When you look at American history from a straight progressive versus conservative viewpoint, ignoring the changes in party affiliation (which have been complicated, but I attempted to explain them here), there have not been too many universally agreed upon conservative victories. Primarily because conservatives are conservatives and want things to stay the same. And things have changed.
When women wanted the vote, obviously, the people not wanting that to change would have been considered conservative. Those who wanted to keep Jim Crow would have been conservatives. Many of those who would have been considered heroes to the conservatives at the time would seem super backwards to almost anyone today. No one is going around wearing a Joseph McCarthy t-shirt, and cool kids on campus are not sitting around reading “The Bell Curve.”
So it’s easy to understand why they want, so desperately, to either be able to make progressive heroes their own, or–if they are not popular enough– to do everything they can to desecrate their memory. They want Susan B. Anthony, they want Frederick Douglass, and they want Martin Luther King, Jr. Some even want Che Guevara. Why? Because they’re cool. And who doesn’t want to be cool?
Since they’re still fighting with what Margaret Sanger fought for, they’ll make up straight-up ridiculous lies about how she was a total racist who wanted to abort all the black babies. They make up lies about all these people. And they will repeat them, and repeat them and repeat them, until people just hear them so often they assume that they’re true.
The “Martin Luther King was definitely a conservative Republican” meme has been pushed so hard that people are actually surprised now when one explains that he was not, and that he was, in fact, truly reviled by not only conservatives but also people who considered themselves “moderates.” He was considered a radical. Ronald Reagan’s response to his assassination was to say that “he had it coming,” because he was a lawbreaker.
The problem, however, isn’t just that conservatives want to adopt MLK as one of their heroes, but the false things they attribute to him in order to validate him as one.
1) He was a conservative Republican!
Death And Taxes Magazine
Do you know what “conservative” means, even? It means maintaining the status quo. It means you don’t want things to change, and you certainly do not want them to change radically. You want things to stay the way they are. Martin Luther King did not want things to stay the way they were and believed in fighting for radical change. Duh.
Also, if he was a conservative, then why was he quite clearly surrounded by leftists and progressives all the time? Just asking. Or do you think that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were “conservatives” then? Also, I would like to submit those two as glaringly obvious evidence that being a Christian does not make someone a conservative by default.
As for the Republican thing? First of all, Dr. King stated repeatedly that he was neither a Democrat nor a Republican. Which, actually, was a very common stance amongst leftists in those days, because–quite frankly–both parties were pretty terrible. However, he did say this in regards to the 1964 Republican convention:
The Republican Party geared its appeal and program to racism, reaction, and extremism. All people of goodwill viewed with alarm and concern the frenzied wedding at the Cow Palace of the KKK with the radical right. The “best man” at this ceremony was a senator whose voting record, philosophy, and program were anathema to all the hard-won achievements of the past decade.
Senator Goldwater had neither the concern nor the comprehension necessary to grapple with this problem of poverty in the fashion that the historical moment dictated. On the urgent issue of civil rights, Senator Goldwater represented a philosophy that was morally indefensible and socially suicidal. While not himself a racist, Mr. Goldwater articulated a philosophy which gave aid and comfort to the racist. His candidacy and philosophy would serve as an umbrella under which extremists of all stripes would stand. In the light of these facts and because of my love for America, I had no alternative but to urge every Negro and white person of goodwill to vote against Mr. Goldwater and to withdraw support from any Republican candidate that did not publicly disassociate himself from Senator Goldwater and his philosophy.
2) He was fiercely pro-life
Ok, so MLK’s crazy niece Alveda is the one who first perpetuated this lie, but it’s total BS. As a conservative Republican herself, she’s spent several years desperately trying to appropriate her uncle’s legacy for the right– much to the chagrin of Coretta Scott King, mind you. Who will tell you in no uncertain terms that Dr. King was very definitely pro-choice.
Anyway, if you don’t want to believe the man’s wife when she tells you that King was pro-choice… uh, the fact that in 1966 he was the recipient of Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Award for his support of choice and family planning, might tell you something. He not only accepted this award, but he gave a wonderful speech about the importance of family planning in regards to economic justice.
3) He totally hated the gays
Wrong again, friends. Now, there isn’t that much information out there on this. Why? Because it wasn’t something people talked about back then. It just wasn’t. Of course, one can assume that if this was a particularly strong belief of his, that he probably would have delivered a few sermons on it here and there, as he was not exactly someone who was known to hold back his feelings on anything.
However, what we do know is that one of his closest associates, and the primary organizer behind the March on Washington, was Bayard Rustin– who was an out and proud gay man, who fought both for civil rights and for gay rights. We know that King considered Rustin a close friend, and that his orientation was not a problem for him. As strange as it seems now, that was pretty radical for the time in which they lived.
4) He was viciously opposed to Affirmative Action
NOOOOOOOOOOOO. God no. BIG NO.
This is one of the BIG ONES. Conservatives tend to take the one thing they know about Dr. King other than that he was a Christian– the part of the “I Have a Dream” speech that goes “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” as evidence that he was opposed to Affirmative Action.
In reality? I’m pretty sure he would have supported it, given that it was pretty much his idea in the freaking first place.
Yeah. Really. King wrote a lot in support of similar programs in India to help those formerly in the “untouchables” caste, and America’s GI Bill, about how there should be a similar program here to help black people in terms of employment and access. He stated that there needed to be ”a massive program by the government of special, compensatory measures which could be regarded as a settlement in accordance with the accepted practice of common law.” Given that there weren’t any Affirmative Action policies at the time, his organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference created something similar – Operation Breadbasket. Clergy would call up businesses in the area to find out how many black people they had working there, and if the percentage was significantly less than the percent of black people in that city, they’d boycott that business.
