Thug

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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Sharon is dead. The obituaries are coming fast and furious. Most mainstream news outlets are presenting a “balanced” view of Sharon as a controversial leader bound to be lionized over the next days.

The Guardian plays both sides of the Sharon equation. While it highlights the controversies that surrounded Sharon in life, the Guardian sums up Sharon’s controversial legacy this way:

For many Israelis he will be mourned as a giant figure that played a key role in shaping Israel both as a soldier and a statesman. His passing severs the last link to the iconic generation which fought in the 1948 war that followed the declaration of the state. His reputation as a fearless – and controversial – soldier was matched by his uncompromising ideology as a politician.

Among Palestinians and leftwing Israelis, he will be remembered as a powerful and reviled champion of Israel’s colonial settlement project, and the political force behind the construction of the vast concrete and steel separation barrier that snakes through the West Bank. Many will not forgive his role in the killing of hundreds of Palestinians in refugee camps in Beirut in the 1980s.

But those of us who aren’t beholden to these mainstream journalistic norms, whatever they’re worth, should state what’s on our minds. As Miko Peled writes:

Ariel Sharon was an ambitious man. He was brutal, greedy, uncompromising and dishonest. He possessed an insatiable appetite for power, glory and fortune. His tendencies as a cold-blooded, merciless killer were evident from early on in his career….

Simply put, Sharon was a thug.

Sharon was a thug who courted and exercised power his entire career, ultimately holding the reins of state power. For decades progressive Zionists held fast to the fiction that Sharon was a rightwing bigot outside Israel’s centrist political culture. They were wrong. Though rougher and more bellicose than other Israeli leaders, Sharon’s vision was – and is – at the center of the Israel’s state enterprise.

Sharon’s legacy isn’t about how Jews want Israel to be perceived by others. Leadership style is only a superficial part of the story. Sharon’s legacy is about the policies he carried out as a military and political actor.

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