One of the things I like least about journalism is the quick reaction to the death of someone. But I happen to be sitting at my computer, and here I am doing it.
I was taught to hate Ariel Sharon, basically. That’s because most people around me hated him, and the media I consumed hated him. I simply breathed the air. He was a war-lover, a killer, a brute — the Bull Connor of Israel. The henchman of a terrorist, Menachem Begin, blah, blah, blah. Maybe you breathed this air, too.
Eventually, I breathed better air, and I came to admire Sharon a great deal. Before, I spat out the word “Sharon” with contempt (as everyone else did). In time, it was “Arik,” spoken with affection.
Anyway, I could write for hours about this — and have, on other occasions. Instead, let me excerpt a few paragraphs from a multi-part journal I wrote in 2004. (The relevant installment is here.) I had gone with a group to Israel.
Next we see Shalom Turgeman, foreign-policy adviser to Sharon — sort of his Condi Rice, apparently. He is a youngish man, obviously intelligent, very measured — somewhat grave, too. (Of course, the issues he deals with inspire gravity.)
. . . skip to something more personal. I ask Turgeman what he believes Sharon’s vision is, and what he’s like to work for. Turgeman thinks for a long, long time. Seldom have I experienced so long a pause between question and answer. Nervous titters are heard around the table.
Then he delivers himself of a lengthy, thoughtful answer, which I will summarize and paraphrase: Sharon is a great man, doing a hard thing. He has been a warrior, he has been seriously wounded, he has lost many friends. He hates war. He wants peace — but real peace, the kind that can stick. In the twilight of a long career, he will act boldly to give Israelis some measure of security. Those who question his desire for peace or for a reasonable, feasible compromise don’t know what they’re talking about.
As for working for him: It is a privilege. He gives you — a subordinate — wide latitude. He confers trust. This septuagenarian man of immense experience asks, “What do you think?” — and means it. A day does not pass when he doesn’t call to say “Thank you” for some work done. He is genial and open.
And when things are at their worst? When Israel is most in danger? That’s when he’s calmest, quietest.
Look, you didn’t expect Turgeman to slam the man. But he didn’t have to say all that, either. And if I’m any judge of people — his answers were sincere.