With Elections Imminent, Time to Remember Sharon

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However you feel about Ariel Sharon’s politics, we should not let the first anniversary of the warrior statesman's death pass without reflecting on his life, a local management consultant writes.

Whether you agree with Ariel Sharon’s politics or his decision to pull Israel out of Gaza in 2004-2005, you cannot doubt his willingness to take risks for peace for the State of Israel, the land he loved, for which he fought and which he led as Israel’s 11th prime minister for five years. He died on Jan. 11, 2014, and we should not let the first anniversary of his death pass without reflecting on the life of this political leader/warrior. 
 
This is especially true as Israel gets ready for a critical election on March 17.
 
When I was a vice president at Operation Independence, a nonprofit organization founded by Max Fisher and Charles Bronfman promoting the economic growth of Israel, one of the major issues confronting Israel was the influx of just under 1 million Jews from the former Soviet Union. During the early 1990s, Sharon served as minister of Housing and Construction and was dealing with settlement of these immigrants. The then-president of Operation Independence, Alan Wurtzel, the former CEO of Circuit City Stores, and I went to visit Sharon in his rather spartan office.
 
During the discussion/negotiation Sharon got angry with Wurtzel and repeatedly pounded his desk. When he stopped, he turned directly to me with his Paul Newman-blue eyes and asked me what I thought of the situation, especially the idea of importing “kit houses” from the United States and Europe to house the new immigrants. I looked at him and said, “I’m glad I am not the desk.”
 
His body relaxed and he smiled and laughed heartily. I later found out from an aide that he loved my answer. The aide told me that Sharon had read comprehensive dossiers on Wurtzel and me before the meeting.
 
Such preparation was an enduring characteristic of Sharon, a sabra born in 1928 in British Palestine who had fought in the War of Independence, the Suez War, the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War. While serving as minister of defense, he directed the 1982 Lebanon War. These wars and his constant study — he attended Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University — gave him a remarkable sense of history and a remarkable capacity for strategic planning.
 
One of his setbacks was when he was found to have “personal responsibility” in the massacre by Lebanese militias of Palestinian civilians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in 1982. Sharon resigned his portfolio after a report by the Kahan Commission recommended his removal as minister of defense.
Sharon’s comeback involved service as minister in several departments, including as minister of Industry, Trade and Labor.
 
He was elected prime minister in February 2001. Among his important moves was urging French Jews to immigrate to Israel as anti-Semitism grew in France and other European countries. Given today’s global situation, especially in France, he was prescient.
 
He was an early proponent of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, but when he was prime minister he pulled all Israeli settlers out of Gaza. Can we forget the use of Israeli soldiers compelling the Gaza settlers to leave their homes, businesses and farms? In a move reminiscent of Winston Churchill’s temporarily switching political parties in Great Britain, Sharon left Likud and formed a new party, Kadima, in 2005. As he considered new policy directions, Sharon suffered a massive stroke and remained in a vegetative state for nearly a decade until his death.
 
For those of us who want Israel to be safe and prosperous, we should remember this warrior’s quest for peace. In the epilogue to his autobiography, Warrior, after discussing the conflict between Arabs and Jews, he noted: “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 that is necessary to solve the problems confronting us.
 
“We must be able to determine priorities and set an agenda on basic national issues that are above and beyond party interest. If we fail to do this, we risk defaulting in a struggle that we cannot afford to lose.”
 
Israel is now faced with different and more existential issues, including the possibility that Iran, committed to Israel’s destruction, gets closer and closer to developing nuclear weapons that could reach Israel. 
 
As Israelis vote on March 17, we Americans who support Israel as the national home of the Jewish people should remember the vision, strength, and courage of Israel’s 11th prime minister who fought to create Israel.
 
Howard A. Cohen is an independent management consultant and teaches a course in business ethics at Temple University’s Fox School of Business. He is treasurer of The Dialogue Institute at Temple.

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