For the record, probably every single damn thing most people believe about Affirmative Action is total bullshit. It’s not a requirement, it’s a tax break– and it wouldn’t be necessary if it didn’t already exist in first place, but to the benefit of white men who generally prefer hiring white men. Also, for the record, as far as college based AA programs go? Why do I never hear anyone complaining about “legacies” the same way I hear them complaining about AA? You think George W. Bush got into Yale on his own merits?
“Whenever the issue of compensatory treatment for the Negro is raised, some of our friends recoil in horror. The Negro should be granted equality, they agree; but he should ask nothing more. On the surface, this appears reasonable, but it is not realistic.”–
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
5) He would have supported the conservative rhetoric of being “colorblind”
Oh come on. The conservative idea of a colorblind society is one in which they get to spit on your face and tell you it’s raining. I am pretty sure that MLK did not think that calling attention to systemic racism was a waste of time. He was not a “Oh, well, let’s just pretend everything is peachy keen so we don’t upset anyone” kind of guy. He was well aware that racism was much more than just some yahoos running around in white sheets.
6) Because of said “content of character” thing, he was definitely into free market capitalism
Occupy Wall Street
Yeah, no. Pretty much his whole thing was wealth redistribution. Part of the reason he was hated by conservatives was because they thought he was a commie. He was also extremely supportive of unions.
“It is a crime for people to live in this rich nation and receive starvation wages”
“This will be the day when we shall bring into full realization the American dream — a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man’s skin determines the content of his character; a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not for ourselves alone but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality — that is the dream.”
I could go on forever with these, because there are a hell of a lot.
7) That if he was alive now, he’d be one of them, and they’d totally love each other
Yeah, I’m sure they’d love him just as much as they adore Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. I’m sure they wouldn’t scream and scream that he was being a “race baiter” or any some such, and that they’d listen intently whenever he spoke about racial issues. Totally sure that wouldn’t happen at all.
The fact is, because Dr. King is dead, they feel like they’ve got a little more leeway for their pipe dreams about how they’d totally be buddies now.
I have no problem with conservatives respecting Dr. King. They should, everyone should. But they should respect him for who he was, not for who they need him to have been. I don’t agree with every single person in history that I admire. Hell, almost all the philosophers of interest were giant misogynists. I don’t have to pretend they weren’t in order to like the other things they did.
For the record though, if conservatives really wanted a Civil Rights icon to call their own, they could always go with post-Black Panther era Eldridge Cleaver, who converted to Mormonism and became a super wacky Conservative Republican in the 80s. He even ran for office twice before going back to jail for burglary and crack possession. Although I’m not sure how they’d take to “Soul on Ice.”
Vladimir Jabotinsky, (born 1880, Odessa, Russian Empire [now in Ukraine]—died Aug. 3, 1940, near Hunter, N.Y., U.S.), Zionist leader, journalist, orator, and man of letters who founded the militant Zionist Revisionist movement that played an important role in the establishment of the State of Israel.Jabotinsky began his career in 1898 as a foreign correspondent, but his popularity as a journalist led to his recall to Odessa in 1901 as an editorial writer. By 1903 Jabotinsky began to expound Zionist views for the restoration and creation of a Jewish national state in Palestineboth in his writings and in his oratory, of which he was a master. During the next decade, he continued to work as a journalist while traveling in Europe and crystallizing his Zionist views, which tended to be uncompromising and political, rather than cultural.
During World War I, he was convinced that the Ottoman Empire, then the ruling power in Palestine, would fall and that in this vacuum the Jews could colonize Palestine if they had demonstrated service to the Allies. He thus convinced the British government to allow military participation by Jewish refugees from the Ottoman Empire.
In 1920 Jabotinsky organized and led a Jewish self-defense movement (Haganah) against the Arabs in Palestine. The British, who then ruled the country, sentenced him to 15 years at hard labour, but this action provoked such an outcry that he was soon reprieved. In the 1920s he was active in many international Zionist organizations, including the World Union of Zionist Revisionists in 1925.
Testifying before the British Royal Commission on Palestine, Jabotinsky gave an impassioned expression of his Revisionist views. The source of Jewish suffering was not merely anti-Semitism, he said, but the Diaspora (dispersion) itself; the Jews were a stateless people. Assigning cultural Zionism a relatively low priority, he advocated the creation of a Palestinian Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan, with continued Jewish immigration to achieve a Jewish majority there, and employment of Jewish troops for self-defense as part of the permanent garrison. In 1940, while in the United States to visit Betar, the youth organization of the Zionist Revisionist Party, Jabotinsky died of a heart attack. His followers, who had already founded theIrgun Zvai Leumi terrorist group, active in Palestine in the 1940s, later founded the Israeli Ḥerut Party.
IsraelCountry in the Middle East, located at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. It is bounded to the north by Lebanon, to the northeast by Syria, to the east and southeast by Jordan, to the southwest…
OdessaSeaport, southwestern Ukraine. It stands on a shallow indentation of the Black Sea coast at a point approximately 19 miles (31 km) north of the Dniester River estuary and about 275 miles (443 km) south…
PalestineArea of the eastern Mediterranean region, comprising parts of modern Israel and the Palestinian territories of the Gaza Strip (along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea) and the West Bank (the area west…
Ofir Haivryin “Israel in the Eye of the Hurricane” calls for reviving David Ben-Gurion’s activist school of foreign policy. In building his case for the rightness of such a policy, Haivry provides us not only with an insightful survey of the historical development of Israeli strategy but also with a framework for comparing policies across time periods. His approach is particularly helpful in pointing out the complex interconnections among local, regional, and global politics.
