Global, Identity, Israel

Ariel Sharon indentified more as a Jew than an Israeli or Zionist

Ari Shavit has an insightful article, “The Samurai of Zionism,” in this week’s New Yorker, drawn from numerous private interviews with Ariel Sharon beginning in 1999. Sharon’s statements suggest a significant, if not radical, departure from the classic Zionist view of the Diaspora as something that should be or could be discarded. Rather, he appeared to look at these traits as normative to the Jewish people, and to accept that these cultural values as normative as well. And though he certainly noted the practical downside of these values, he did not, unlike many Zionists, expect or excoriate Jews to divest of their galut mentality, as he did not seem to believe that was even a possibility. He seemed to view the State as a part of the Diaspora even as it changed its rules, and Sharon himself did not qualify his own primary identity as Israeli, but rather, prefered to stick to just Jewish. It seems worth mentioning that these statements were made (and these interviews were granted) to a writer who had originally intended this piece to appear in Haaretz, not an American periodical.
Shavit wrote,

Surprisingly, this secular, Israeli-born soldier defined himself not as an Israeli but as a Jew[…] I wondered how Sharon felt about the changed world opinion in much of the world. The Arab world, and many on the left elsewhere, would never forgive him his early career…But now he was widely respected, even revered…“This doesn’t intoxicate me,” he said…“Above all, I’m a Jew. And I realize how they came to like me. If the Jews were to disappear, they’d also be happy.”

Shavit asserted,

Sharon was the least messianic of Israel’s Prime Ministers…it was Sharon who brought to fruition a post-messianic politics. Under his governance, Israel was weaned of the hope for an ideal end.

The story doesn’t seem to be online, but here’s an interview with Shavit himself from the current edition of The (We’re Too Self-Important To Put Our Magazine Content Online) New Yorker.

17 thoughts on “Ariel Sharon indentified more as a Jew than an Israeli or Zionist

  1. Weird thing is that there is a very serious possibility that Sharon is not halachicly Jewish, though his kids are:
    Dov Bar Leib:
    His father was definitely a Jew, but his mother has a big question mark hanging over her head. According to Sha’ah Tova’s pre-Pesach 5765 edition, Sharon’s mom could not receive a teudat Zehut (identity card) under the Law of Return because the Chief Rabbinate in 1948 refused to certify the validity of her conversion.
    Another version says that Sharon was born before his mom completed the conversion and that he never made it official for himself or cared since he considered himself a proud Israeli as enough.

  2. I wanted to add that if Shavit is claiming that “Sharon was the least messianic of Israel’s Prime Ministers” than his comrades in pens are all being criticized for actually making Sharon their messiah over the past four years.

  3. A truly interesting piece, and I’m keen to read the New Yorker article when it is available. I think that Sharon’s views are quite healthy and probably represent what I hope will become a normative and accepted view in the future. The view that there is a definitive separation between the galut and Eretz Israel served the purposes of encouraging aliyah during the formative years of Israel’s existence, but the continuation of this schism will only assist Israel’s enemies in the future. Whilst I identify religiously as an observant Jew, denominationally as Masorti, politically as centre right, etc. etc. these identifications aren’t nearly as important as identifying first and foremost as a JEW. The more we can encourage this identification both in Israel and the galut, worrying about further classification another day or preferaby not at all, the stronger the worldwide Jewish community will be.
    Unity gives strength. “You are standing this day, all you before the L-rd, your heads, your tribes, your Elders and your officers, every man of Israel.” The Midrash comments on this verse — when are the Jews “standing”? When they are together.” Even a child can break a single reed; but a bundle of reeds can’t be easily broken.

  4. Most Zionists see themselves as Jewish before anything else. It is in their view “goyishe thinking” or “galut thinking” to identify yourself as a member of some country first, and as a Jew last. An Israeli is more likely to think of himself as a Jew first than a lot of assimilated American Jews, who think that Judaism is merely a optional religion. This goes back to the view that Jews are a nation; descendents of 12 tribes that stayed together over the centuries. Not merely a religion, not merely a culture, but a complex amalgam best termed a ‘nation’.

