Ariel Sharon, Larger-Than-Life Israeli Soldier Turned Prime Minister, Dies at 85

Right Wing Icon Had Been in Coma Since 2006 Stroke

‘King Arik’: Ariel Sharon shares a laugh during 2004 Knesset session. The iconic Israeli general-turned-politician suffered a catastrophic stroke while serving as premier two years later.
getty images
‘King Arik’: Ariel Sharon shares a laugh during 2004 Knesset session. The iconic Israeli general-turned-politician suffered a catastrophic stroke while serving as premier two years later.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published January 11, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 5 of 5)

His own explanation for his turnabout was simple: Reality looked different from the prime minister’s chair with all its complications and conflicting responsibilities. “What you see from here, you can’t see from out there,” he famously told visitors.

Complicating events were a series of police investigations targeting Sharon on suspicions of influence-peddling, real estate fraud and campaign finance violations, mostly originating before he became prime minister. The police eventually decided not to indict him, prompting accusations of an ideologically driven whitewash, but his son Omri pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison.

Despite the uproar, the disengagement was carried in August 2005 with little incident. In a two-week operation, tens of thousands of troops removed 9,000 settlers from 21 settlements in Gaza and four more in the northern West Bank.

Protests continued, however. In November, as his party and his coalition approached meltdown, Sharon quit to form a new party, Kadima, which immediately became the ruling party in a new center-left coalition. Virtually overnight, he was remade from champion of the hardline right to leader of a new center-left consensus. Two months later, and one day after Omri resigned from the Knesset in disgrace, Sharon’s career ended in a massive stroke.

During his long years lingering in a coma, Sharon’s hold on Israel’s memory was as tenuous as his hold on life. The right, whose champion he had been for a generation, never forgave him for the 2005 Gaza disengagement, and the left, whose cause he took up in his final years, never forgave him for the 1982 Beirut massacre.

The Kadima party that he founded in 2005 to carry his new vision barely survived him, winning elections in 2006 under Ehud Olmert and 2009 under Tzipi Livni but then virtually disappearing in 2013 under Shaul Mofaz. The unilateral Gaza withdrawal, his last strategic gambit, remained mired in controversy, favored by the military but reviled as a failure by much of the population. Only the settlements, the lifelong passion that his aides said he came in the end to see as a historic error, seemed likely to endure.

In the long run, however, the hugely complex emotions he evoked in Israel and around the world, the indelible stamp he left on every stage of Israel’s growth, his military achievements and his immensely human personality seem certain to guarantee him a permanent place in Israeli history.

Contact J.J. Goldberg at

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • The rose petals have settled, and Andi has made her (Jewish?) choice. We look back on the #Bachelorette finale:
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels.
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.