Among the praise for these articles:

“Brilliant. Tom Gross should write a biography of Sharon”
-- Simon Sebag-Montefiore, historian and biographer of “Stalin”

“Middle Beast is the best foreign article this week”
-- The British news magazine, The Week

Ariel Sharon

“A colossus of our time”

Two articles by Tom Gross

Prime Minister from 2001 – 2006

(Note: January 11, 2014: Sharon died today. Here is an update to the text below, which was written some time before.)

I attach two articles on Ariel Sharon. The first is a review in The Wall Street Journal of the first major biography of the renowned Israeli general and politician to be published since he suffered a massive stroke in 2006. The second is an op-ed which appeared in the Jerusalem Post (in English) and Ma’ariv (in Hebrew) on the international media coverage of Sharon shortly after he suffered that stroke.

There were over 24,000 articles published on Sharon in the 24 hours following his stroke. References to him as the butcher, the bulldozer, the war criminal, and the “successor of Hitler,” were considerably fewer than in the past. Still, he wasn’t hailed as “a modern Moses,” as Yasser Arafat was on the front page of The Guardian when he died.

Compared to Egyptian-born Arafat, Sharon (who was born in pre-state Israel) had had humble origins: his mother tied strips of leather around her feet as she farmed swampland because she didn’t want to ruin her only pair of shoes.

After an outstanding military and political career, Sharon defied the wishes of virtually his entire electoral base, closing down all the settlements in Gaza and four of those in the West Bank, with the promise of more to come. He said he wished to do what “no one – not the Turks, British, Egyptians, or Jordanians – had done before, and give the Palestinians the chance to form a state of their own.”

-- Tom Gross

How the soldier became a statesman

A new biography of Ariel Sharon

By Tom Gross
The Wall Street Journal
October 3, 2006

EVEN now, as he lies in a stroke-induced coma from which he is not expected to recover, the vilification of Ariel Sharon continues. Last month, for example, one of Britain’s leading magazines, The New Statesman, in the course of attacking Tony Blair for supporting the “racist regime in Tel Aviv,” attributed to Mr. Sharon a series of racist remarks about Arabs. But Mr. Sharon had never said them. They were the words of extremists that he had specifically repudiated. It was the equivalent of taking the words of the Ku Klux Klan and putting them in the mouth of George W. Bush. The New Statesmen eventually printed a letter noting its error, but without offering an apology or official correction.

Time magazine was one of many
publications to slander Sharon.
Sharon successfully sued them

Mr. Sharon’s long and controversial career – as Israeli general, politician and peacemaker – has inspired so much vituperation and calumny that it has often been difficult, especially for observers outside Israel, to separate fact from fiction. Thus “Ariel Sharon: A Life” is especially welcome. While the authors, Israeli journalists Nir Hefez and Gadi Bloom, clearly hold their subject in high esteem, their tone is far from merely adulatory. They do not shy away from the misdeeds and excesses of which Sharon has often been accused. But they seem intent, most of all, on faithfully describing the full arc of his crowded life.

Mr. Sharon’s supporters have long hailed his tough approach to terrorism and viewed him as a leader who strived to establish peace without sacrificing Israel’s security. His detractors claim that he overstepped the mark and caused unnecessary civilian suffering. All agree that he has played a pivotal role in almost every major event in modern Israeli history, and even his worst enemies acknowledge that he has shown extraordinary courage, both in battle and in politics.

A MASTER TACTICIAN

Kadima won the Israeli election
even after Sharon’s stroke,
largely because of his popularity

Inevitably, “Ariel Sharon: A Life” is dense with facts and incident, but it is a lucid read, well translated from the Hebrew by Mitch Ginsburg. The book appeared in Israel last year; the English edition has been updated to provide a full account of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza. Mr. Sharon spearheaded for the Gaza move in 2004 and 2005, which spurred the formation of a new political party under his leadership. Kadima, as it is called, won the Israeli election in March of this year, even after Mr. Sharon’s stroke, largely on the basis of his popularity.

For all his political mastery, Sharon may ultimately be best remembered as a military man. He fought in all of Israel’s wars or played a major role in leading them. Time and again soldiers who served with him testified to his resilience and resourcefulness.

Above: during the Yom Kippur War.
Sharon’s crossing of the Suez Canal,
against the orders of his superiors,
helped secure Israel’s survival

He was also a master tactician. His assault on Abu Agelia fortress during the 1967 Six Day War is still studied in military academies around the world. His crossing of the Suez Canal, against the orders of his superiors, changed the course of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Afterwards, at home, crowds took to the streets chanting “Arik, King of Israel.” And in 1981, in defiance of the whole world, including the Reagan administration, he persuaded his fellow Israeli cabinet ministers to destroy Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor.

