Israel’s Lincoln

Ariel Sharon’s death is a great misfortune that has befallen Israel and the Middle East. But even as he lay dying, rabbis in his country were split on whether or not to pray for his recovery:

     Both chief rabbis called on the public to pray for Sharon. Rabbi Shlomo Amar led a special prayer for the prime minister during a rabbinic conference near Zichron Ya’acov.
However, Rabbi Shmuel Eliahu, Chief Rabbi of Safed and son of former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliahu, said it was forbidden to pray for something one did not really believe in.
“If you fear that Sharon will continue to cause pain to Jewish families if he recovers, don’t pray for him,” said Eliahu in response to a question from a settler who was evacuated from Gaza. The question and answer appeared on Moriya, a religious Zionist Internet site.

And the rest of the Middle East was split also. The “man-in-the-street interviews were quite happy with the news. Others were more disturbed:

     “We don’t know what will happen after him,” said Ismail. “Will it be someone aggressive or someone softer? But we’re not worried. Nothing worse can happen that hasn’t already.”
Other Arabs were worried and expressed regret that Sharon would no longer be the leader of Israel at a time when he has shown he is ready to withdraw from land conquered in 1967.
“It’s a pity because it really looked like he was going to deliver,” said Hisham Kassem, a senior Egyptian media persona speaking to The Jerusalem Post by phone from Cairo.
Kassem, like many other Arabs, recently saw in Sharon a man who could make a final peace agreement with the Palestinians. “Now I’m worried that whoever takes over won’t be able to do it. Then we end up another 10 or 15 years before some kind of settlement is sorted out. The last thing I want is to see [Likud Chairman Binyamin] Bibi Netanyahu in power again.”
Hussein Serag, Deputy Editor-in-chief of the Egyptian political weekly, October, said that the views of Arabs on Sharon depended on their level of education.
“The educated people who understand politics know that Sharon is a strong man who can make peace, like Begin who was strong and made peace with Sadat,” Serag told The Post. “We want him healthy not because we like him but because we believe he can make peace.”

But now that possibility is gone, and people are not hopeful about the future. Charles Krauthammer calls Sharon’s death “a calamity.”

     The stroke suffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could prove to be one of the great disasters in the country’s nearly 60-year history. .. [it] could be disastrous because Sharon represented, indeed embodied, the emergence of a rational, farsighted national idea that seemed poised in the coming elections to create a stable governing political center for the first time in decades.

Krauthammer says that Sharon’s genius was to find a “third way” between the Left and the Right, between capitulation — called “negotiated peace” — and hanging onto the Gaza strip no matter what:

     Sharon’s genius was to seize upon and begin implementing a third way. With a negotiated peace illusory and a Greater Israel untenable, he argued that the only way to security was a unilateral redrawing of Israel’s boundaries by building a fence around a new Israel and withdrawing Israeli soldiers and settlers from the other side. The other side would become independent Palestine.
Accordingly, Sharon withdrew Israel entirely from Gaza. On the other front, the West Bank, the separation fence under construction will give the new Palestine about 93 percent of the West Bank. Israel’s 7 percent share will encompass a sizable majority of Israelis who live on the West Bank. The rest, everyone understands, will have to evacuate back to Israel.
The success of this fence-plus-unilateral-withdrawal strategy is easily seen in the collapse of the intifada. Palestinian terrorist attacks are down 90 percent. Israel’s economy has revived. In 2005, it grew at the fastest rate of the developed countries. Tourists are back, and the country has regained its confidence. The Sharon idea of a smaller but secure and demographically Jewish Israel garnered broad public support, marginalized the old parties of the left and right, and was on the verge of electoral success that would establish a new political center to carry on this strategy.

But now, what is to be? Krauthammer doesn’t think anyone can replace Sharon. Unfortunately, he could be right. Sharon’s untimely death may give the advantage to those who do not wish Israel well, as is the case wtih many Leftists in Europe –e.g., those in Sweden calling for a boycott of Israeli goods, including the archbishop of the Lutheran Church of Sweden, as well as Sweden’s ambassador to Berlin.