But in taking the view from 30,000 feet, Haivry misses the specific dilemma that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now faces: Israel is caught uncomfortably between the decline of American power and the rise of al-Qaeda and Iran.
As Haivry observes, America is pulling back. In the words of former National Security Adviser Tom Donilon, the Obama administration has determined that the United States is “overinvested” in the Middle East. President Obama, therefore, has shown himself to be deeply reluctant to commit the U.S. to any initiative designed to shape a new regional order. This standoffishness has resulted in a power vacuum. The vacuum is most obvious in Syria, where Shiite Iran and Sunni al-Qaeda are both growing increasingly powerful even as they vie with each other for influence.
For Israel, the dilemma arises not so much from America’s withdrawal as from the decidedly partial character of that withdrawal. Although Obama has taken one step out the door, the other foot is still planted firmly in place. At the United Nations General Assembly in September, for example, he targeted two problems for energetic solution: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the impasse over Iran’s nuclear program. He could not have chosen two issues of greater concern to Israel. While other Middle Eastern leaders complain of an aloof and distant America, the Israeli prime minister finds himself hosting Secretary of State John Kerry nearly once a month. In short, Obama has boxed Netanyahu in.
As historical coincidence would have it, however, Ben-Gurion had to grapple with an analogous dilemma, and in doing so his activist school reached the zenith of its influence. In the mid-1950s, as radical pan-Arabism shook the region, the Eisenhower administration, which leaned toward the side of the Arab states, was singularly fixated on solving the Arab-Israeli conflict. The best way to achieve that goal, the President believed, was to force Israel to make painful territorial concessions.
And there was more. In 1955, Gamal Abd al-Nasser, the charismatic young leader of Egypt and champion of pan-Arabism, had signed a massive arms deal with the Soviet Union. Eisenhower chose to interpret Nasser’s move as a hedge against Israel rather than a rejection of the West per se. Rolling back Israel could therefore also serve as a means of wooing Nasser away from the USSR.
Not surprisingly, a significant gap in perception opened up between Jerusalem and Washington. The Americans fawned over Nasser; the Israelis increasingly saw him as an existential threat. As a result, Ben-Gurion was forced to adopt a bifurcated strategy. Wherever possible, he showed deference to the United States—making sure, for example, to cooperate with Eisenhower’s Arab-Israeli peace initiative. At the same time, in a practice that enraged the Americans, he did not refrain from launching aggressive border raids against his neighbors, including Egypt.
Events reached a high point in 1956 when, ignoring explicit American warnings, Israel launched a war against Egypt in concert with the French and the British. That coalition was itself very much the product of the preceding two years of Israeli activism. By demonstrating Israel’s willingness to act independently of Washington, and by showcasing considerable military prowess, Ben-Gurion had laid the groundwork for an alliance with France that in the next decade would prove a godsend to the newly independent Jewish state. It was, indeed, the French who roped the British into the coalition against Egypt.
Although much has changed since then, there is a good deal to be learned from this historical example. Specifically, if Israel were to revitalize Ben-Gurion’s activism in today’s circumstances, what goals would it pursue?
In addressing this question, Haivry himself argues in favor of “abandoning the preoccupation of the last decades with two issues at the expense of virtually all others: namely, the conflict with the Palestinians and the Iranian nuclear threat.” Ben-Gurion’s track record suggests otherwise, especially with regard to Iran.
In the 1950s, the Israeli leader’s top priority was arresting the advance of Egyptian militarypower. The Soviet arms deal gave Nasser an edge: an advantage that to Ben-Gurion represented a threat on the same order as the Iranian nuclear threat represents to Israel today. Indeed, if Ben-Gurion were reincarnated as an adviser to Netanyahu, he would undoubtedly draw a parallel between the rise of Iran as a nuclear power—and the American posture that has inadvertently facilitated that rise—and his own experience with Nasser.
Just like Egypt in the 1950s, Iran today presents a nexus of three key factors: malevolent intention, lethal capabilities, and strategic determination. None of Israel’s other antagonists on the Middle East scene exhibits such a multidimensional challenge. Al-Qaeda, to be sure, is fearsome. But Sunni jihadism in general is organizationally fragmented, militarily weak, and strategically inept. The danger it poses to Israel is real enough, but hardly rises to the level of an existential threat.
The primacy of the Iranian challenge raises a key question. If Ben-Gurion were alive today, would he urge Netanyahu to follow his example in 1956 and launch a strike against Iran that could, plausibly, turn into full-scale war? The answer is almost assuredly no.
Let’s assume that Israel actually possesses the military capability to destroy the Iranian nuclear program (a big assumption). In the event that led to all-out military confrontation, it would lack great-power support, something that Ben-Gurion regarded as an absolute prerequisite. In 1956, he gave the order to attack only after he had ensured the backing of Britain and France.
Netanyahu enjoys no such support today. Getting into a war with Iran all by himself would be easy enough. But getting out of it would require the good offices of the United States, which he cannot count on.
This, however, does not entirely nullify the activist option. Extrapolating from his behavior in 1954-55, but stopping short of war, Ben-Gurion would press forward with the most muscular policy possible, especially through an aggressive covert campaign against the Iranian nuclear program. All the while, using the model of Britain and France in 1956, he would search for actors willing to partner with Israel against Iran on the wider Mideast scene.
