Israel News

Boosting STEM

2014-03-13 10:53:42 ebrown
Zvi Peleg (left), director general of the Israel Sci-Tech Schools Network, is pictured with students of the network's program in collaboration with the Israeli Air Force in Kfar Saba, Israel. (Israel Sci-Tech Schools Network)

Zvi Peleg (left), director general of the Israel Sci-Tech Schools Network, is pictured with students of the network’s program in collaboration with the Israeli Air Force in Kfar Saba, Israel. (Israel Sci-Tech Schools Network)

In Israel, high school education is mandated by law, and the government grants each student an equal financial allocation for education. But a town such as Afula, with fewer residents than Tel Aviv, gets less government funding overall. This is also true for small villages of concentrated minorities.

With the backdrop of that challenge of getting enough outside funding for smaller communities, Zvi Peleg — director general of the Israel Sci-Tech Schools Network, the largest independent network of science and technology educational institutions in Israel — wants to grant the same quality of education to every citizen in Israel.

“We are serving the secular [Jews], the religious, the Orthodox religious, the ultra-Orthodox religious, the Arabs, the Druze, all the populations in Israel,” explained Peleg.

On Feb. 25, Friends of Israel Sci-Tech Schools, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization supporting the Israeli schools network, held a gala to honor five prominent supporters of the program at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.

“Our American Friends group plays a very important role in the success of our programs throughout Israel. There has never been a greater need to prepare our young people with state-of-the-art science and technology education to serve the growing need of industry in Israel,” Peleg said of the dinner, which honored Thomas E. McCorry of Lockheed Martin, Dr. Charlotte Frank, Dr. Lynne B. Harrison, Mark Levenfus and corporate sponsor Marks Paneth LLP.

The Sci-Tech network was first established in Israel in 1949 and today includes 206 junior and senior high schools, industrial schools, educational centers and technical, engineering and academic colleges throughout the Jewish state. The network’s schools focus on science and technology education and reach the peripheral regions of the country, including Israeli municipalities beyond the Green Line such as Maale Adumim and Ariel.

“We are not political at all,” said Peleg, himself a graduate of an Israel Sci-Tech school. “We are dealing only in education.”

A core goal of the school network is to motivate more students to focus on science and technology education. In the Sci-Tech schools, 60 percent of students choose this focus, compared with Israel’s national average of 30 percent.

This focus pays off in a country that has built itself an international reputation of being the “startup nation,” according to Shai Lewinsohn, director of resource development and external affairs for the program, who said the network’s 37 two-year colleges prepare students to be practical engineers.

The Israeli high-tech industry is built on three layers of workers. At the top is the research and development sector, mostly comprised of people with Ph.Ds. Below them are engineers, and below the engineers are practical engineers, the largest layer.

Practical engineers “are very needed in the high-tech industry,” said Lewinsohn, and about 40 percent of those in Israel are graduates of schools in the Sci-Tech program.

Furthermore, the Israel Defense Forces depends on Sci-Tech schools because the army is moving toward high-tech equipment that needs the attention of many technologically trained people.

“Forty percent of the practical engineers who are serving today in the IDF are graduates of our colleges,” said Lewinsohn. “Currently in the IDF, we have three graduates who are major generals. … One of them is the chief of intelligence, Aviv Kochavi.”

In addition, Elisha Yanai, the last of president of Motorola Israel, is a graduate of the Singalowski Technical School in Tel Aviv, a Sci-Tech school and one of the oldest and largest high schools in Israel.

Another two graduates of the school network are heading to the Pitango Venture Capital fund.

“Pitango is one of the largest funds that invests in the high-tech industry in Israel. [Managing general partner and co-founder of Pitango] Chemi Peres is the son of [Israeli] President Shimon Peres. The other [managing general partner] is Aaron Mankovski,” who has headed the HighTech Industries Association, an organization representing the high-tech industry in Israel, said Lewinsohn.