WHAT “NO ONE HAD DONE BEFORE”

Upon retiring from the army, he put equal vigor into pursuing political goals. He forged Israel’s disparate center-right parties into the Likud, the party that dominated Israeli political life for the better part of three decades, until Sharon himself broke it in two late last year. Serving in various political posts, he was reviled by Arab extremists but respected by leading Arab moderates, such as Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Jordan’s King Hussein.

Sharon with Anwar Sadat

After Israel’s 1982 Lebanon war, however, he found the most senior government posts closed to him. Sharon took the rap, as defense minister, for the reprisal massacres that Christian Arabs carried out against Muslim Arabs in Beirut in September of that year. Although a post-massacre inquiry cleared him of any direct wrongdoing, it was acknowledged that the killings had taken place while Israel had troops in Beirut and that Israel’s army could possibly have prevented them.

But he came back, as foreign minister in the 1990s and as prime minister from 2001 to 2006. In 2004, a bribery scandal plagued his administration, implicating his son. But the greatest controversy of his tenure had to do with his policy of “disengagement.”

For much of his career, Mr. Sharon had been a leading proponent of settlement in the West Bank and Gaza. But as prime minister he reversed his views. Against the wishes of virtually his entire electoral base, he closed down all the settlements in Gaza and four of those in the West Bank, with the promise of further evacuations to come. He said he wished to do what “no one – not the Turks, British, Egyptians, or Jordanians – had done before, and give the Palestinians the chance to form a state of their own.”

WITH STRIPS OF LEATHER AROUND HER FEET

Such a reversal wasn’t as strange as it might seem. Mr. Sharon had always been driven less by ideology than by a concern for Israel’s security, and security may well mean taking different measures at different times. Indeed, it had been Mr. Sharon who had forced through the traumatic withdrawal of Israeli citizens from Sinai more than two decades earlier.

Sharon loved his ranch

While Messrs. Hefez and Bloom naturally concentrate on Mr. Sharon’s public life, they explore his hardly less tumultuous personal life too: his complex relations with his parents; the death of his first wife in 1962 in a car accident; the death of his first son in 1967, at age 11, in an accident while playing with other children; his very close bond with his second wife (who was his first wife’s sister).

We learn about the impoverished conditions in which he was raised in pre-state Israel – his mother tied strips of leather around her feet as she farmed swampland because she didn’t want to ruin her only pair of shoes – and about his later success in building up Israel’s biggest cattle farm in the spartan Negev desert. Mr. Sharon was very proud of his animals, insisting on being called from the ranch if a new calf, kid or lamb was born, even if, when he was prime minister, it meant interrupting him in a tense cabinet meeting.

In the end, to the utter astonishment of Mr. Sharon’s many enemies, opinion polls voted him the most popular prime minister in Israel’s history. Messrs. Hefez and Bloom help to show why. There will no doubt be other accounts of Mr. Sharon’s life – his close friend, the journalist Uri Dan, is bringing one out later this month, and may well offer more personal insights into what made Sharon tick. But “Ariel Sharon: A Life” is as good a place as any to start for those wanting to know more about this colossus of our time.

Middle Beast

Ariel Sharon as a target of anti-Semitism

By Tom Gross
The Jerusalem Post (op-ed piece, English)
Ma’ariv (op-ed piece, Hebrew)
January 11, 2005

COMPARED to past international media coverage of Ariel Sharon, which on a number of occasions in recent years has gone beyond personal demonization to outright anti-Semitism, the reporting on Sharon since he suffered a massive stroke last week has been relatively benign. Sharon, the butcher, the bulldozer, the war criminal, the “successor of Hitler,” has suddenly been humanized in several usually hostile quarters, such as the BBC.

Sharon’s visit to Al-Aqsa. While the
PA admitted it pre-planned the
intifada, the world media amazingly
blamed Sharon for it rather than Arafat

But only up to a point. Even amid this improved coverage, as Sharon lies fighting for his life, many articles in the Western media have retailed untruths, almost in passing, as though they were incontrovertible historical facts: Sharon initiated the second intifada, Sharon ordered the Sabra and Shatila massacres, and so on.

According to a Google search, there were over 24,000 articles published on Sharon in the 24 hours following his stroke last Wednesday night. But it was only four days later, in Monday’s Washington Post, that there was the first mention of Sharon’s protracted and successful libel battle in the 1980s against Time magazine for its inaccurate suggestion that he had encouraged the Sabra and Shatila massacres.

Equally, there has been almost no reference to the fact that the Sabra and Shatila massacres were carried out by (Christian) Arabs against (Muslim) Arabs, in response to massacres by Muslims, and virtually no indication that the Palestinians themselves had carefully planned the 2000 intifada.