Granted, it is not entirely clear that such actors exist; but the possibility is insufficiently explored in Haivry’s analysis. For example, after discussing the three “clusters” of states in today’s Middle East, Haivry writes: “Israel is, to say the least, not a good fit for any of these regional groupings.” He thereby scants one of the most striking developments of the last three years—namely, the confluence of interests between Israel and the Sunni Gulf states, Saudi Arabia first and foremost.
A reincarnated Ben-Gurion would certainly investigate whether behind-the-scenes cooperation between Riyadh and Jerusalem was possible, and whether an activist foreign policy could help to solidify it. The arena offering the greatest potential for such cooperation is Syria, where shifting the balance against Iran’s proxy Hizballah is in the interest of both the Saudis and the Israelis. An additional advantage in Syria is that Netanyahu can act aggressively there without unduly complicating relations with Washington.
Of course, the impediments to cooperation between Jerusalem and Riyadh are considerable, and it would be difficult to pull off even a covert alignment with any effectiveness. But the Middle East is changing rapidly, and the stakes are very high. It would be a mistake to assume that yesterday’s impossibility will remain unthinkable tomorrow.
Who knows? In the process of courting the Gulf states, Netanyahu might even find other partners whose cooperation he could not have foreseen. After all, Ben-Gurion planned neither the alliance with France nor the alignment with Britain. It was his activism that generated both relationships. Activism, he understood, was a form of advertisement.
Ariel Sharon, one of the most influential figures in Israel’s history, a military commander and political leader who at the height of his power redrew the country’s electoral map, only to suffer a severe stroke from which he never recovered, died Saturday in a hospital near Tel Aviv. He was 85.
Gilad Sharon, one of his two surviving sons, told reporters at the hospital where the former prime minister spent most of the last eight years that his father “went when he decided to go.”
A cunning and unforgiving general who went on to hold nearly every top government post, including prime minister at the time he was struck ill, Mr. Sharon spent his final years in what doctors defined as a state of minimal consciousness in a sterile suite at the hospital, Sheba Medical Center. Visits were restricted for fear of infection.
Prof. Shlomo Nov of the medical center said heart failure was “the direct cause of his death,” resulting from organ deterioration that had deepened over “a number of days.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the nation bowed its head to a man he described as “first and foremost a brave soldier and an outstanding military commander” who “had a central role in the battle for Israel’s security from the very beginning.”
In many ways, Mr. Sharon’s story was that of his country. A champion of an iron-fisted, territory-expanding Zionism for most of his life, he stunned Israel and the world in 2005 with a Nixon-to-China reversal and withdrew all Israeli settlers and troops from Gaza. He then abandoned his Likud Party and formed a centrist movement called Kadima focused on further territorial withdrawal and a Palestinian state next door.
Mr. Sharon was incapacitated eight years ago, in January 2006, and in elections that followed, Kadima still won the most votes. His former deputy, Ehud Olmert, became prime minister. But the impact of Mr. Sharon’s political shift went beyond Kadima. The hawkish Likud Party, led by his rival, Mr. Netanyahu, was returned to power in 2009, and Mr. Netanyahu, too, said then that he favored a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
An architect of Israeli settlements in the occupied lands, Mr. Sharon gained infamy for his harsh tactics against the Palestinians over whom Israel ruled. That reputation began to soften after his election as prime minister in 2001, when he first talked about the inevitability of Palestinian statehood.
Israeli settlers, who had seen him as their patron, considered him an enemy after he won re-election in 2003. In addition to withdrawing from Gaza and a small portion of the West Bank, he completed part of a 450-mile barrier along and through parts of the West Bank — a barrier he had originally opposed. It not only reduced infiltration by militants into Israel but also provided the outline of a border with a future Palestinian state, albeit one he envisioned as having limited sovereignty.
Before becoming ill, Mr. Sharon was said to have been planning further withdrawals of Jewish settlers and troops from Palestinian lands in hopes of fulfilling the central goal of his life: ensuring a viable and strong state for the Jewish people in their historic homeland.
But even if he had stayed healthy, his plans might have been interrupted by the rise of the militant Palestinian group Hamas, the 2006 conflict with the militant group Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and increased concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.
Mr. Sharon viewed negotiating with Palestinian leaders as pointless; he felt they had neither the will nor the power to live up to their promises. Mr. Sharon said he believed that by carrying out the withdrawal unilaterally and building the barrier to include large Israeli settlement blocks, he was ensuring a Jewish state with defensible borders. Critics argued that by redeploying without handing responsibility to the Palestinian Authority, he had increased the power of Hamas.
Mr. Sharon’s final years in power contained surprises beyond the settlement reversal. He had long shown disdain for diplomacy, yet calculated his new path directly in line with what he thought the United States would accept and support. And though he had forced Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian leader, to remain a prisoner in his Ramallah compound, Mr. Sharon built a cordial relationship with his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, after Mr. Arafat died in 2004.
Despite years of antagonism, Hosni Mubarak, then president of Egypt, and King Abdullah II of Jordan gave Mr. Sharon public support in pursuing a solution to the conflict. Those close to him said he had always been more pragmatic than most people realized.
Pragmatism and Resilience
Thick-limbed and heavyset, with blue eyes, a ready smile and a shock of blond hair that whitened as he aged, Mr. Sharon was the archetypal Zionist farmer-soldier. He was not religiously observant, but he was deeply attached to Jewish history and culture and to the land where much of that history had occurred. He believed unshakably that reliance on others had brought his people disaster, and that Jews must assert and defend their collective needs without embarrassment or fear of censure.