Today, Israel Sci-Tech Schools is the largest education network in Israel, working with 100,000 students from all over the country. Some of the schools have been founded by the program, while in other cases, small municipalities or developing towns that have a lower overall education budget choose to affiliate their existing schools with the Sci-Tech program.

Often, “because the brand has become so well-known in Israel and the level and quality of education is so strong, Israel Sci-Tech schools are really sought after,” said Stan Steinreich, a spokesman for the school network.

The program “will help any kind of community in Israel that asks for help,” said Steinreich. Since Israel’s minority populations tend to concentrate in particular areas, Israel Sci-Tech schools in those areas tend to include predominently students from those communities simply for geographic and demographic reasons.

“In an Arab community the school will be an Arab school, or in a Druze village the school will be a Druze school,” he said.

An exception exists when it comes to the haredi Jewish community, which comprises an estimated 10 percent of Jewish Israelis. Due to that the community’s heavy focus on religious study and religous life, few in the community are able to work full time, and the salaries of those who do are significantly lower. About 60 percent of haredi families, which usually include many children, live in poverty. By 2050, haredim are expected to make up more than a quarter of the Israeli population.

“In order to get those kids to participate, there are sensitivities, and [we are] working with local rabbis to make that happen,” said Steinreich, explaining that Sci-Tech needs to set up special schools geared to the haredi community’s needs in order to work with that community.

At the same time, there is a “warming for the concept” of education in secular subjects in the haredi community, especially science and technology, which represents the core of what the Sci-Tech network does.

“It may not be as quick [as growth in other communities], but it’s certainly changing,” said Steinreich.

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Not Losing Sleep

2014-02-12 10:00:43 ebrown
Psagot Winery, located in an Israeli West Bank settlement, exported 16,000 bottles of wine to Europe in 2013.  (Courtesy Psagot Winery)

Psagot Winery, located in an Israeli West Bank settlement, exported 16,000 bottles of wine to Europe in 2013. (Courtesy Psagot Winery)

TEL AVIV — Of the 200,000 wine bottles Yakov Burg produced last year, 16,000 went to Europe.

The possibility of a boycott and repeated rumblings that Europe is planning to label goods produced in the settlements could decrease that number, but Burg isn’t worried.

The CEO of Psagot Winery, which is located in a settlement of the same name in the hills of the central West Bank, Burg prides himself on running a Jewish-owned business in the West Bank, even welcoming groups of Christian Zionists who want to volunteer during the harvest.

The winery’s location, though, also makes it a prime target for boycotts aimed at goods produced in the settlements.

“There are a lot of places that won’t buy the wine, so of course there’s damage,” admitted Burg. “It doesn’t scare me. We need to fight the boycott, not just do what they want.”

The effort to boycott goods produced in the West Bank, long an objective of anti-Israel activists and some Jewish critics of the Israeli occupation, has achieved some notable victories in recent weeks.

Last month, PGGM, the largest Dutch pension fund, announced it was divesting from five Israeli banks because of their involvement in financing Israeli settlements. That was followed by an announcement that Denmark’s Danske Bank was blacklisting Israel’s Bank Hapoalim over its settlement activity. Sweden’s Nordea Bank has asked two other Israeli banks for more information about their activities in the settlements.

In the United States, settlement goods were in the news recently after actress Scarlett Johansson came under fire for representing SodaStream, an Israeli company that produces home soda machines at a factory in the West Bank.

And in Europe, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands already label goods made in the settlements, and the European Union has threatened repeatedly to take the labeling continentwide. Secretary of State John Kerry warned last week that Israel could face even greater boycott pressure if peace talks with the Palestinians collapse.

But several CEOs of companies that operate factories in the settlements acknowledged that while boycotts could hurt sales, they don’t yet represent a serious threat to business.

Yehuda Cohen, CEO of the plastics company Lipski, which has a factory in the northern West Bank Barkan industrial park, says sales dropped 17 percent in 2010 when local Palestinians started boycotting his products. His company has since recovered, growing by 18 percent last year.

