The day after the funeral of iconic former prime minister and general Ariel Sharon, Israel’s newspapers devote their coverage to the proceedings, including the texts of speeches from US Vice President Joe Biden, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, and Sharon’s two sons.
They also featured opinion pieces from their senior commentators, as well as prominent public figures, evaluating Sharon’s complicated, even contradictory, legacy.
In Israel Hayom, Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog writes about Sharon’s closeness with his sons, and the qualities that made him a historic leader. “I always found in Sharon uncommon power and steadfastness, and at the same, extraordinary character, for example, when he always asked me about my mother’s wellbeing.”
“I must praise him for his bravery and political audacity. He changed his worldview through a deep understanding that stands before every prime minister in the last generation — there is no choice but to undertake a massive effort to separate from the Palestinians.”
Col. Eliezer Toledano, commander of the Paratroopers Brigade, reflected on Sharon’s legacy in the unit, where he established the special forces unit 101 and commanded the paratrooper battalion 890. “The audacity of the decisions he took as a commander and leader left him open more than once to criticism. Even under fire, even in the depths of the pain of a commander who loses many of his fighters, Sharon remained a steadfast leader, creative and pioneering, whose call ‘after me!’ many warriors heeded, voluntarily, ready for any mission.”
Maariv’s Tal Schneider argues that in order to be a real leader in Israel, you need a comeback. Sharon, Bibi, Rabin, and Peres all suffered defeats and embarrassments, she writes, and were banished to the political wilderness, before slowly climbing back into relevance and public affection. But Sharon’s was the most impressive. “No other leader in Israel was so hated, burned. What terrible things were said and written about him. “
This bodes well for Ehud Barak, she writes, who is keeping out of the public’s eye, giving them a chance to forget him for a time. Same with Ehud Olmert.
For Tzipi Livni, Herzog and Shelly Yachimovich, not so much. “They did not climb up to a position from which they could suffer a total defeat, and therefore they will not have the chance to disappear and return.”
Haaretz’s Yoav Peled argues that Sharon should not be remembered as a man of peace. “The true legacy of Sharon is that of a two-pronged war, waged to this day, against the Palestinians and against Israel’s poor.”
“After five years as prime minister,” he continues, “Sharon achieved his strategic goals: the second intifada was defeated, the personal security of Israelis was resurrected, the country’s upper class enjoyed the economic boom, and Sharon’s personal popularity rose above that of any past prime minister.
“But the price for these accomplishments is being paid to this day by Palestinians, who according to World Bank reports have never faced a worse economic situation, and their national aspirations are hopeless. Israelis in the middle class and below are also paying the price, and their income and quality of living continue to erode.”
Israel Hayom’s Efrat Forsher writes about the reactions of leaders of the settlement movement to Sharon’s death. They had worked with him closely in the 1970s, but he became the object of their anger in 2005 with the Gaza disengagement. They understood why Zeev Hever, a close friend of Sharon’s and a settler leader, decided to speak at the funeral, despite the disengagement. “What is special, in my eyes,” said Benny Katzover, a settler leader in Samaria, “is that Sharon’s family members ask [Hever] to speak,” even though they knew he would talk about the disengagement.
Other leaders also saw fit to mention Sharon’s exemplary record as a soldier and leader while not ignoring the disengagement. “We must recognize and laud a leader who dedicated his life to defending Israel,” said Pinchas Wallerstein, a past head of the Yesha Council, “but that doesn’t absolve him of the things he did.”
In Yedioth Ahronoth, Yoaz Hendel writes “It is also okay to hate,” examining the conflicted feelings of the Israeli right regarding Sharon. “Sharon, who was a controversial figure during his life, turned in his death to the possession of everyone. If he would have run for the Knesset from the plaza where he lay yesterday, he probably would have won half the seats in the plenum. The search for leaders causes outbreaks of nostalgia and forgetfulness.”
“But the national warmth also confuses. Sharon’s difficult decisions caused pain and hurt to a large group of people that believed they were the emissaries of the Israeli state. They thought this primarily because of Sharon. He planted faith and hope in them. He cared for them. The disengagement tore their hearts. The leader in whom they trusted betrayed them…There are among them those who hate him, and it is their right. That’s what they have left. In Israel, it is permissible to hate. I don’t like hatred, but sometimes I understand it…There is no requirement to mourn someone. There is no requirement to remain silent.”