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 Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • 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.