Though only a fraction of Lipski’s products are shipped abroad — 18 percent of total sales are for export, of which a majority goes to Europe — Cohen acknowledges that the EU move to label settlement products is a real threat. Labeling settlement products, Cohen says, could hamper relations with retailers.

“I don’t think we’ve come to the level of a boycott, but labeling is half a boycott,” said Cohen. “The retailer will say, ‘I don’t want problems. Israel is not acting well.’ ”

A European boycott could have a much larger impact on SodaStream, which, according to a 2012 Bloomberg News report, looks to Europe for a majority of sales. CEO Daniel Birnbaum subsequently told The Jewish Daily Forward that having a factory in a settlement was a “pain in the ass.”

The impact of a boycott, though hardly irrelevant, would be more limited for Psagot and Lipski, neither of which are as reliant on European business.

But neither Burg nor Cohen share Birnbaum’s sentiments about the virtues of operating a business in the West Bank. Nor does Rami Levy, the head of the budget supermarket chain Rami Levy Hashikma Market, which operates three locations in the West Bank.

For Burg, his vineyard’s location is in part an ideological statement of opposition to a Palestinian state. Cohen said he supports Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and the goal of a two-state solution. Like other CEOs of companies with West Bank operations, he believes his company furthers the cause of peace by giving jobs to Palestinians.

“Not only does it not do damage, it provides an example of how to live together, how we can do business together,” said Levy. “When you open businesses, you create more jobs. Just don’t discriminate based on religion, race and nationality.”

Levy, whose chain employs about 2,000 Palestinians, was part of a delegation of 100 Israeli businessmen to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last month aimed at encouraging a peace agreement. More than half of the 90 employees of Lipski’s West Bank factory are Palestinians. Cohen employs four Palestinians out of 20 total employees.

Hilik Bar, who chairs the Knesset Caucus for Furthering Relations Between Israel and Europe, said Levy’s argument won’t convince Europeans in the absence of a peace agreement. Bar strongly opposes boycotts, but the Labor Party lawmaker believes the government needs to pursue peace more aggressively.

“It’s not just the two [Scandinavian] banks; it is spreading everywhere,” said Bar, who also chairs the Caucus for the Promotion of a Solution for the Israeli-Arab Conflict. “Israel has an image as a state worthy to isolate. It’s a whole world we’re giving up on economically as long as we don’t come to a two-state solution.”

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Scarlett Johansson defends deal with SodaStream

2014-01-30 10:00:00 lbridwell
Scarlett Johansson cites SodaStream’s commitment to the environment. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images for SodaStream)

Scarlett Johansson cites SodaStream’s commitment to the environment.
(Mike Coppola/Getty Images for SodaStream)

Jewish-American actress Scarlett Johansson has come under fire from human rights groups for serving as a spokeswoman for Israeli carbonated beverage company SodaStream.

Oxfam International, a human rights group that Johansson is involved with, took issue with her deal due to its opposition to “all trade from Israeli settlements.”

SodaStream has long been the target of pro-Palestinian groups for operating a factory in Ma’ale Adumim, which is across the Green Line east of Jerusalem. But SodaStream employees include many Palestinian workers, and the factory includes an on-site mosque. Also, the city is expected to be incorporated into Israel in any peace deal with the Palestinians.

“I remain a supporter of economic cooperation and social interaction between a democratic Israel and Palestine,” Johansson said in a statement. “SodaStream is a company that is not only committed to the environment but to building a bridge to peace between Israel and Palestine, supporting neighbors working alongside each other, receiving equal pay, equal benefits and equal rights.”

Johannson is set to appear in Soda-Stream’s upcoming $4 million Super Bowl ad.

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Local Leaders Remember Sharon as Masterful Strategist

2014-01-16 12:37:34 ebrown
Ariel Sharon (File)

Ariel Sharon (File)

As news of the death of Ariel Sharon spread through the region, local Jewish community and political leaders reflected on the life of the former Israeli prime minister, a fierce warrior and military leader who was known as both the patron of Israel’s settlement drive and the man who uprooted those same communities.

