11 January 2014


Ariel Sharon

Relentless warrior

I'll admit it. My first thought was ... good.

But my second thought is more complicated.

I've spent a fair bit of time studying and thinking about the fate of the modern Levant, the question to which Sharon devoted his life, and it's really fucking complicated. When talk turns to Israel, I typically wind up arguing with whoever's in the room. In loopy lefty circles, that typically means defending Israel by patiently explaining the history of the region — trying to stick to those precious few things that are clearly agreed upon as fact — to people who really don't know anything about it. In staunchly Zionist circles, it typically means criticizing Israel by painstakingly distinguishing Arab Palestians from Syria or Egypt or Jordan, pre-’67 from post-’67. In more daring circles, it may mean talking about how Zionism fits into the history of nationalism and European imperialism, asking why Israel was even a good idea in the first place, or reflecting on whether Brooklyn isn't the New Jerusalem.

So my second thought about Sharon is complicated.

On the first day after a person's death, I try to honor the tradition of not speaking ill of the dead. I gritted my teeth and did it for Reagan. But I cannot do it for Sharon. I have no tears to cry for him.

Yes, Sharon has been at war with a real injustice, fighting for a people wronged by history. But he has made his war against the wrong enemy, the Arab Palestinian people, by despicable means, awash in the blood of innocents. He has failed as a leader of his own people, robbing them of their honor, their opportunities for peace, and the truth. He is one of the principal midwives of our era of terrorism, leaving a curse for all humanity. We are all well rid of him — even, and perhaps especially, the Jews of Israel.

Israeli Jews sometimes reference Exodus in calling themselves (mixing self-deprecation and pride) עַם-קְשֵׁה-עֹרֶף: “a stiff-necked people”. This is, of course, both true and false — and vividly so of Sharon. I hold distant hope than now, without him, that will change.

So no tears. But today I can hope for the better parts — only the better parts — of his dreams to come true. In that spirit, I strongly suggest that you read the decade-old post from which I just copied this one.

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