Ariel Sharon: The War Criminal Takes Over
By Rabbi Michael Lerner
Wednesday, February 07, 2001
Many American Jews are responding to the election of Ariel Sharon
as Prime Minister of Israel with sadness, mourning and disgust.
When Ariel Sharon was forced to resign from his position as
Defense Minister during the Lebanon War, most Israelis felt that
they had finally rid themselves of a man whose record of violence
could no longer be ignored. Though his troops only supervised but
didn't personally do the shooting of the hundreds of civilians in
the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps, the Israeli public knew of
his many other acts of terror (including massacres of civilian
Bedoins in the Sinai).
By standards now being applied in Kosovo and Serbia, Ariel Sharon
should have been brought to trial for war crimes. Instead, he now
has been elected Prime Minister.
Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak would like to blame this
on the Palestinians and their failure to accept his generous
offers. But the reality is that Barak's offers were mean-spirited
and limited. Barak was elected in a euphoria of hope for peace-
and he had a mandate to move ahead decisively. Had he announced
an unequivocal intention to dismantle the West Bank settlements,
allow for a limited number of Palestinian refugees to return each
year, and create a climate of real cooperation to provide
Palestinians with the economic infrastructure to make a
Palestinian state viable, Barak could have built his electoral
mandate into a permanent peace force.
Barak could have appealed to traditional Jewish values like
Torah's unequivocal commandment to "Love the stranger." He could
have urged Israelis as a patriotic duty to begin to create
dialogue groups with Palestinians and Israeli Arabs and to
explore other paths for people-to-people reconciliation. Israeli
idealism would have responded had it been tapped.
Instead, Barak played to his Right. He insisted that
never compromise on Jerusalem or dismantle settlements. He did
nothing to prepare the population for concessions he would
eventually find necessary to make or to build reconciliation..
Nor were his peace offers as generous as the
portrays. Even his last offer would have left 200,000 settlers,
fully armed and hostile to Palestinians, on the West Bank.
Israeli Arabs contributed mightily to Barak's electoral
last time, but Barak refused to give them even a single seat in
his cabinet on the grounds that having such an Arab would
"discredit" his government. When Israeli Arabs protested the
massive use of force to repress their Palestinian brothers and
sisters rioting in outrage after Ariel Sharon's visit to the
Temple Mount last September, dozens were wounded, thousands faced
pogroms from angry Jewish crowds wondering through and stoning
their homes, and at least 17 were killed by Israeli bullets,--yet
Barak could only find the courage to apologize for this in the
last three days of the election when he finally realized how much
he had lost his own base of support. No wonder why so many found
it hard to rally to his support.
The path that Israel is following is no surprise. Countries that
seek to maintain by force the occupation over another people will
eventually drift toward repressive or even fascistic leadership.
Half way measures of the sort offered by Barak cannot work.
Either Israel ends the Occupation, dismantles the settlements,
and gets out of the West Bank, or it will drift to the Right
until it has the likes of Ariel Sharon at its helm. But with
Sharon, Israel could follow a path designed to provoke a wave of
ethnic cleansing much like that which caused the Palestinian
refugee problem in the first place.
George Bush senior was the only U.S. President
to have the
courage to stand up to the "Israel-right or wrong" lobby that
claims to speak for most American Jews. Bush Sr. told them to
stop expanding settlements or lose US "loan guarantees" for money
Israel sought to resettle Soviet Jews. When Israeli Prime
Minister Shamir refused, Bush stuck to his guns, and the result
was to create economic pressures inside Israel which helped elect
pro-peace prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1992.
It seems unlikely that George W. will have similar
vision. Ironically, standing up to Israel and insisting that it
dismantle the settelements, get out of the -West Bank and Gaza,
and accept publicily part of the responsibility for having caused
the Paelstinian refugee problem (and state its willingness to
take back a portion of those refugees small enough to not upset
the Jewish character of Israel) is the most pro-Jewish thing he
could do, though many Jews wouldn't read it that way.
The truth is that Judaism and the Jewish people are
from the impact of the Occupation. The mean-spiritedness in
Israel that leads to a Sharon landslide makes many younger
Israelis wish to leave Israel and settle in the U.S., and many
young American Jews to say "my parents were Jewish" rather than
claim an identity defined by Israelis as oppressors and people
who think that power is more important than love.
When the American Jewish establishment rallies around
Israel, they do more to drive young Jews into assimilation than
any fear of anti-Semitism could ever do.
So, many American Jews greet the election of Ariel Sharon
great sadness and mourning-mourning for Israel and mourning for
the soul of the Jewish people. With Ariel Sharon leading Israel,
the world will be a scarier place for everyone.
Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of TIKKUN: A
Critique of Politics Culture and Society , author most recently
of Spirit Matters: Global Healing and the Wisdom of the Soul
(Hampton Roads, 2000), and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in San