Sharon, who passed away last Saturday at the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv with his sons by his side, was 85 and had been in a coma since suffering a series of strokes in 2006.

Arthur C. Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, met Sharon several times on trips to Israel. He remembered him as “brusque, quiet and tough.”

“You knew he was in the room,” said Abramson. “He was complex. He was a warrior, but at the same time he wanted peace for Israel. I think he was one of the last of the great Israeli forefathers who built the country.”

By all accounts, Sharon was known for his girth and his fearless determination to reach his objective, whether it was military or political. For his tenacity, Sharon was given the nickname “the Bulldozer.”

Yet, that blunt reputation belied Sharon’s tactical finesse. George W. Bush administration official Elliott Abrams met with Sharon numerous times in the early 2000s, when the president issued his “road map” for Middle East peace.

“President Bush liked him because Sharon was trying to do something,” said Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “He was a canny and clever politician. He’d say, ‘I’m just a simple farmer,’ but he wasn’t just a simple farmer. He maneuvered his way through the Cabinet and Knesset and the Likud Party as no one else could.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) recalled meeting Sharon during his last visit to the United States and again when the senator was in Israel.

“He was an extremely impressive individual,” said Cardin. “What’s tragic, in addition to his long illness, is that before he became ill, he was singularly focused on moving the peace process forward. He was making a lot of changes, and we lost momentum after that.”

Tanks Around The Knesset
Ariel Scheinerman was born in British-ruled Palestine in 1928. It was David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding prime minister, who gave him his
Hebrew surname, Sharon. During Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, he was wounded in the battle for Latrun on the road to Jerusalem.

In the 1950s, with terror attacks against Israel from neighboring Arab countries on the rise, Sharon created and led Unit 101, which was charged with staging retaliatory raids.

He fought in the Sinai in the wars of 1956 and 1967. As a reserve general, he led a controversial crossing of the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War.

From early in his service, Sharon was dogged by accusations that he exceeded orders. According to Israeli journalist David Landau, whose biography of Sharon, “Arik,” has just been published, in the case of the Yom Kippur War, those criticisms were politically motivated.

“In the Yom Kippur War there were accusations flying around between the generals and the political parties that saw themselves somehow connected,” said Landau. “He was accused of stepping outside his orders by his political and military rivals and critics, of whom there were many. And he claimed to his last day that these accusations were not well grounded.”

As a neophyte politician, Sharon brought a number of parties together to form the Likud bloc headed by longtime opposition leader Menachem Begin. When Begin became prime minister in 1977, he appointed Sharon agriculture minister.

In his new role, Sharon directed the government’s expanding settlement drive in the West Bank and Gaza. Sharon is popularly seen as the driving force behind the settlements, but Landau says that notion is incorrect.

“Both Begin and [Foreign Minister Yitzhak] Shamir wanted to build these settlements, and Sharon’s role was the executor and not the formulator of policy,” Landau said. “It was Shamir who claimed to the American administration that he had this tough minister building settlements. But in Israel I don’t think many people thought that.”

And Sharon was willing to take down settlements as well as put them up. After the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty was signed in 1979, Sharon oversaw the destruction of the town of Yamit in the Sinai in advance of the Israeli withdrawal.

What Sharon wanted was to become defense minister, a post Begin was reluctant to give him. Begin reportedly announced that he was worried that if he put Sharon in charge of the army, one morning he might wake up to find Sharon had circled the Knesset with tanks.

“Sharon and Begin met in the men’s room, and Begin said, ‘Well you have to understand, it’s just guys joking around,’” Landau said. “But that comment certainly resounded around the country.”

Begin finally appointed Sharon defense minister in 1981. In 1982, Israel launched Operation Peace for Galilee to force the Palestine Liberation Organization out of rocket range of Israel’s northern border.