  5. Josh,
    Do you have a reliable source on this story casting doubt on his mother’s Jewishness?
    Shavit doesn’t think that’s the case, and I have met no shortage of Israelis who pride themselves in their rejection of Jewish culture, and though they are certainly a minority of Jews in Israel, they are a significant minority.
    I often thought that Sharon’s 2003 raid on Syria, which sent many messages to many people, also noted acceptance of the motivation of Yom Kippur War, when Syria was among the Arab nations that made it clear that the problem wasn’t arab nationalism, but the problem was Jews running a land thought an Islamic and Arabic one.

  6. Matityahu, i feel anyone whose walked the streets of jerusalem,
    must recognize the difference between galut and eretz yisrael,..
    if not for the simple level that a jew can keep his or her shabbat in israel and feel a part of greater society- not a minority, or live on mountains that share the same name as their families… or share a piece of food with a stranger with relative confidence in it’s kashrut…
    i strongly agree with the need for Jew to rise to the forefront of our identity… the name calling and clustered cantons within israeli society are surely holding our people back from learning from ourselves… love and Respect to all members of 12, 70 and beyond

  7. David,
    go to the link and scroll down to the area I quoted. Otherwise, I’ve read other claims in various places. I myself said it’s a possibility, and didn’t claim anything. I haven’t decided if this either important or critical information, and some even say that once a non-jewish line enters the jewisn nation, it is adopted. If you read the entire article, you’ll see that the author says that it might make sense.

  8. Feel free to erase this Kelsey, but you misunderstood Sharon in the article. Shavit has his own agenda and views, but even through his lens, the picture formed of Sharon is that of a true Zionist who is almost a romantic when it comes to his views and his love for the Land of Israel not to mention the rights of the Jews to define themselves as a nation in this historic Land of Israel.

  9. TM,
    I am not questioning Sharon’s Zionism. I am questioning that he felt it paramount to the point of it being as critical to his identity as his Jewishness, or mistaking it for the same thing.
    I found his comments interesting that,

    “Israel’s radison d’etre, he said, is to be the place where the Jews will finally be cured of their mortal illness, their ‘eternal wandering.’ But he had doubts whether that would, in fact, be cured.”>…“He complained that young Israelis didn’t know their Bible. They weren’t familiar with their history…One generation after another is drifting away from anything Jewish,” he said.

    Not exactly Rabin, now, is he? Sharon considers Zionism to be a part his Jewishness, an integral part, perhaps, but not the whole thing.
    This is not the guy who, if the White House is serving a tray of specially ordered kosher food, will go out of her way to eat from the non-kosher tray to show she is a New Jew.