As he put it in “Warrior,” his 1989 autobiography, “The great question of our day is whether we, the Jewish people of Israel, can find within us the will to survive as a nation.”
Defiant and brusque, Mr. Sharon had many enemies, who denounced him as self-promoting, self-righteous and unyielding. But he was also courtly to his political rivals and had a surprising sense of humor. His popular appeal was consistently underestimated.
He was dismissed as washed up in 1983 when he was forced to resign as defense minister after an official committee charged him with “indirect responsibility” for a Lebanese massacre of hundreds of Palestinians the previous year.
Mr. Sharon survived that humiliation and remained politically active enough to take command of his rudderless Likud Party after a 1999 rout by Labor. Even then, he was viewed as a seat warmer for younger leaders, yet he surprised everyone again when, in 2001, he was elected prime minister in the biggest landslide in Israel’s history.
He entered office four months into a violent Palestinian uprising. Israeli voters selected him over Ehud Barak, his predecessor, in the hope that Mr. Sharon would restore security.
Given how he had crushed the Palestinian guerrilla infrastructure in Gaza in the early 1970s, there was logic to his election. But there was a paradox, too. It was Mr. Sharon’s visit, in September 2000, accompanied by hundreds of Israeli police officers, to the holy site in Jerusalem known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, that helped set off the riots that became the second Palestinian uprising.
Once elected, he brought dovish members of Labor into his cabinet to form a government of national unity to contend with growing Palestinian and Arab hostility after the collapse of a seven-year Middle East peace effort begun at Oslo, under the Labor-led government of Yitzhak Rabin.
Mr. Sharon faced clashes between, on one side, Israeli soldiers and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza and, on the other, Palestinian militiamen and guerrillas. And there were many episodes of Palestinian terrorism inside Israel.
He responded by sending envoys to the Palestinian leadership and calling for an end to the violence. But when that proved fruitless, he proceeded with force, moving tanks and heavy equipment into areas that Israel had previously turned over to Palestinian control.
The border with Lebanon also grew tense, and previously cordial relations with Jordan and Egypt, more moderate governments, froze. Hopes for amity between Israel and its neighbors seemed the dimmest in a decade.
But Mr. Sharon said that if peace could be forged out of the century-long conflict, he would be its blacksmith. He had, he said, a firm grasp on Israel’s security needs and understood his adversaries.
In the years before Mr. Sharon’s election, it was often said that the Middle East had entered a new era of coexistence fostered by the Oslo peace negotiations and increased global interdependence. This struck Mr. Sharon as dangerously naïve, and most of his fellow Israelis came to agree with him.
“The war of independence has not ended,” he told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in April 2001. “No, 1948 was just one chapter.” He added: “The end of the conflict will come only when the Arab world recognizes the innate right of the Jewish people to establish an independent Jewish state in the Middle East. And that recognition has not yet come.”
It was a theme taken up later by Mr. Netanyahu as well.
A Zionist Vision
Mr. Sharon was born Ariel Scheinerman on Feb. 27, 1928, on a semicollective farm, or moshav, named Kfar Malal, about 15 miles northeast of Tel Aviv. His parents, Samuel Scheinerman and the former Vera Schneirov, had emigrated from Russia. His mother, from a wealthy Belarussian family, was forced to interrupt her studies in medicine by the Russian Revolution. His father was a Zionist youth leader and agronomy student in Russia and a farmer in Palestine.
The isolation and mistrust of others that characterized Mr. Sharon’s relationships throughout his life had familial roots. His parents, who brought him up to treasure classical music and Russian literature, disdained their fellow moshav dwellers as unlettered and uncouth. Theirs was the only farm on the moshav with a fence around it.
In his autobiography, Mr. Sharon described his father as cantankerous and stingy with love. As a child, he reported, he felt lonely. Known from boyhood by the nickname Arik, Mr. Sharon began his military career in the Gadna, a paramilitary high school organization.
After graduation and a special course, he became a Gadna instructor at an agricultural school. His own instructor, Micah Almog, told biographers that even then Mr. Sharon refused to follow any script given to him and insisted on teaching his own way. He also joined the Haganah, the main underground Zionist fighting brigade, which became the Israel Defense Forces after independence.
In 1947, Mr. Sharon worked for the Haganah in the vast, flat stretch north of Tel Aviv that is called the Sharon Plain. It was from there that he took his new Israeli family name in the emerging Zionist tradition of Hebraizing the names brought from the diaspora. This was part of the plan to create a “new Jew” rooted in the homeland and no longer tied to the Old World.
At the height of the independence war, in May 1948, Mr. Sharon’s unit was sent to take part in the battle of Latrun against the Jordanian Army, at the foot of the hilly entrance to Jerusalem. It was a disastrous battle for the Zionists, and Mr. Sharon was badly wounded in the abdomen. Despite initial rescue efforts, he lay abandoned and bleeding for hours, and nearly died. It was an early and influential encounter with what he considered incompetence above him.
When he was 20, Mr. Sharon married a young Romanian immigrant named Margalit Zimmerman, who had been his student in Gadna and who went by the nickname Gali. After the 1948 war, he remained in the army and served in a number of posts around the country. In 1952, he took a leave from the army, and the couple moved to Jerusalem, where Mr. Sharon began Middle Eastern studies at the Hebrew University and his wife became a psychiatric nurse.
A Reputation for Boldness
Mr. Sharon had already earned a reputation as an effective battalion commander who believed that Israel had been timid in the face of Arab border provocation. Many of his superiors were wary of him, but others, including David Ben-Gurion, the country’s founding prime minister, admired his boldness.