If you doubt that one man matters that much, consider what Lincoln’s assassination cost the United States in the forty years following the Civil War. The South was penalized, humiliated, and became deliberately obstructionist for generations afterwards. Had Lincoln lived — this man whose genius lay in pulling together factions who would not otherwise have joined hands — the bitterness on both sides would have been quicker to heal.

The South would have been permitted to recover more quickly, the North would have been more likely to forgive, and the “Rebels” might well have faded within a generation. Certainly, the KKK would not have been able to establish, much less maintain, a toehold in the South and parts of the lower Midwest. With Lincoln at the helm, our history would have been different in ways that would reverberate even today.

But instead we had Andrew Johnson and the cruelty of Reconstruction in addition to the rise of Jim Crow. None of that would have happened – or at least would have been much ameliorated — had Lincoln survived to work out the post-war peace.

And now, likewise, Sharon is gone and with him is vanished the hope of his new party. Krauthammer sees it this way:

     The problem is that the vehicle for this Sharonist centrism, his new Kadima Party, is only a few weeks old, has no institutional structure and is hugely dependent on the charisma of and public trust in Sharon.
Sharon needed time, perhaps just a year or two, to rule the country as Kadima leader, lay down its institutional roots and groom a new generation of party leaders to take over after him.

As Krauthammer points out, Sharon’s party was an idea whose time had come:

     But not all ideas whose time has come realize themselves. They need real historical actors to carry them through. Sharon was a historical actor of enormous proportion, having served in every one of Israel’s wars since its founding in 1948, having almost single-handedly saved Israel with his daring crossing of the Suez Canal in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and now having broken Israel’s left-right political duopoly that had left the country bereft of any strategic ideas to navigate the post-Oslo world. Sharon put Israel on the only rational strategic path out of that wreckage. But, alas, he had taken his country only halfway there when he himself was taken away. And he left no Joshua.

No, there will be no Sharon, just as there was only Johnson and no Joshua to follow Lincoln.

And it will be much, much worse for Israel than it was for us.

13 thoughts on “Israel’s Lincoln

  1. Things are always more complicated than they appear. Olmert is not Andrew Johnson. Johnson was a racist drunk who was on the ticket because Lincoln was worried about the 1864 election. Johnson was sympathetic to the South and to its racist beliefs. It was the Radical Republicans who wanted to punish the South. Whether Lincoln could have controlled them is open for debate. Certainly Lincoln was a far superior politician than Johnson, but whether he was enough better is a question. Olmert is no dummy. He was, as you know, the mayor of Jerusalem who defeated Teddy Kolleck. I think he’ll be able to hold Kadima together, but I think he’s going to show that he can respond with an iron fist to any terrorism to calm the fears of the public that he would not be able to provide for the security of Israel.

  2. Sharon did not die according to Drudge. I don’t think that he will ever be back in Israeli politics, however.

  3. The wall is nearing completion. That is Sharon’s greatest achievement and will assure Israel’s ability to defend itself against the terrorists.

    It is a difficult time for everyone since Iran is going to get the bomb unless they are forcibly stopped.

    Netanyahu is capable and tough.

    I wish Sharon was still well and in charge, but it is time to face reality and make decisions.

  4. Joe–

    Of course things are more complicated. My comparison between Sharon and Lincoln was to point to the way the two men pulled of what seemed impossible — and made many enemies in the process.

    Lincoln certainly could have and would have done better than Johnson; he would not have permitted the open lawlessness and he had charisma…that’s why he got re-elected.

    Sharon was also hated — thus the angry settlers’ refusal to pray for him. But Olmert doesn’t have the charisma Sharon had. In some ways S. was larger than life. And Kadima is too new, too untried…I am concerned that those who were looking to Sharon for leadership will drift back to where they were.

    As for Olmert’s iron fist — from your comment to God’s eyes.

  5. Excuse me Joe, but most Southerners who fought in the war against Northern Oppression did NOT own slaves and could give a rat’s behind about the lifestyle of the descendants of the Cavilier English who established the plantation system and its slavery. As far as I’m concerned, slavery screwed my hillbilly ancestors because it limited their job opportunities. (Talk about cheap labor)

    What these mainly Scots-Irish people. who provided the bulk of the troops for the South, cared about was the fact that people from the north invaded their states and, thus, needed to be resisted.

