization of the deceased, like “I don’t know why everyone is so upset over X’s passing>. Or better yet, It’s as if they don’t realize he <insert controversial actions of deceased, which may or may not include: drug addictions, obscure infidelity accusations, unpopular political actions>).
With the passing of Ariel Sharon, former prime minister of Israel, public backlash has not been in short supply—and it is a wide spectrum of responses to such a crucial figure in Israeli history. Sharon, whose actions during and even before his political career were confident and bold, set off a lot of criticism from Israelis and the rest of the world.
Beginning in the Haganah, the paramilitary, pre-independence predecessor to the Israel Defense Forces, Sharon was a staunch, unapologetic supporter of Israel’s right to exist, so much so that he became the embodiment of a new Israeli. Changing his name from Ariel Scheinermann to Ariel Sharon, he left behind his Eastern European origins—his Belarusian parents, running in fear from Russian persecution and anti-Semitism—for a new Israeli name, referencing biblical Israeli geography and embodying his name, lion. He would later make a career out of that combative personality. After his start in Haganah at 19, Sharon was involved in a series of military operations that played crucial roles in almost every major Israeli war of the 20th century.
Sharon was a part of the generation of Israeli leaders who saw their country from birth to fruition, from a weak state on the defensive to a stature of power and careful security. In his autobiography, he wrote, “We had become skilled at finding our way in the darkest nights and gradually we built up the strength and endurance these kind of operations required.
Under the stress of constant combat we drew closer to one another and began to operate not just as a military unit but almost as a family.” It was this personality of necessary resilience and endurance that Sharon kept in mind as he embarked on a political career of controversy and questionable bloodshed, fielding intense public outrage and scolding for his failure to prevent the Sabra and Shatila massacres by Christian Philangists in 1989 as well as the unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
Sharon upheld the conservative end of Israeli parliament for most of his political life. Many claim his decision to visit the Temple Mount in 2001 to be an encouragement of settlement expansion, and his invasion of Lebanon in an attempt to eliminate Palestinian Liberation Organization forces to be the actions of a person opposed to peace and negotiation. However, his ordering of the Disengagement Plan a year before he fell into a coma quickly undermined almost everything it seemed he had embodied in the years of his activity.
His constant frankness and candidness and his deliberate actions showed that he didn’t quite fit into the mold of a standard right wing “Likudnik”, like the pro-settlement, anti-concession party he led at the height of his career.
Sharon, whose actions over the course of his life were dissected thoroughly, managed to survive the post-mortem criticism. He is now hailed by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner to be “one of the greatest warrior-statesmen in modern history … and his devotion to peace undisputed” and by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as “a hero to his people”.
It seems that although he was subject to criticism and attack while he was alive, the almost glowing obituaries world leaders and Facebook friends alike gave seem to indicate that a staunch military leader, intent on performing a duty to his country—however painful—is respected across the board.
During the life of a politician, disapproval and reproach is naturally part of the job description—a near-constant stream of voices in the ear, not likely to end even after the relationship with politics does. It is after death that a more generous analysis of the deceased’s impacts on the world raises voices of admiration to creep through, respecting what they once condemned. For Sharon, popular respect is obligatory to mourn the loss of a true visionary, at his core a true hero for the state of Israel.
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