Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Ariel Sharon’s Peculiar Appeal

He’s old. He’s fat. He’s an awful administrator. At least until recently, he was a major public-relations liability for Israel. His campaign promises (to the extent he has made any) are pretty much worthless. In fact, many of those who plan to vote for his party will do so precisely because they believe he will break the promises he’s been making recently, as he broke the promises he made in the past. His non-campaign promises (like the one about abiding by a Likud-party referendum on Disengagement) aren’t worth much either. For a purportedly reassuring grandfather figure, he doesn’t actually spend much time or effort reassuring us – certainly not by letting us know what he’s thinking and planning. If he isn’t a crook, he comes about as close as you can get to being one. He’d be the perfect dictionary illustration for the word venal, except that dictionaries can’t spare enough space for his picture. His new party has not yet articulated a clear, consistent philosophy, nor has it established a clear hierarchy among its “leaders” (most of whom would be more correctly labeled as “followers”). I voted for him once, and I’m planning on voting for him again. According to all the surveys, so are an awful lot of other Israelis. Are we all crazy? *        *        * Ariel Sharon’s appeal is a bit of a mystery. The foreign press (along with much of the Israeli press) always used to call him a right wing extremist, but the real ideological right-wingers never liked or trusted him. Now they accuse him of having gone over to the Left – but the real left-wingers have hated his ample guts for decades, and show no signs of changing their minds. He’s established a new centrist party, after all previous centrist parties have fizzled. You’d think that this was a sure recipe for defeat and an ignominious forced retirement from politics; but if the polls turn out to be correct, Sharon will be re-elected by a wide margin. I don’t really know what Sharon’s secret is; if I did, I suppose I’d be making faster progress in my own evil campaign to rule the world. But I can think of at least two reasons why so many of us support The Big Guy despite his numerous faults:

  1. He’s enjoying himself. Sharon is the only Israeli Prime Minister of recent years who seems to be having fun doing the job. This is tremendously reassuring. If the leader of our nation is smiling and happy, we assume that he knows things are going to be okay, or possibly that he is insane in a rather cheerful way. And assuming that Israel does have nuclear weapons, do we really want a grumpy pessimist with his finger on the button?
  2. He’s pragmatic. The settler movement has never trusted Sharon, because even when he was their most enthusiastic supporter, they always sensed that for Ariel Sharon the settlements were just a means to an end. The Left doesn’t believe that he has any real intention to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Both Right and Left are correct in distrusting Sharon; but for the rest of us, he represents our greatest hope of escaping from our seemingly eternal national crisis. Let’s face it: Both the Left and the Right in Israel are prisoners of failed ideologies. In almost forty years, the Right has never managed to make the West Bank or the Gaza Strip into a functional part of the Jewish State; the most that has been accomplished is to move the future border a few kilometers east in a few spots. And the Left has remained stuck in its belief that peace can somehow be negotiated with the Palestinians, despite every indication to the contrary. Neither side has come to grips with its failure: the Right has not come up with any replacement for its dream of Greater Israel, and the Left has no constructive response to the failure of the Oslo Accords. As a result, both Left and Right advocate policies that have the same basic result: stasis.
Ariel Sharon is the first Israeli leader I can remember who broke through the logjam of ideology to make a real change in Israel’s national strategy. Perhaps the characteristics that enabled him to get us out of the Gaza Strip are the same ones that keep getting him (and his friends and his kids) in trouble with the law; certainly none of his more punctilious predecessors have been able to accomplish what he has. And he’s managed to do it all without spending a single night in jail! …So far.


At Tue Dec 27, 12:42:00 PM GMT+2, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very funny, most amusing and highly illustrative - but the question still remains - are you crazy?

I understand and agree with all your critiques of the right - but then I would as I am a self-described lefty. My question however is what is the basis for your assertions about the left?

You claim that the left has never come up with a plan to get us out of trouble in the shtahim - but that is not true - because you recognise that Oslo was a plan. But then you say Oslo failed and the left haven't thought up anything better. Is this really true? Did Oslo fail because it was flawed, or did Oslo fail because Rabin was murdered by a religious extremist? Oslo did not rely on trusting Arafat - that is a lie put out by Bibi Netanyahu - it relied on the same principles which brought about an effective if cold peace with Egypt and Jordan - peace is in our interests and both sides will surrender some of their historical narratives for the sake of living without violence or occupation. We didn't have to trust Arafat on anything - the whole idea was that he would only be rewarded by actions. But Rabin wasn't killed by a rational person who thought that we were losing more than we were gaining, he was killed by a religious person who believed that G-d wanted Rabin dead.

And as for Sharon's policies - are they not just the policies of the Left which he stole after saying explicitly that he would not do it? Disengagement - a central plank of Amram Mitzna's campaign. Why would anyone vote for the right over Labour, if Sharon just steals labour's ideas without understanding the thought which went into formulating that position?

Don - I accept that you clearly seem to have a solid take on Sharon - which is why I cannot understand why you are following the herd in voting for him.


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