    Insofar as racism is concerned,(your comment about the “racist south”) most of that developed in the South among the rank and file as a result of Reconstruction. I don’t think that Lincoln had enlightened views either. He didn’t free the slaves in the border states, after all.

    And, I have to say–I lived through Jim Crow and thought it was awful. But, I saw what happened when the schools in Boston were desegregated. The anger and vitriol demonstrated by the whites in that town was every bit as bad as that demonstrated in the South. And what do you expect, when a bunch of social engineers/judges rule by top-down elitist methods? You expect people to love each other under that kind of duress?

    The history I studied told me that Andrew Johnson tried to stop the Radical Reconstructionists. I guess his love for drink affected his success.

    I’m real sick with Yankees commenting about how racist the South was or is. As far as I am concerned, you’re talking out your a@##.

    Given all this, I have a mixed opinion about Lincoln. Insofar as Sharon is concerned, I liked some of his ideas. I think he adhered to the idea that if they hit you–you hit them back twice as hard.

    I didn’t like the fact that he gave back the Gaza.

  6. Sue Bob,

    After Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclimation, Judah Benjamin, then in Davis’ cabinet, gave a speech proposing that the South issue its own emancipation. TRichmond Times then ran an editorial asking what the war was being fought for if the slaves were to be freed. I think, at the time, just about everyone understood that the war was about slavery. Hence the draft riots in New York, hence the problems with prisoner transfers (the South kept executing Black soldiers). It is not Northerners lecturing the South on racism, its just understanding history and trying to understand its implications.


  7. Joe,

    The Emancipation Proclamation did not free the slaves in the Yankee-held border states. Moreover, I’m not talking about what the Yankees (or the poor immigrants pressed into service) thought the war was about–or even Southern elites.

    I’m talking about what the average Southerner thought–his land was being invaded and he needed to fight back. They rose up spontaneously to fight and didn’t need a draft–or to draft foreign immigrants. Most of those people weren’t focused on so-called “racist beliefs” until after the war when they lived under occupation.

    And–Yankees still try to lecture us on various moral issues. Just like the world tries to lecture Israel.

  8. Sue Bob is right – Joe is wrong. There. That’s settled.

    As for Sharon –

    “The graveyards are full of indispensable men” – General Charles Degaulle, former
    indispenable man, current graveyard resident.

  9. *sigh*

    Yes, the reason the average Southern soldier fought was not slavery.

    This does not change the fact that the reason the *war* was fought, *was* slavery. Or, to be more specific, the South fought to drive off the Union invaders. The North invaded to stop the South from seceeding. And the South seceeded. . . because it looked like they could no longer maintain sufficient voter membership in Congress to indefinitely protect slavery.

    So, how’s about we split it: the average Southern troop was no more racist than the average Northern troop, but the war was fought because of slavery. Fair enough??

  10. joe and sue bob:

    This argument goes all the way back to the very beginning of the colonies’ dissension when the Constitution was being formed. The Virginians had enough clout to be the spoiler if New England insisted on the gradual eradication of slavery. Jefferson was adamant that the issue be put aside in the interests of federation. So it was just postponed for 60 years.

    Jefferson and Madison did long term harm with their failure of nerve on this issue. And Adams has his share of blame, too.

    But those were perilous times. No one was sure they wouldn’t hanging at the end of a rope…remember Franklin’s warning: “we must all hang together or we will surely hang separately.” Which is what the British planned.

    And Lincoln, when his turn came to deal with this Gordian knot, used the Emancipation Proclamation in order to untie it as best he could, while still trying to hang onto the Union. Had he lived, it might have been less fragmented and bitter. Even just a few years…

    …remember when Booth shot Lincoln, he did so while proclaiming Virginia’s state motto: “sic semper tyrannis. The South is avenged.” He really thought he would be lauded for his efforts.

    I, too, lived thru Jim Crow laws in the South in my childhood. I found them obnoxious and as a youngster often stood up on the bus to let a tired black maid sit down. I used to get dirty looks.

    Many, many years later I lived in the same neighborhood in Wellesley Mass as the federal judge who desegregated the schools in Boston. His wife, Barbara, and I taught CCD (Cath. version of Sunday school) together briefly. His house was under constant guard. Shortly afterwards, Wellesley started bussing in black kids from the ‘ghetto’ if they could find a sponsoring family … back then, kids went home for lunch so someone had to take the children in. I talked to my “child” a few years ago. She’s a nurse now and says Boston is much less racist than it was, though there are still places she wouldn’t go.

