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What They Are Saying week of 01/19/06
C'est La Vie: Leaders Come, Leaders Go, Though Some Prove UnforgettableColumnist Tim Hames writes in The Times of London (www.timesonline.co.uk) on Jan. 9 about the absence of an Arab Sharon:
"The graveyards, Charles de Gaulle once remarked, are full of indispensable men. Ariel Sharon would doubtless agree.
"De Gaulle and Mr. Sharon have more than a sense of irony in common. Both were brilliant yet immensely controversial military men, prone to viewing 'orders' as mere advice to be assessed on its merits. Each rose to the highest office late in life and after a long period of political exile. And both were accused of betrayal by their most enthusiastic original supporters - de Gaulle for driving through Algerian independence and Mr. Sharon for forcing the closure of Jewish settlements in Gaza.
"The main differences between the two are that the Israeli prime minister was considerably more successful as a commander on the battlefield (then again, he did not have to lead the French), and that he is consistently more modest.
"De Gaulle was not an indispensable man, because the Fifth Republic that he imposed on France was strong enough by the time of his resignation to cope with his departure. Mr. Sharon will not - despite the understandable concerns to the contrary - be indispensable either because he has already altered Israel so much that the political landscape that he primarily shaped can also endure after his death, incapacity or retirement. It is not true that the 'peace process' has depended upon him staying in power. The die is already cast on the Israeli side of that dialogue. It is not, alas, anything like so well established on the other side.
"Mr. Sharon's dispensability can be explained by three factors. The first is that his recent moves have been an effect of, as well as a cause of, reform. Like de Gaulle, he defined and personified the 'legitimate Right'. His personal credibility as the man who had saved his nation in 1973 (de Gaulle, of course, merely spent 30 years behaving as if he had single-handedly saved his country in the mid-1940s) meant that, if he ruled that an initiative was compatible with Israel's security, that was the end of the debate as far as mainstream center-right opinion was concerned.
"Mr. Sharon's new Kadima political movement has not been a personal plaything, but is the inevitable consequence of the changed direction of Israeli politics. A vast space had opened for a party that was tough on security but was willing to make territorial concessions. Likud had ceased to be capable of representing such an outlook. The Labor Party does not seem to be able to do so, either. Kadima is, thus, not a fan club but a force of political nature.
"The dilemma for Israel and the peace process is not that Mr. Sharon cannot continue to serve as prime minister. It is that there is no equivalent to Mr. Sharon in the Arab world. There is no one willing to acknowledge publicly that the Palestinians cannot have all that they might want, just as Israelis cannot have everything they might desire.
"There is no one prepared to state what is absolutely obvious, namely, that any return to the boundaries of 1967, let alone those of 1948, is a ludicrous notion. There is no one willing to declare openly that not only do those who surround Israel have to recognize its right to exist, but that their societies will thrive only when they begin to emulate the democratic values, economic ingenuity and cultural diversity that explain why Israel's gross domestic product exceeds that of its vastly more populous neighbors combined.
"There is instead a political culture in which ruling elites officially blame the existence of Israel for their national woes and oppositions damn both Israel and the ruling elites for their own difficulties. This is, in effect, the division between Fatah and Hamas that the parliamentary elections in the Palestinian Authority is brutally exposing.
"De Gaulle transformed France in large part because the rest of Europe had been transformed by others. Mr. Sharon has transformed Israel and been transformed by Israel. The tragedy of his end is not the event itself, it is the absence of events around it."
Watch the Company You Keep, for They Can Lead You Down a Bad Path
Crime novelist Andrew Klavan writes in the Los Angeles Times (www.latimes.com) on Jan. 14 that when it comes to anti-Semites, there's no mistaking their intentions:
"There is one good thing about anti-Semitism: It lets you know who the bad guys are. Right, left, black, white, freak or straight, the minute someone starts rattling on about the evil Jews, you know your train just pulled into Slimeball Station.
"All bigotry is wrong, of course, but there's something about this particular form of prejudice that is weirdly reliable as a sign of deeper wickedness. Perhaps it's because the Jews contributed so much to humanity's moral code that to hate them as a race is to despise the restraints of morality itself.
"Whatever the reason, true, virulent anti-Semitism is such a good indicator of the presence of evil that I'm tempted to believe that when God made the Jews his chosen people, this is what he chose them for: to be a sort of a 'Villainy Early Detection System' for everyone else.
"Unfortunately, in his infinite love for his creation, I suspect the Big Guy may have overestimated our intelligence. Maybe he thought that after Hitler we'd just, you know, like, get it. Instead, we still see apparently intelligent people appeasing, making excuses for and even embracing the sorts of stinkers who ought to set off the Big Alarm.
"That's why I think the system could use more bells and whistles - a loud honking noise perhaps, or even closed captioning for the morally impaired. Thus, when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says the Holocaust is a 'myth' or that Israel 'must be wiped off the map,' you would hear a loud honk and words would appear in the air below his face: 'Hello. I am an evil madman. Please stop negotiating with me now and proceed to cripple my nuclear capability by any means necessary.'
"If it were only a matter of hating Jews, we could say: 'Feel free, hate everyone, knock yourself out.' The trouble is the suffering, the slaughter of innocents and indeed the destruction of entire nations that seems inevitably to follow when anti-Semitism is allowed to spread beyond the cesspool of the mind that contains it. History is too full of lowlifes who thought all their problems would be solved if they could just kill enough Jews - or thugs like Pontius Pilate who thought it was a matter of killing the right Jew - for us not to realize that their Final Solutions aren't final and are no solution. They are often the first, and sometimes the last, road sign pointing the way to an earthly hell.
"So here's a plan. The next time you express an opinion on what's wrong with the world, take a look around to see who's nodding in agreement. If it's some clown who thinks the Jewish state should be pushed into the sea, or that the Jews killed Christ or are conspiring to subvert the world economy or the government or the media, I beg you to consider that you might be wrong.
"There is no shame in changing your opinion. Falling into step with wicked fools - that's shameful, and it's dangerous, too. God gave you an early detection system. Use it."