Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of January 23, 2001


By Evelyn Gordon

It is hardly surprising that the Arab world, the West and Israeli leftists all detest Ariel Sharon: If elected, he is highly unlikely to continue the string of unbroken diplomatic concessions that all of these groups consider the only acceptable behavior for an Israeli prime minister. What is surprising, however, is the number of rightists who are almost equally unenthusiastic about Sharon. His candidacy is often treated as something to be tolerated only because anyone would be better than Ehud Barak.

That this is the case is testimony to the stunning success of the Left's favorite tactic for blackening Sharon: the redefinition of his many achievements as failures. On security, for instance, Sharon's success in combating Arab terror is virtually unmatched. When he was given the job of stopping Arab terrorism in Gaza in 1971, he succeeded in reducing the number of attacks from 36 in June to only one in December - with one-third of the Palestinian casualties (and most of these were terrorists rather than civilians) that Barak has produced in less time. This ability should be a serious qualification for leadership in a country that has suffered daily shooting and bombing attacks against civilians for the past four months. Instead, it has been redefined as "brutality" - even by those prepared to countenance Barak's current tactics.

Sharon's outstanding military career has been similarly redefined as a failure. Even many leftists admit that he was largely responsible for saving Israel from defeat by the Egyptians during the Yom Kippur War. Yet they insist that this success was overshadowed by his "failure" in Lebanon.

Ironically, it was Sharon's own high standards that made it so easy to redefine the Lebanon War as a failure: Israel both achieved less than he had wanted and paid a higher price than he expected. But though the war did not achieve the perfect security Sharon had hoped for along the Lebanese border, it did significantly improve the lives of Israel's northern residents.

It has, of course, become fashionable to forget what these residents suffered before 1982, when they were subjected to nonstop shelling and terror attacks by the PLO in Lebanon. But you will not find many northerners who did not consider the post-1982 situation vastly preferable - which is surely a good measure of success. And though the war, and Israel's subsequent stay in Lebanon, did cost soldiers' lives, it must be remembered that the alternative was not no deaths at all; it was letting the PLO continue to kill civilians instead. This is not an alternative any civilized country would consider.

FINALLY, there is Sharon's record on economic affairs. Leftists love to point out how much money Sharon wasted as housing minister from 1990 to 1992. But again, they choose to forget the panic then sweeping the country at the prospect of large-scale Soviet immigration. The media at the time were full of dire warnings regarding the lack of housing for these immigrants, and offered gloomy forecasts of new immigrants sleeping in the streets.

Sharon therefore embarked on an energetic plan to solve the problem: He purchased large quantities of caravans, and persuaded contractors to build apartments quickly by pledging that the government would buy any that remained unsold.

Needless to say, Sharon wound up buying many unsold houses: by some estimates, as much as NIS 4 billion worth. But the result of his quick action was that Israel was able to absorb close to 200,000 immigrants in 1990, 150,000 in 1991 and 1 million for the decade as a whole, without any of them having to sleep in tents.

Would it have been better had no money been wasted? Certainly. But was an extra NIS 4 billion - out of Israel's annual budget of NIS 100 billion - a reasonable price to pay for the successful absorption of a million Soviet immigrants in a decade? It is hard to believe that anyone would argue otherwise.

Sharon has also been guilty of some genuine mistakes. The most glaring, of course, was his poor judgment in failing to foresee that his Lebanese Christian allies were liable to commit a massacre if allowed into the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in 1982 (their official mission was to round up suspected terrorists).

Yet despite such occasional failures, on balance, Israel has benefited from Sharon's long career of public service. Does all this mean that Sharon will necessarily be a good prime minister? As Barak has amply proven, success in other jobs is no guarantee. But on his record, he is certainly not a candidate of whom Israelis need to be ashamed.

(c) Jerusalem Post 2001

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