    Meanwhile, these many years later, I have come to ground in a largely black area of a rural part of the Virginia foothills. Our house was built by poor black people, rooms added here and there as they had the money. There are still some people here without indoor plumbing…(no, we’re not one of them), but the Scout troop has been truly integrated since the ’70’s and there aren’t really any segregated areas. It’s interesting because there are rich homes next to poor ones (no zoning by economic or racial standards). Because rural Virginia was hit so hard it hasn’t changed all that much — at least away from the big cities like Richmond. You can see the traces of the War, still. We are not far from Appomattox and many of the battlefields of the Late Unpleasantness.

    Recently, I ran across a book in our church library, published in the ’30’s that was so condescendingly kind and racist that I took it out of the stacks; it made the whole fetid mess so fresh. I didn’t throw it away, though. I’m hoping that in 200 years it will simply be a curiosity.

    But maybe not. This stuff has been going on since the early 1700’s in our country. Tribal memories don’t die out. I know this only too well, my mother having been born and raised as an Irish nationalist. Now *there* is one on-going bitter argument. Someone who was a FS officer in the Middle East and was transferred to Dublin was amazed at the cultural similarities…

    ..Plus ca change, I guess.

  11. Many of us in Israel are absolutely baffled by the lionizing of Ariel Sharon.

    Sharon ran on a hardball security platform – and then betrayed those who voted for him, under pressure from Israel’s left-leaning media and judiciary – which applied the screws with off-again, on-again investigations into Sharon’s corrupt fundraising whenever it seemed Arik was turning Right.

    Sharon ran roughshod over the democratic process – both the country’s and his party’s – and has left Israel looking more like a banana republic than any time since the socialist stranglehold on leadership was broken 40 years ago.

    Folks, there never was a deep, grand strategy – Sharon zigged left and zagged right to try and stay in (and consolidate) power.

    The Sharon dynasty’s political life-raft, it has drawn the corrupt losers from Likud and Labor – ward heelers whose only unifying principle is (was!) clinging to Sharon’s coattails.

    Economic rebound?
    That’s due to Netanyahu’s ballsy leadership as Finance Minister, pushing for Reagan/Thatcher style reforms of our limping, half-socialist economy.

    Brilliant political moves?
    We have already absorbed our first wave of missiles fired ever deeper into Israel from the area Sharon made judenrein. There have been almost THREE THOUSAND missile and suicide bomb attempts in the past 2 years of “cease fire” and our army – demoralized after turning Jews out of their homes – is keeping its tail
    firmly between its legs.

    So much for Sharon’s reputation as a pit bull giving terrorists pause… not.

    Please, please listen to us folks: perhaps Sharon embodied an image of leadership you admire, and yearn for – but it’s an illusion. This “lion in winter” long ago lost his teeth.

    There never was a vision. Just desperation, greed, a bull-in-a-china-shop approach to democracy.

    Netanyahu – backed by a cleaned-up Likud that actually stands for security again! – looks very good to many Israelis. The stench rising from Kadima – and no longer masked by Sharon’s laurels – is eye-stinging.

  12. A couple of points:
    1. I really appreciate the civility in the tone of the comments here. I think intellectual disagreement does not have to become personal or vitriolic. Shakespeare said something like, “Let us be like the lawyers who can argue their cases and then dine together.”
    2. Dick Gregory said, “Up North they don’t care how big I get as long as I don’t get too close, down South they don’t care how close I get as long as I don’t get too big!” I think that gets it about right.
    3. The most interesting people aren’t the perfect ones, it is the imperfect ones. Nixon holds our attention because of his flaws. The same is true of Oskar Schindler. Wallenberg was no doubt a better human being, it is because of his flaws that Schindler is so fascinating. Sharon intrigues us because of the contradictions. And I think that Olmert will keep Kadima together and that Netanyahu would be a disaster.


  13. Thanks, WestBankMama! I was wondering if Bibi had a decent following. I certainly hope so. Yesterday, speaking to an Israeli friend, he thought Bibi had a good chance.

Comments are closed.