Sharon took the fight beyond the 40 kilometer goal all the way to Beirut. With Israel now controlling security, a Christian Lebanese militia, apparently enraged at the assassination of newly elected Lebanese president Bachir Gemayel, slaughtered Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps.

Israelis were outraged. A commission appointed to investigate the massacre found the government indirectly responsible. Sharon was accused of gross negligence and was forced to resign.

‘Too Old, Too Extreme’
Sharon was tainted by Sabra and Shatilla, but he didn’t disappear from politics. In 1999, he wrested leadership of the Likud Party from Benjamin Netanyahu, who had just lost the national election to Ehud Barak and the Labor Party.

“The almost universal assessment was that [Sharon] had missed any prospect of becoming prime minister,” according to Landau. “He was too old and too extreme. The Likud people said themselves that he is unelectable because he was too right wing, too pro-settlement. That in itself was part of the drama. So quickly he took over the Likud, became a credible leader of the opposition and then beat [Ehud] Barak in the election.”

The 2001 election came amid the Second Intifada, when Israelis were terrorized by car bombs and suicide killings. A year earlier, Sharon had taken a highly publicized tour of the Temple Mount. His appearance at the holy site was “highly provocative,” said Landau. But Sharon’s aim was not to incite the Palestinians, but a political act in opposition to Barak’s policies, the biographer said.

Nevertheless the day after Sharon’s visit, rioting broke out on the Temple Mount. The Israelis responded with live ammunition. “There was blood on the flagstones of the Temple Mount, and from there the violence spread,” Landau said.

Sharon won the 2001 election and launched an offensive on the West Bank. He also began construction of a security barrier to impede access of would-be terrorists into Israel.

Sharon distrusted Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat — “he hated Arafat,” Abrams said — and concluded that in the absence of a Palestinian partner, ‘[Israel would act unilaterally. In a highly controversial move, he decided to abandon Israel’s settlements in Gaza and withdraw Israel’s military presence from the territory.

“He was able to take enormous ‘[political risks,” said Abrams. “He decided it was time to settle Israel’s borders, if not for all time then for decades at least. I think he planned to do something in the West Bank — pulling settlements back to the fence line.”

“It’s important to remember how embattled he was in 2004 and 2005,” Abrams continued. “He said, ‘The left can’t do anything and the right doesn’t want to do anything, and if I fail, no one else will do anything.’ ”

With the Gaza pullout, Sharon, always anathema to the left, was suddenly condemned by the right as well. More than one religious critic — including televangelist Pat Robertson in 2006 and the spokesman for Hebron’s Jewish community last week — attributed the stroke that befell him as divine punishment for pulling Israel out of Gaza.

“The main criticism from people on the right is that he was elected on a right-of-center platform and he never said he was going to get out of Gaza,” said Abrams. “In August 2005, they withdrew, without violence, which was extraordinary.”

In the upheaval over the Gaza withdrawal, Sharon left the political party he created and formed the centrist Kadima Party, where he was joined by progressive members of Likud and others. On Jan. 4, 2006, he suffered a massive stroke and went into a coma. He was replaced as prime minister by Ehud Olmert.

By that time, many Israelis had had a change of heart about Sharon, said Landau. “The night that he was struck down with a stroke, there was grieving, there was crying. To me, the remarkable feature of that evening was that among the people crying were people who, when he became prime minister, were so discomfited, they were seriously talking about leaving the country.”

Sharon largely left the headlines until last week when it was announced that his condition had become critical that his life was “definitely in danger.”

“Even if you had known nothing about him, he had a personality that radiated and embraced you as if you were equal to him,” said Rabbi Chaim Landau, president of the Baltimore Board of Rabbis who met the then-defense minister during an Israel Bonds-sponsored mission to Israel. “You left him believing you had met a rare individual who was going to leave a lasting legacy for Israel. He was a man who without any apology would leave his stamp on Israel without caring about what the world would think.”

