This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archives page.
Is there so much water over the dam that we have forgotten how progressive Jews loathed Sharon? How Sharon should be banished from Israeli politics? How Sharon didn’t belong in Israel’s public arena, certainly not in “our” dream of a Jewish state?
Not a word in that direction was heard at Sharon’s funeral today.
Sharon spent his adult life near the center of Israeli power and then, much to the surprise of many, reached its pinnacle as Prime Minister. Amid predictions once again of his failure, he was reelected as Prime Minister. Politically speaking, there was no end in sight to Sharon’s political might.
Sharon’s political career wasn’t ended at the ballot box. It was felled by a stroke.
At today’s funeral the silence on this issue, too, was deafening.
Sharon’s major critic and competitor in the last years of his life was the current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. What was Netanyahu’s focus in his funeral reflection? Sharon’s mistake in withdrawing from Gaza; Iran as a looming nuclear threat to Israel’s security.
So it goes. There’s no end in sight to Netanyahu’s political might either.
With his death some political observers look back on Sharon with nostalgia. Sharon, part of Israel’s founding generation, could ultimately make the tough decisions for peace. Unlike Netanyahu.
Even the various statesmen at Sharon’s funeral today reflected, albeit without detail, on his foibles. Between the accolades, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair commented:
Once decided he was unflinching. He carried all before him. And in this mode he didn’t move, he charged. Positions, parties, policies, he could leave considerable debris in his wake. But always his destination was clear. As was his motivation.
Considerable debris in his wake. Coming from Blair who enabled George Bush’s Iraq policy, that’s quite a statement.
Commenting on the funeral accolades for Sharon, Avi Shlaim, the Israeli historian, fills out the content of the debris Sharon left in his wake, at the Guardian:
Sharon was the unilateralist par excellence. His ultimate aim was to redraw unilaterally Israel’s borders, incorporating large swaths of occupied territory. Stage one was to build on the West Bank the so-called security barrier which the Palestinians call the apartheid wall. The international court of justice condemned this wall as illegal. It is three times as long as the pre-1967 border, and its primary purpose is not security but land-grabbing. Good fences may make good neighbours, but not when they are erected in the neighbour’s garden.
Stage two consisted of the unilateral disengagement of Gaza in August 2005. This involved the uprooting of 8,000 Jews and the dismantling of many settlements − a shocking turnaround by a man who used to be called the godfather of the settlers. Withdrawal from Gaza was presented as a contribution to the Quartet’s road map but it was nothing of the sort. The road map called for negotiations; Sharon refused to negotiate. His unilateral move was designed to freeze the political process, thereby preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state and maintaining the geopolitical status quo in the West Bank.
His enduring legacy has been to empower and embolden some of the most racist, xenophobic, expansionist, and intransigent elements in Israel’s dysfunctional political system.
Debris. Evidently it depends where you stand and who the debris lands on – if it is considered important or not.
Enduring legacy. Evidently it depends where you stand and where racism, xenophobia and expansionism lead – if it is considered ill-advised or even criminal.
Nostalgia for Israel’s founders is misplaced. This includes Sharon. What was done in the origins of Israel – to Palestinians – was wrong. What is being done today in the name of the Jewish people – to Palestinians – is wrong.
Even in the parenthetical criticism of Sharon at today’s funeral this essential fact was missed. It is also instructive. World leaders gathered to honor a man considered by Palestinians to be a fascist essentially affirmed his policies and, more importantly, his legacy as Israel’s state policy.
Not surprisingly, for the most part, Palestinians were unnamed throughout the funeral proceedings. Out of respect for Sharon? Or out of fear of naming the Palestinian dead, Sharon was responsible for?
On the Jewish side, Sharon’s funeral shows that a Jewish military and political leader considered by many to be a war criminal can be honored within Jewish history.
This is as Sharon would want it – injustice and atrocity normalized as central to Israeli and Jewish life.
The funeral orations demonstrate we are living and negotiating within the parameters of what Sharon left us. Israel has conquered Palestine. Sharon was central to this abiding state policy.
Jews should understand Sharon’s legacy in this light, too. Sharon left Jews the debris of a religion and a culture that once wrestled with the ethical.
Only nostalgia – and ignorance – can save us from the knowledge that Sharon’s funeral is an omen whose future his life revealed.