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Bulldozer in Shepherd’s Clothing

Ari Solomon and Binyamin Rose

In the 1948 War of Independence, Ariel Sharon was left for dead — twice. After the 1982 massacre of Sabra and Shatila, his military career seemed to have reached a disgraceful end. After a debilitating stroke in 2006, the country braced itself for his funeral. Eight years later, the media spent days camped outside Tel Hashomer, waiting for the final breath of the man who’d survived in a coma long beyond anyone’s predictions.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Ariel Sharon, the man who liked to take others by surprise, never wanted to be taken by surprise himself.

The last time we interviewed Prime Minister Sharon in person, a few months before the massive stroke that would leave him in a coma for nearly eight years, also happened to be the first interview he granted to a chareidi media outlet since he was elected prime minister in 2001.

Everything appeared to be carefully orchestrated.

The Talmud Bavli was prominently displayed on his bookshelf. Two other reference works found in every chareidi home, usually well-worn from constant use, looked out of place atop a pile of security memos and government papers.

We’d planned to open the interview by asking him to account for the chareidi public’s dissatisfaction with his performance. A survey conducted by Mishpacha and Mutagim polling group at the time showed that 85 percent of the respondents felt their finances had worsened due to the government’s austerity budget. A sizable majority also opposed theGaza disengagement and we wanted his reaction to that, too.

But after seeing his bookshelf and desk, we couldn’t resist deviating from our agenda.

We started talking about “Uzi, the chareidi locksmith.” It was the inevitable point of departure, because the two books atop his pile of papers were in fact the most updated volumes of the Madrich Hachareidi, the “chareidi Yellow Pages,” of Jerusalem and Bnei Brak.

Sharonwas visibly pleased that we noticed and told us, with typicalSharonenthusiasm: “One day, [former justice minister] Tommy Lapid accused us in a cabinet meeting of giving too much money to the chareidim. It was a problematic speech. I decided to call him in here and show him these two books. I flipped through them, showing him all of the charity organizations in the chareidi sector, especially the free loan societies.

“‘Tell me,’ I asked Lapid, ‘Where else can you find a gemach for mother’s milk? Look how much chesed they do.’

“Then I pointed out the various gemachim and the pages filled with listings of people working in all types of professions, who contribute to society in a special way.”

Unlike many other politicians, who seem stiff and uncomfortable in their public encounters,Sharon’s conversations were punctuated by shrugging of his shoulders, constant eye movements, and a shaking of his head. It was a complete performance. His eyes twinkled as he spoke, as if Tommy Lapid was still shifting uncomfortably in the chair opposite him.

 

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