Echoing Landau, Marc B. Terrill, president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, said one overarching feature stood out from Sharon’s sometimes contradictory record.

“Simply put, Ariel Sharon was a leader,” said Terrill. “Whether on the battlefield or in politics, Sharon was a man of determination, resilience and strength. His love for his land and his people was a constant reminder of his resolve. His memory will be a blessing forever.”

sellin@jewishtimes.com
dholzel@washingtonjewishweek.com

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Ariel Sharon dies at 85

2014-01-12 10:54:46 hnorris

Ariel Sharon, former prime minister of Israel, a fierce warrior and military leader who was known as both the patron of Israel’s settlement drive and the man who uprooted those same settlements, died Saturday. He was 85 and had been in a coma since suffering a series of strokes in 2006.

Sharon

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon

Sharon was known for his fearless determination to reach his objective, whether it was military or political. For his tenacity, Sharon was given the nickname “the Bulldozer.”

Yet that blunt reputation belied Sharon’s tactical finesse. Bush administration official Elliott Abrams met with Sharon numerous times in the early 2000s, when President George W. Bush issued his “road map” for Middle East peace.

“President Bush liked him because Sharon was trying to do something,” said Abrams, now senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “He was a canny and clever politician. He’d say, ‘I’m just a simple farmer,’ but he wasn’t just a simple farmer. He maneuvered his way through the Cabinet and Knesset and the Likud Party as no one else could.”

“He was commanding,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), recalling meetings with Sharon. “He had an incredible command of the room. He gave you confidence that he had a strategic plan in a diverse political climate.”

Tanks around the Knesset

Ariel Scheinerman was born in British-ruled Palestine in 1928. It was David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding prime minister, who gave him his Hebrew surname, Sharon. During Israel’s War of Independence, he was wounded in the battle for Latrun on the road to Jerusalem.

In the 1950s, with terror attacks against Israel from neighboring Arab countries on the rise, Sharon created and led Battalion 101, the unit charged with staging retaliatory raids. One such raid led to the death of innocent women and children, and the unit was disbanded.

He fought in the Sinai in the wars of 1956 and ’67. As a reserve general, he led a controversial crossing of the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War.

From early in his service, Sharon was dogged by accusations that he exceeded orders. According to Israeli journalist David Landau, whose biography of Sharon, “Arik,” has just been published, in the case of the Yom Kippur War, those criticisms were politically motivated.

“In the Yom Kippur War there were accusations flying around between the generals and the political parties that saw themselves somehow connected. He was accused of stepping outside his orders by his political and military rivals and critics, of whom there were many. And he claimed to his last day that these accusations were not well-grounded.”

As a neophyte politician, Sharon brought a number of parties together to form the Likud bloc headed by longtime opposition leader Menachem Begin. When Begin became prime minister in 1977, he appointed Sharon agriculture minister.

In his new role, Sharon directed the government’s expanding settlement drive in the West Bank and Gaza. Sharon is popularly seen as the driving force behind the settlements, but Landau says that notion is incorrect.

“Both Begin and [Foreign Minister Yitzhak] Shamir wanted to build these settlements and Sharon’s role was the executor and not the formulator of policy,” Landau said. “It was Shamir who claimed to the American administration that he had this tough minister building settlements. But in Israel I don’t think many people thought that.”

And Sharon was willing to take down settlements as well as put them up. After the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty was signed in 1979, Sharon oversaw the destruction of the town of Yamit in the Sinai in advance of the Israeli withdrawal.

What Sharon wanted was to become defense minister, a post Begin was reluctant to give him. Begin reportedly announced that he was worried that if he put Sharon in charge of the army, one morning he might wake up to find Sharon had circled the Knesset with tanks.

“Sharon and Begin met in the men’s room and Begin said, ‘Well you have to understand, it’s just guys joking around,’” Landau said. “But that comment certainly resounded around the country.”