In 1953, Mr. Sharon was asked to form and lead the first elite commando force for special operations behind enemy lines. It was named Unit 101, and although it operated as an independent unit for less than a year, it became legendary in Israel. The aim of the unit was to retaliate for cross-border raids, Arab violations of the 1949 armistice agreements and attacks against Israeli civilian targets.
The unit’s first major operation came in October 1953, after an Israeli woman and her two children were killed while sleeping in their home in the town of Yehud. Mr. Sharon led a reprisal raid on the Jordanian town of Qibya, which was said to be harboring Palestinian guerrillas.
The battle of Qibya, in which 69 people were killed, more than half of them women and children, and 45 houses were demolished, brought Israel its first condemnation by the United Nations Security Council and became a Palestinian rallying cry for a generation.
A furor erupted in Israel over the civilian deaths, but the government did not investigate and covered up for the commando unit by saying that no Israeli soldiers had been involved. The raid, Ben-Gurion said at the time, must have been by people around Jerusalem, “refugees from Arab countries and survivors of Nazi concentration camps, who had suffered terribly at the hands of their tormentors and had shown great restraint until now.”
Unit 101 cultivated a sense among its members of being above rules and able to operate under the most severe conditions, an attitude that later permeated all elite Israeli military units.
In the 1956 Sinai campaign, Mr. Sharon commanded a paratroop brigade and violated orders by driving his men deep into Sinai to the Mitla Pass, where they were ambushed by Egyptian forces and sustained dozens of deaths, with scores of soldiers wounded. He had been unaware of a deal among Britain, France and Israel regarding the Mitla Pass. He was not shy with his complaints or sense of betrayal, and when the war ended his career suffered.
It was a period of personal loss as well. In May 1962, his wife, Gali, was killed when the car she was driving veered out of its lane and was hit by a truck. Mr. Sharon later married Gali’s younger sister, Lily, who had followed her to Israel. Lily became a mother to his son Gur, and together she and Mr. Sharon had two more sons, Omri and Gilad.
In 1964, Mr. Sharon’s flagging military career was revived by Mr. Rabin, then the chief of staff, who made him chief of the northern command. When the 1967 war broke out in June, Mr. Sharon was sent south to his old command area and played a crucial role on the Egyptian front.
When the war ended in a stunning victory for Israel — which had tripled its land mass and defeated the combined armies of Jordan, Syria and Egypt — Mr. Sharon felt a euphoria nearly unmatched in his life, he wrote in his autobiography.
Personal tragedy struck again soon. In October 1967, Gur, 11, his eldest son, was playing with friends with an old hunting rifle, stuffing it with gunpowder. A neighbor boy playfully aimed it at Gur’s head and pulled the trigger. Mr. Sharon, who was alone in the house at the time, ran out at the sound of the blast, scooped his son off the ground and flagged down a passing car to go to a hospital. The boy died en route.
His wife, Lily, remained Mr. Sharon’s fiercely loyal companion until her death from cancer in 2000. His two sons survive him, as do a number of grandchildren.
A Turn to Politics
Mr. Sharon’s relations with his military superiors remained tense as the country faced intermittent Palestinian guerrilla attacks in what became known as the War of Attrition. He was nearly thrown out of the army in 1969.
In 1970, as commander of the south, Mr. Sharon crushed Palestinian guerrilla units in the Gaza Strip. He bulldozed homes and groves, imposed collective punishment, set up intelligence units of Israelis who could pass for Palestinians and established the first Jewish settlements to hamper travel and communication of Palestinians.
In 1973, Mr. Sharon felt drawn to politics. With help from American friends, he also bought a large farm in the Negev Desert — it remains the largest privately owned farm in the country — and talked about retirement from the military. But that October, a shocking invasion by Egypt and Syria, a war that Israel nearly lost, delayed his plans.
He pulled off his most extraordinary feat of combat when he waged a daring crossing of the Suez Canal behind Egyptian lines, a move often described as either brilliant or foolhardy, and a turning point in the war.
Mr. Sharon had been hit in the head by a shifting tank turret, and photographs of him with his head bandaged appeared in many newspapers and remain a symbol of that war. After that, Mr. Sharon did retire and helped engineer the birth of the Likud bloc, a political union between the Liberal Party and the more right-wing Herut Party of Menachem Begin.
Mr. Begin, who was in many ways more Polish than Israeli, admired Mr. Sharon for his gruffness, courage and energy, and as a native-born symbol of the emancipated Jew. Mr. Sharon won his first election to Parliament, on the Likud ticket, in December 1973. But he quickly found the confines of Parliament, with its wheeling and dealing and endless committee meetings, not to his liking. He fought with his political allies, grew impatient and thirsted for more decisive action.
In the spring, he led a group of Israelis into the West Bank near the city of Nablus and, using the immunity from prosecution enjoyed by members of Parliament, helped them establish an illegal settlement. He then quit Parliament and returned to the army. Mr. Rabin had become prime minister and brought Mr. Sharon into the prime minister’s office as a special adviser. He held the job for about a year, and Mr. Sharon later wrote that this first exposure to central political power was extremely instructive.
In 1977, Mr. Begin’s Likud bloc beat Labor in the general elections, the first time in Israeli history that Labor was ousted from power. Its loss was the result of several factors: the 1973 military debacle, rampant party corruption, and the feeling of neglect and injury of Jewish immigrants from North Africa and the Arab world, the Sephardim, who had become a majority of the population.
