Sharon: Myths, Facts, and Blood Libels

by Tom Gross

Former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon passed away a short time ago at the age of 85. He never recovered from the devastating stroke he suffered eight years ago, on January 4, 2006, five years after being elected prime minister.

Sharon’s long and controversial career – as Israeli general, politician, and builder and then dismantler of settlements (in Sinai, Gaza, and four in the West Bank) – has inspired so much vituperation and calumny that it has often been difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Time magazine was one of many publications to slander Sharon, falsely claiming he ordered the 1982 the Sabra and Shatila massacre of Muslims by Christians in Beirut. Sharon successfully sued Time.

Already today, some in the international media have started to vilify him. In Britain, BBC Radio News at 4 p.m. eulogized Sharon by giving the floor as the sole speaker to a Palestinian man who claimed Sharon should not have been allowed to die of natural causes.

The publicly funded BBC, the world’s biggest news broadcaster, breaking its own charter to be balanced, is already repeating lies on its website that Sharon caused the Second Intifada. (The network has repeated it in at least eleven links in at least four different articles on its website just in the last five days.)

The BBC (and some anti-Israeli journalists at the New York Times) fail to report what the Palestinians themselves say. For example, Marwan Barghouti, the de facto leader of the intifada, said: “The intifada did not start because of Sharon’s visit to Al-Aqsa.”

Palestinian Authority communications minister Imad Al-Faluji added: “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 Yasser Arafat’s widow Suha, on Dubai TV, said the intifada was pre-planned, too: “Immediately after the failure of the Camp David [negotiations], I met him [Yasser Arafat] in Paris upon his return and he said to me, ‘You should remain in Paris.’ I asked him why, and he said, ‘Because I am going to start an intifada. They [Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak] want me to betray the Palestinian cause. I will not do so.”

More generally, while Ariel Sharon was a complex figure, and — like many Western and Middle Eastern leaders, not without some wrongdoing — many of the accounts are grossly unfair.

In the past, much coverage of Sharon in the European and Arab media has been accompanied by blatant anti-Semitism. In Spain, for example, on June 4, 2001 (three days after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 21 young Israelis at a Tel Aviv disco, in the midst of a unilateral Israeli ceasefire), the Spanish liberal magazine Cambio 16 published a cartoon of Sharon (with a hook nose he does not have), wearing a skull cap (which he did 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.”

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 in London compared him to Charles Dickens’s infamous anti-Semitic stereotype, Fagin.

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. While it is too early to tell, I doubt Sharon will be hailed as “a modern Moses,” as the influential British paper the Guardian dubbed Yasser Arafat on the front page of the newspaper when he died.

— Tom Gross is the former Middle East correspondent for the London Sunday Telegraph.

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