Sharon: the Mask is Off

ARIEL Sharon has in recent days delivered a conclusive answer to those who had been wondering whether he had changed his stripes since his election as prime minister. The answer is this: once a bully, always a bully.

Sharon is the perfect exemplar of the violent Israeli, the sort who tramples his neighbor and who responds wildly and screams bloody murder whenever anyone tries to put him in his place. That’s what he always used to be; and now it turns out that his term as prime minister did nothing to soften the edges, and change his behavioral traits. The moment he gets into trouble, the moment he sets a goal for himself, he doesn’t fret about the means used to get what he wants. He doesn’t flinch about breaking the rules of the game – and sometimes these rules happen to be actual laws. And when he’s called on to make accounts, he puts on a martyr’s face, playing the part of a victim of some heinous miscarriage of justice.

As an army officer, Sharon’s military talents were often counterbalanced by criticism of his proclivity to interpret orders given to him as he saw fit. Whenever his actions were scrutinized, Sharon responded as though he were being persecuted by people seeped with envy of his success, who wanted to blame him for misdeeds done by others. That is how he acted after acts of reprisal undertaken at Qibya (in 1953), after the misadventure at the Mitla Pass (during the 1956 Sinai War), the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the Lebanon War.

When he left the Israel Defense Forces, against his will, Sharon delivered a disgraceful speech to his army colleagues in which he shamelessly attacked his superiors, and threw in some partisan political barbs. When he left his division after the Yom Kippur War (as a major general in the reserves), Sharon saw fit to release an order in which he attacked the state’s political and military leadership for the war’s errors, and basically called on his soldiers to support his political endeavors.

In his political career, Sharon has come across as a bull raging back and forth in its arena. As a minister in Menachem Begin’s government, he quarreled with his cabinet colleagues, attacked them savagely, and was not loath to firing some blunt accusations at the prime minister himself. Whenever one of them dared to stand up to Sharon, he responded with unbridled violent invective (“Mr. Deputy, I’ll strip you bare on this government table,” he yelled at Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Yadin). Sharon introduced vulgar, unrestrained idiom to Israel’s political discourse, and his crude broadsides reached the point at which a motion was forwarded to dismiss officially his attacks on Begin. He operated on a particularly short fuse whenever realization of his personal ambitions seemed within reach (as in his campaign to wrest the defense portfolio, after Ezer Weizman resigned as defense minister). Concurrently, he wallowed in self pity whenever his behavior stirred opposition (“They are spilling my blood,” he moaned. “They’re spreading vile gossip about me”).

Sharon waged his political battles with a mix of aggression, patronizing self-righteousness, media manipulation, and the occasional deviation from the truth. His track record was littered with verdicts reached by IDF judicial tribunals, state commissions of inquiry and courts which ruled (among other things) that Sharon failed to act squarely with his superiors.

None of this was a secret in February 2001, but Sharon’s past did not stop a vast majority of the public from voting him into the Prime Minister’s Office. The bitter fruit of this election result is currently being eaten by the state, in all its spheres.

Sharon’s last public appearance resoundingly vindicated Napoleon’s dictum that if you scratch a Russian soldier you’ll find a Tartar. Sharon and his sons are the objects of an investigation about funds which they used to help erase an illegal contribution which he received in 1999. Sharon is not providing answers to the accusations; instead of giving intelligible answers, he’s attacking the nation’s law authorities and the media. He has taken on the role of the victim so as to violate the nation’s election campaign laws and attack his political rival, Amram Mitnza, who has no connection to the investigation against him. Sharon’s mask is off, but whether the public really perceives the face revealed beneath is to be doubted.