Mr. Sharon, who had struck out on his own with an independent party that failed to take off, joined the Begin cabinet as agriculture minister and set about constructing Jewish settlements in the West Bank to prevent Israel from relinquishing the territory. The plan worked well, forcing future Israeli governments to care for and protect the settlers, who now number more than 350,000 in the West Bank, with an additional 200,000 in annexed areas of East Jerusalem.
Shortly after Mr. Begin’s election, the Egyptian president, Anwar el-Sadat, offered to come to Jerusalem and negotiate a peace treaty in exchange for a full return to Egypt of the Sinai Peninsula, lost in the 1967 war, and autonomy for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. It was a historic offer, and many Israelis did not know whether the Egyptians could be trusted. Mr. Sharon was among the doubters and voted against the deal as a cabinet member, although he then voted for it in the full Parliament. The offer led to the Camp David accords and the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, which returned Sinai to Egypt.
Mr. Sharon made no secret of his ambition to be defense minister, but he had to wait until the 1981 re-election of Mr. Begin. He made clear that his biggest concern was southern Lebanon, where Palestinian guerrilla groups had taken advantage of that country’s chaos and set up a ministate, with militias and weapons, using it as a launching pad for attacks on Israel’s north.
Lebanon and Beyond
In June 1982, after Palestinian guerrillas tried to assassinate the Israeli ambassador in London, leaving him critically wounded, Mr. Sharon began the invasion of Lebanon, saying it would last 48 hours. He saw it as an opportunity not only to remove the Palestinian threat but also to form a strategic alliance with Lebanon’s Christian elite by helping install its members in a new government and signing a peace treaty with a second neighbor.
Things went well at first. The Israeli military rooted out the Palestinian groups and built an alliance with the Phalangist Party, led by the Gemayel family. Mr. Sharon’s popularity in Israel soared.
But the Reagan administration and others grew wary and then angry as the Israeli invasion seemed not to end but rather to take on an increasingly punishing nature, including the saturation bombing of Beirut neighborhoods and delaying agreed-upon cease-fires. Some historians have accused Mr. Sharon of deceiving Mr. Begin and the rest of the cabinet on his broader intent for the war as it progressed.
Whether he was acting alone or in concert, Mr. Sharon saw his plans for Lebanon derail. Less than three weeks after his ally Bashir Gemayel was elected president in late August with the Israeli military’s help, he was assassinated in an explosion at his party headquarters.
The Israelis, in violation of a cease-fire agreement with the United States, sent troops into several West Beirut neighborhoods. These included Sabra and Shatila, Palestinian refugee camps where, the Israelis asserted, the Palestine Liberation Organization had residual bases and arms and thousands of fighters. That claim was disputed by American diplomats who said that Palestinian fighters had already been moved out of the area. The Israelis nonetheless sent in the Phalangists, who killed hundreds of civilians.
The massacre provoked international outrage, and many Israelis, already despondent that the “48-hour” Lebanon incursion had turned into a lengthy military and geopolitical adventure, were outraged. There were furious calls for Mr. Sharon’s resignation.
Mr. Sharon and Mr. Begin said this was intolerable slander. As Mr. Begin said, using the Hebrew word for non-Jews, “Goyim kill goyim, and they blame the Jews.” Nonetheless, even Mr. Begin started to distance himself from Mr. Sharon, whose political demise began to seem inevitable.
The government established an official investigation of the massacre, led by Israel’s chief justice, Yitzhak Kahan. The investigating committee absolved Mr. Sharon of direct responsibility, but said he should have anticipated that sending enraged militiamen of the Phalange into Palestinian neighborhoods right after the assassination of the group’s leader amounted to an invitation to carnage. The committee recommended his resignation.
Time magazine reported that Mr. Sharon had actually urged the Gemayel family to have its troops take revenge on the Palestinians for the death of Mr. Gemayel. The magazine said Mr. Sharon made this point during his condolence visit to the family. It claimed further that a secret appendix to the Kahan Commission report made this clear.
Mr. Sharon sued Time for libel and won a partial victory in Federal District Court in New York. The court found that the secret appendix, which contained names of Israeli intelligence officers, included no assertion by Mr. Sharon of the need for Phalangist revenge. But it ruled that Mr. Sharon had not been libeled because he could not prove “malice” on the magazine’s part.
In February 1983, the Israeli cabinet voted 16 to 1 to remove Mr. Sharon as defense minister. He remained as a minister without portfolio. His was the sole dissenting vote.
Depressed over the war and his wife’s recent death, Mr. Begin resigned as prime minister in September 1983 and was succeeded by Yitzhak Shamir. The 1984 election was a tie between Labor and Likud, and Mr. Sharon played a crucial role in negotiating a unity government with Mr. Peres of Labor whereby each party occupied the premiership for two years. Mr. Sharon remained active in politics throughout the 1980s and ’90s.
After Mr. Netanyahu defeated Mr. Peres in 1996 to become prime minister, Mr. Sharon joined Mr. Netanyahu at the Wye Plantation in Maryland to negotiate a continuation of the peace process with Mr. Arafat and the Palestinians.
But Mr. Sharon remained aloof from the talks, and pointedly refused to shake Mr. Arafat’s hand, as Mr. Rabin had done on the White House lawn in 1993. Mr. Sharon said that he had spent years trying to kill Mr. Arafat, and that he was not about to shake his hand.
Mr. Barak, of the Labor Party, defeated Mr. Netanyahu in 1999, but after the collapse of his peace talks with the Palestinians, Mr. Barak called for new elections for early 2001. It was widely expected that Mr. Netanyahu would run for the Likud Party. When he decided not to, Mr. Sharon, the stand-in party chief, became the unexpected candidate and surprise winner.