Intifada leader Barghouti: “The
intifada did not start because
of Sharon’s visit to Al-Aqsa”

This is by their own admission. For example, the PA Communications Minister, Imad Al-Faluji told Al-Safir (March 3, 2001): “Whoever thinks that the intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon’s visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque is wrong. This intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat’s return from the Camp David negotiations, where he turned the table upside down on President Clinton.”

And the jailed Palestinian terror leader Marwan Barghouti told the Palestinian paper, the Jerusalem Times (June 8, 2001): “The intifada did not start because of Sharon’s visit to Al-Aqsa. The intifada began because the Palestinians did not approve of the peace process in its previous form.” But now as then Western media are uninterested in passing such comments on to their readers.

Most of the reporting has failed to supply any context – for example as to why Israeli troops had entered Lebanon in 1982. I have seen hardly any references to past moves Sharon made for peace, such as the 1982 dismantling of Yamit and 13 other settlements in the Sinai.

“MIDDLE BEAST”

There have also been some nasty headlines and cartoons. “He is the King Kong of massacres” ran the headline of a news report on Sharon on January 8 in The Observer, the Sunday affiliate of Britain’s Guardian newspaper, referring to the recently released remake of the 1933 movie classic. “Ariel Sharon, agent of perpetual war,” was the headline of an article in the relatively moderate Lebanese paper, the Daily Star, on January 7, 2006, by its editor-at-large and frequent guest on America’s NPR, Rami Khouri.

“Sharon’s legacy does not include peace,” is how a January 5 feature on the BBC News website by Paul Reynolds, the BBC’s World Affairs correspondent, was introduced, while Richard Stott’s January 8 column on Sharon for the mass circulation (British) Sunday Mirror was titled “Middle Beast.”

According to The Observer, Sharon
was the “King Kong of massacres”

On Friday, the entire front page of the (London) Independent carried a photo of Sharon with the words “Inside: Robert Fisk on Ariel Sharon.” The article, over 7000 words extracted from Fisk’s new book, was hardly about Sharon at all, and consisted almost entirely of Fisk’s claims about what happened at Sabra and Shatila. Unsurprisingly, Fisk made no mention of Sharon’s successful American court ruling against Time.

Yet overall, the international coverage of Sharon since his stroke has been relatively kind. Who could have imagined, for example, that the New York Times – which for decades has blackened Sharon’s reputation – would run a comparatively complimentary editorial on him by Benny Morris? Who could have imagined that the home page of aljazeera.net would this week show Sharon sitting in a grandfatherly pose looking on as Hanukah candles were lit?

I use the term “relatively kind” because it is important to recall what the coverage of Sharon was like until just a few weeks ago. He was not only reviled in the international media, but frequently portrayed in viciously anti-Semitic terms.

“AT LEAST HITLER TAUGHT ME . . .”

In Spain, for example, on June 4, 2001 (three days after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 21 young Israelis at a disco, in the midst of a unilateral Israeli ceasefire), the liberal magazine Cambio 16 published a cartoon of Sharon (with a hook nose he does not have), wearing a skull cap (which he does not usually wear), sporting a swastika inside a star of David on his chest, and proclaiming: “At least Hitler taught me how to invade a country and destroy every living insect.”

In the Spanish press: a hook-nosed Sharon, wearing
a yarmulke and sporting a swastika inside a Star of
David, proclaims: “At least Hitler taught me how to
invade a country and destroy every living insect”

A week earlier, El Pais, Spain’s equivalent of The New York Times, published a cartoon of an allegorical figure carrying a small rectangular-shaped black moustache, flying through the air towards Sharon’s upper lip. The caption read: “Clio, the muse of history, puts Hitler’s moustache on Ariel Sharon”.

Cartoons in the Greek press in 2004 showed Sharon as a Nazi officer. One of Italy’s leading papers, Corriere Della Sera, ran a cartoon on March 31, 2002, showing Sharon killing Jesus. (The cartoon, which was timed to coincide with Easter that year, was published as Israelis lay dying from the Netanya Passover massacre three days earlier.)

Hundreds of similar anti-Semitic motifs have been applied to Sharon in recent years. The Economist magazine compared him to Charles Dickens’s infamous anti-Semitic stereotype, Fagin. (An earlier edition of The Economist ran a blackened front cover with the words “Sharon’s Israel, the world’s worry.”) And grotesque cartoons of Sharon have continued to appear until as recently as six weeks ago in, for example, the Guardian.

Now, by contrast, attitudes to Sharon are by and large restrained, even respectful. But we still have to wait and see whether journalists in the supposedly respectable world media have decided to rid themselves once and for all of the anti-Semitic overspill in their Israel coverage. It is much too early to tell.