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Ariel Sharon: The War Criminal Takes Over

By Rabbi Michael Lerner
Wednesday, February 07, 2001

Many American Jews are responding to the election of Ariel Sharon
as Prime Minister of Israel with sadness, mourning  and  disgust.
When Ariel Sharon was forced  to  resign  from  his  position  as
Defense Minister during the Lebanon War, most Israelis felt  that
they had finally rid themselves of a man whose record of violence
could no longer be ignored. Though his troops only supervised but
didn't personally do the shooting of the hundreds of civilians in
the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps, the Israeli public knew  of
his many other acts of terror (including  massacres  of  civilian
Bedoins in the Sinai).

By standards now being applied in Kosovo and Serbia, Ariel Sharon
should have been brought to trial for war crimes. Instead, he now
has been elected Prime Minister.

Outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak would like to blame  this  all
on the Palestinians and their  failure  to  accept  his  generous
offers. But the reality is that Barak's offers were mean-spirited
and limited. Barak was elected in a euphoria of hope  for  peace-
and he had a mandate to move ahead decisively. Had  he  announced
an unequivocal intention to dismantle the West Bank  settlements,
allow for a limited number of Palestinian refugees to return each
year, and  create  a  climate  of  real  cooperation  to  provide
Palestinians  with  the  economic  infrastructure   to   make   a
Palestinian state viable, Barak could have  built  his  electoral
mandate into a permanent peace force.

Barak could have appealed to traditional Jewish values  like  the
Torah's unequivocal commandment to "Love the stranger." He  could
have urged Israelis as  a  patriotic  duty  to  begin  to  create
dialogue groups  with  Palestinians  and  Israeli  Arabs  and  to
explore other paths for people-to-people reconciliation.  Israeli
idealism would have responded had it been tapped.

Instead, Barak played to his Right. He  insisted  that  he  would
never compromise on Jerusalem or dismantle  settlements.  He  did
nothing to  prepare  the  population  for  concessions  he  would
eventually find necessary to make or to build reconciliation..

Nor were his peace offers as  generous  as  the  media  sometimes
portrays. Even his last offer would have left  200,000  settlers,
fully armed and hostile to Palestinians, on the West Bank.

Israeli Arabs contributed mightily to Barak's  electoral  victory
last time, but Barak refused to give them even a single  seat  in
his cabinet on  the  grounds  that  having  such  an  Arab  would
"discredit" his government.  When  Israeli  Arabs  protested  the
massive use of force to repress their  Palestinian  brothers  and
sisters rioting in outrage after  Ariel  Sharon's  visit  to  the
Temple Mount last September, dozens were wounded, thousands faced
pogroms from angry Jewish crowds wondering  through  and  stoning
their homes, and at least 17 were killed by Israeli bullets,--yet
Barak could only find the courage to apologize for  this  in  the
last three days of the election when he finally realized how much
he had lost his own base of support. No wonder why so many  found
it hard to rally to his support.

The path that Israel is following is no surprise. Countries  that
seek to maintain by force the occupation over another people will
eventually drift toward repressive or even fascistic  leadership.
Half way measures of the  sort  offered  by  Barak  cannot  work.
Either Israel ends the Occupation,  dismantles  the  settlements,
and gets out of the West Bank, or it  will  drift  to  the  Right
until it has the likes of Ariel Sharon  at  its  helm.  But  with
Sharon, Israel could follow a path designed to provoke a wave  of
ethnic cleansing much like  that  which  caused  the  Palestinian
refugee problem in the first place.

George Bush senior was  the  only  U.S.  President  to  have  the
courage to stand up to the "Israel-right  or  wrong"  lobby  that
claims to speak for most American Jews. Bush  Sr.  told  them  to
stop expanding settlements or lose US "loan guarantees" for money
Israel  sought  to  resettle  Soviet  Jews.  When  Israeli  Prime
Minister Shamir refused, Bush stuck to his guns, and  the  result
was to create economic pressures inside Israel which helped elect
pro-peace prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1992.

It seems unlikely that George W. will  have  similar  courage  or
vision. Ironically, standing up to Israel and insisting  that  it
dismantle the settelements, get out of the -West Bank  and  Gaza,
and accept publicily part of the responsibility for having caused
the Paelstinian refugee problem (and  state  its  willingness  to
take back a portion of those refugees small enough to  not  upset
the Jewish character of Israel) is the most pro-Jewish  thing  he
could do, though many Jews wouldn't read it that way.

The truth is that Judaism and the  Jewish  people  are  suffering
from the impact  of  the  Occupation.  The  mean-spiritedness  in
Israel that leads  to  a  Sharon  landslide  makes  many  younger
Israelis wish to leave Israel and settle in the  U.S.,  and  many
young American Jews to say "my parents were Jewish"  rather  than
claim an identity defined by Israelis as  oppressors  and  people
who think that power is more important than love.

When the American Jewish establishment  rallies  around  such  an
Israel, they do more to drive young Jews into  assimilation  than
any fear of anti-Semitism could ever do.

So, many American Jews greet the election of  Ariel  Sharon  with
great sadness and mourning-mourning for Israel and  mourning  for
the soul of the Jewish people. With Ariel Sharon leading  Israel,
the world will be a scarier place for everyone.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor  of  TIKKUN:  A  Bimonthly  Jewish
Critique of Politics Culture and Society , author  most  recently
of Spirit Matters: Global Healing and  the  Wisdom  of  the  Soul
(Hampton Roads, 2000), and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in  San
Francisco.

RabbiLerner@tikkun.org