Begin finally appointed Sharon defense minister in 1981. In 1982, Israel launched Operation Peace for Galilee to force the Palestine Liberation Organization out of rocket range of Israel’s northern border.

Sharon took the fight beyond the 40-kilometer goal all the way to Beirut. With Israel now controlling security, a Christian Lebanese militia slaughtered Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps.

Israelis were outraged. A commission appointed to investigate the massacre found the government indirectly responsible. Sharon was accused of gross negligence and was forced to resign.

‘Too old and too extreme’

Sharon was tainted by Sabra and Shatilla but didn’t disappear from politics. In 1999 he wrested leadership of the Likud party from Benjamin Netanyahu, who had just lost the national election to Ehud Barak and the Labor Party.

“The almost universal assessment was that [Sharon] had missed any prospect of becoming prime minister,” according to Landau. “He was too old and too extreme. The Likud people said themselves that he was unelectable because he was too right wing, too pro-settlement. That in itself was part of the drama. So quickly he took over the Likud, became a credible leader of the opposition and then beat Barak in the election.”

The 2001 election came amid the Second Intifada, when Israelis were terrorized by car bombs and suicide killings. A year earlier, Sharon had taken a highly publicized tour of the Temple Mount. His appearance at the holy site was “highly provocative,” Landau said. But Sharon’s aim was not to incite the Palestinians, but a political act in opposition to Barak’s policies, the biographer said.

Nevertheless the day after Sharon’s visit, rioting broke out on the Temple Mount. The Israelis responded with live ammunition. “There was blood on the flagstones of the Temple Mount and from there the violence spread,” Landau said.

Sharon won the 2001 election and launched an offensive on the West Bank. He also began construction of a security barrier to impede Palestinian access into Israel.

Sharon distrusted Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat (“He hated Arafat,” Elliott Abrams said.) and concluded that in the absence of a Palestinian partner, Israel would act unilaterally. He determined to abandon Israel’s settlements in Gaza and withdraw Israel’s military presence from the territory.  The move was highly controversial.

“He was able to take enormous political risks,” Abrams said. “He decided it was time to settle Israel’s borders, if not for all time then for decades at least. I think he planned to do something in the West Bank – pulling settlements back to the fence line.

“It’s important to remember how embattled he was in 2004 and 2005,” Abrams continued. “He said, ‘The left can’t do anything and the right doesn’t want to do anything and if I fail no one else will do anything.’”

With the Gaza pullout, Sharon, always anathema to the left, was suddenly condemned by the right as well. More than one religious critic – including televangelist Pat Robertson in 2006 and the spokesman for Hebron’s Jewish community last week – attributed the stroke that befell him as divine punishment for pulling Israel out of Gaza.

“The main criticism from people on the right is that he was elected on a right-of-center platform and he never said he was going to get out of Gaza,” Abrams said. “In August 2005 they withdrew, without violence, which was extraordinary.”

In the upheaval over the Gaza withdrawal, Sharon left the political party he created and formed the centrist Kadima Party, where he was joined by progressive members of the Likud party and others. On Jan. 4, 2006, he suffered a massive stroke and went into a coma. He was replaced as prime minister by Ehud Olmert.

By that time, many Israelis had had a change of heart about Sharon, Landau said.

“The night that he was struck down with a stroke, there was grieving, there was crying. To me, the remarkable feature of that evening was that among the people crying were people who, when he became prime minister, were so discomfited, they were seriously talking about leaving the country. Because they just knew that the intifada in his hands would turn into a bloodbath. It didn’t happen. But that was the assumption, taking into account the prior image of Sharon.”

Sharon largely left the headlines until last week when it was announced that his condition had become critical that his life was “definitely in danger.”

Sharon, who always said he acted in the name of Israel’s security, leaves behind a gritty legacy.

“He had a fairly grim view of the possibility of peace,” Abrams said. “You could have the absence of war. You could avoid war. But peace is another matter.”

In the eight years since his sudden departure from the scene, no one has yet proved Ariel Sharon wrong.

Sharon
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