  10. There’s nothing to interpret. You want to hear it straight from Sharon’s own mouth? Here’s what he told me 13 years ago, when he was a nobody, drifting around, trying to get back in the door:
    And what is his message to the confused Jews of the Diaspora?
    “First of all, stay Jews. Stick to Judaism. Learn the Bible, learn the history of the land and the people. Then move to Israel. Send your children there. Anti-Semitism is spreading like fire around the world. And until you get there, back Israel politically. Invest in Israel.
    “I came to America to strengthen the small Jewish community that lives within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem. When you walk in the narrow streets and see the holes where the mezuzahs once were, and you see the places where they have changed the doorposts so you can see that they’re hiding Jewish places, you will understand the fragility of our security.
    “We need to be strong within the walls and in the City of David, the place where all our stories began, more than 3,000 years ago. We need to survive.”
    BTW, in that interview he told me he helped build Hamas as the alternative to Arafat and that it was backfiring. And he said this, too:
    “Forget about borders. We have been dealing with Arab terrorism for more than 120 years. My grandfather and father faced Arab terror, so have I and so do my sons.” Sharon was born in the Galil in 1928. His parents were ardent Zionists who gave everything up to scratch out an existence in a moshav (farming settlement).
    “Terrorism causes wars because when we cannot protect our citizens, we retaliate. Then there’s counter-retaliation and the cycle of violence escalates. Add to that the lethal personalities of the Arab dictators who are so hard to deter. They don’t care about the future. So if they kill off 250,000 of their own people, they get away with it.
    “Now diplomats can do great things. Talking brought down the Iron Curtain and talking is building bridges to China. But how do you talk to a psychopath? Two or three bombs in Saddam Hussein’s hands or in some Ayatollah’s arsenal are more dangerous than 300,000 nuclear warheads in the U.S.”
    I ask if there is a difference between psychopathic totalitarianism, religious fanaticism and political hatred.
    “Put them together. There is no difference in their brutality, not in the goals and names, not when it comes to Jews.
    “Look. Faisal Husseini is considered a hero. He was nominated by Arafat to be in charge of the military arm of the P.L.O. and the Fatah organization in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. He is the man behind the killings now. And one of Israel’s major mistakes is to try to draw distinctions. We have to remember that in 1987, the then minister of defense thought it might be suitable to help the Hamas organization, dreaming that they would fight the P.L.O. terrorists, because in those days, the RL.O. was the threat.
    “Today they are making concessions to the P.L.O. terrorist organization, they are helping again—not the terrorist squads, but the P.L.O., in the hope they will fight Hamas. You know what happens next? They will fight us together. Recently we found evidence of combined squads in Lebanon and in Gaza. To think for a moment that we will gain anything out of this shows a deep lack of understanding of, and a wrong evaluation of, the situation in the Middle East.”
    And that folks, was 13 years ago.

  11. Kyle’s Mom,
    You wrote, “BTW, in that interview he told me he helped build Hamas as the alternative to Arafat and that it was backfiring. And he said this, too:”
    Why did Sharon not understand the danger of Islamic Fundamentalism? I don’t why he would have made that mistake. The moderate Arab leaders were clear as to the danger of Fundamentalism. How did he miss this?
    Sharon said in the article that, “We have to remember that in 1987, the then minister of defense thought it might be suitable to help the Hamas organization”
    Sharon was out of power, then. So how was he the one who built Hamas?

  12. I agree with you that backing Hamas was a mistake, and he thought so too, at the end, which is why he was always against them being in the PA; he was also always against giving the PA voting rights in East Jerusalem. But who knows? At one point, Hamas was an alternative to the murderous Fatah. Listen, does anyone remember Maalot? Achille Laurie? Munich? This was all the gang that was in power until last week….so they thought, and they thought wrong.
    Now what?

  13. I agree: A glut of galuts causes panic within the diaspora. It’s quite clear historically speaking galut efforts to move the tribe along have nearly always caused the host nations to regard all members of the diaspora as parasites that they mistakenly gave a home to. Now in multi-culture societies it’s not so easy for the galuts to shift the otherwise happy population. Maybe it’s time to come up with a new expression for Jewish people who have definitely decided to stay and who shun the galut. If you are gallant enough to make this kind of mind shift and give the world a new Term and show you are willing to live by it you can make the world your home. The galuts can move-on if they wish.
    And to be perfectly frank The fascistic Zionist has made a mockery of the memory of all who were lost in The Halocaust whilst simultaneously making Israel a singularly unattractive place to live a harmonious life.
    Also to my mind it is also quite clear that a history recorded in captivity will be riddles with deliberate errors in an attempt to disguise the role of friends. Egypt so often sent help to the newly established Israel that it is obvious they were complicit in the formation of a buffer state to forewarn them of a military invasion sent by the other regional super-powers of the day, and, they employed native troops whenever they could. One cannot overlook the similarity between the Nilitic word Masai and the written word Messiah in the context of a history written in captivity. The Assyrians took and dispersed The Israelites. The Babylonians attempted to re-educate The Judean elite, and finally The Persians swept into Egypt having agreed autonomy for Judea.
    Perhaps I’ve got it all wrong and The Zionists are really Anglo/American oil traders making trouble and trying to work up friction in The oil rich region with the assistance of the galut …. who knows? Personally I think the withered roots of your Semitic origins lie in Akkadia, but that’s just me. Shalom.

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