He brought Mr. Peres in as foreign minister, and the two septuagenarians, who as young men had sat at the elbows of Ben-Gurion when he ran the newly formed country, found themselves back together. Their partnership continued to thrive, and Mr. Peres left the Labor Party, which had been his political home his entire life, to join Mr. Sharon’s Kadima Party. Mr. Peres was later elected the country’s president.
Raanan Gissin, a close aide, said the main reason Mr. Sharon went from a champion of the settlements to an advocate of territorial withdrawal was growing international pressure for a Palestinian state.
“He was not an ideologue; he was a political architect,” Mr. Gissin said. “As a military man he knew one thing from the battlefield — you have to seize the initiative, you have to be the one driving the action. Even if peace was impossible, he wanted the process seeking it to be on his terms. And while he was in power, it was.”
Ariel Sharon’s life was intimately entwined with the life of the country he loved from the moment of its birth.
He fought in its war of independence in 1948 and from that point until he slipped into a coma in 2006 it seemed there was hardly a moment of national drama in which he did not play a role.
He was always a controversial figure in Israeli politics – certainly not universally loved – but in mourning his passing, Israelis are marking the loss of one of the few public figures left whose career stretched back to the earliest days of their state.
Ariel Sharon’s roots were in the world of Zionist pioneering zeal – he was born between the two world wars in Palestine when it was under British control – to a Jewish couple who had fled to the Holy Land from Belarus.
Sharon was admired among Israelis for his military exploits
His reputation as an uncompromising and unapologetic defender of his country’s interests dates back to his military career.
He was still a teenager when he fought in the war of 1948 and in his autobiography, fittingly called Warrior, he described intense fighting against soldiers from the Jordanian Arab Legion for control of a crucial police fort on the road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
He and his men lay in fields ignited by gunfire in the burning heat with water and ammunition running low.
He remained a soldier for many years afterwards, fighting with distinction in Israel’s battles with its Arab enemies in the wars of 1967 and 1973.
He helped set up Unit 101 – a commando detachment whose job was to conduct reprisal operations across the border in Arab territories to retaliate for attacks against Israel.
Such was his reputation as a military commander that some accounts of his army career say he was nicknamed the Lion of God after a particularly daring tactical parachute operation against Egypt in 1967 in the Sinai desert.
Shadow of Lebanon
But already there was a dark undertone. Allegations emerged that Egyptian prisoners had been shot and there were questions at home about whether the operation had been a military necessity.
Fifteen years later, it was another dark episode that brought Ariel Sharon international attention.
1975-77: Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s special security adviser
1977-81: Minister of Agriculture
1981-83: Minister of Defence
1984-90: Minister of Trade and Industry
1990-92: Minister of Construction and Housing
1996-98: Minister of National Infrastructure
1998-99: Foreign Minister
2001-2006: Prime Minister
2005: Left Likud to found Kadima
He was minister of defence when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982. The strategic goal was to bring stability to the country’s northern border by crushing Yasser Arafat’s PLO, which was then holed up in southern Lebanon and Beirut.
But the war was deeply controversial at home as well as in the wider world.
And there was worse too.
Fighters from a Christian militia group which was co-operating closely with the Israelis carried out extensive massacres in Palestinian refugee camps in Sabra and Shatilla.
It is likely the names of those camps will be associated with Mr Sharon’s own name as long as the history of that conflict is remembered.
Eventually an Israeli inquiry held that Ariel Sharon was “indirectly responsible” for the killing.
The war cost many lives – Israeli as well as Palestinian and Lebanese – and it casts a long shadow over his historical legacy.
Within Israel Mr Sharon was not finished though.
Long a supporter of the settlers who moved on to the lands Israel captured in the war of 1967 in defiance of international opinion, he saw himself as a natural leader of the Israeli right.
In a volatile place, he could be a provocative figure.
Paul Adams looks back on the life and legacy of Ariel Sharon
In the year 2000, flanked by hundreds of Israeli riot police, he staged a visit to the area of the Old City in Jerusalem which contains sites sacred both to Jews and Muslims – the Temple Mount or Harem al-Sharif.
Even though the area is in the part of East Jerusalem captured by Israel in the war of 1967, Jewish rights to pray there are limited – and it is a microcosm of the tensions that fuel the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians.
Intense rioting followed his visit there and many people trace the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada to that moment.
Ariel Sharon was characteristically unrepentant.
He became prime minister in 2001, promising to bring peace and security to his country but it was a turbulent period in Israeli politics and he eventually left the governing Likud party to found his own Kadima movement while still in office.
Sharon pulled Israeli troops and settlers out of Gaza in 2005, a move which divided his supporters
Peace remained elusive then as it is elusive now.
It was on his watch as prime minister that construction of a barrier began with the intention of preventing suicide attacks on Israel from the Palestinian territories.
His supporters would argue that it worked. Its detractors would say it entrenched an already deep sense of separateness.
He did not shy away from bold political moves though. The man who had supported Israeli settlers ordered their removal from Gaza when he decided to withdraw from the Palestinian enclave beside the Mediterranean in 2005.
It was precisely his reputation as a hardliner that allowed him to sell to his supporters a decision with which many felt instinctively uncomfortable.
Not long afterwards, he slipped into the coma from which he was never to emerge and we will never know how he would have followed up that decision or where it might have led.
Ariel Sharon died hated by Israel’s enemies but there are plenty of Israelis who would argue that the depth of that hatred was a measure of the success with which he always defended the country he served.