OPINION by Iqbal Jassat – Much has been written and talked about former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon since his death following an eight-year coma. Not surprisingly, Israeli leaders have been rather subdued in their praise despite the liberal use of metaphors to categorise him as among those who played a pivotal role in defining the regime’s military prowess.
Some may wonder whether the sense of hesitancy displayed by Israeli politicians Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu and even Ehud Olmert has to do with internal rivalries that stretch back to Sharon’s removal of Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip, or whether it has to do with Sharon’s own gung-ho style of leadership.
Others may suggest that Sharon’s arrogance, bullying and reckless military forays have turned out to be a huge liability for Israel rather than to the glory that Peres or Netanyahu have sought to project.
Whatever the reasons may be, my reading of the events since his death was announced is that Israel is afraid of opening another can of worms, especially at a time when global solidarity for it is waning.
On the contrary, and much to Israel’s shock and horror, the international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the country is growing at a phenomenal rate. This frightening reality is at the core of the frenzied debates among the country’s ruling elite. They grudgingly realise that as international solidarity around BDS grows, none of their western allies, and America in particular, will be able to stem the tide.
The timing of Sharon’s death has not augured well either. Israel knew that in dealing with any ceremonial last rites, commentators and analysts, including the international media, would necessarily have to unearth his past records. That these are mired in controversy goes without saying. However, the tough challenge faced by the regime’s hasbara (propaganda) units has been how to downplay Sharon’s bloody legacy.
One of the routes the Israelis have opted for seems to have been a rush to get Sharon’s burial over quickly. This, they hoped, would minimise the extent of public exposure of his vicious crimes. In addition, they opted to whitewash Sharon’s willful massacres by deceptively painting them over in colours they hoped would hide his less-attractive side.
In this regard, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s deployment as one of Sharon’s praise-singers was to be expected. Not only did Blair excel in whitewashing the murderer as a great statesman, he also did so blatantly and without any regard for his own credibility as an envoy for the Middle East Quartet that has responsibility for overseeing negotiations with the Palestinians.
Not that Blair enjoys any credibility given the atrocities committed under his rule by the British as allies of America’s destructive and wholly illegitimate war on terror. Like Sharon, Blair is a war criminal, and perhaps it is appropriate too that in paying tribute to the former Israeli military commander he unwittingly gave impetus to human rights organisations to redouble their efforts in securing his conviction at The Hague.
Sharon may have escaped the noose, but the edifice of injustice and apartheid that carries his signature awaits demolition. The armoury possessed by global solidarity activists to bulldoze Israel as a colonial-settler entity is no different to the ammunition previously used by anti-apartheid freedom warriors in South Africa: boycott, divestment and sanctions.
Israeli hasbara notwithstanding, the fact that its active units in various regions around the world enjoy unlimited funding from state coffers failed dismally to prevent the profiling of Sharon by the international media that was at odds with Israel’s whitewash campaign. The correct profile depicts him as a war-monger whose entire career — whether in the military or as a politician — was devoted to crushing Palestinians.
For South Africa’s hasbara unit it’s been worse. Here, there had been hopes that Sharon’s murky past, which placed him squarely in the corner of the apartheid regime with intimate ties to its intelligence and military, would remain buried and forgotten. One can well imagine the predicament of having to counter well-established facts by credible researchers regarding Sharon’s perverse collaboration in a climate where the country as a whole has been celebrating the end of apartheid.
A country like South Africa that has been freshly inspired by memories of the struggle and sacrifices endured by the nemesis of apartheid, Nelson Mandela, cannot be expected to be sympathetic to people of Sharon’s ilk who not only supported an obnoxious system but also actively undermined the freedom struggle.
“Brothers in arms” is how author Sasha Polakow-Suransky describes this unholy relationship in his ground-breaking study “The Unspoken Alliance,” which reveals Israel’s secret ties with apartheid South Africa and Sharon’s despicable role.
“Sharon, Eitan, and many of their contemporaries were convinced that both nations faced a fundamentally similar predicament as embattled minorities under siege, fighting for their survival against what they saw as a common terrorist enemy epitomised by Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress and Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation,” he says.
Sharon’s policy of overwhelming force against Arafat’s PLO and the Palestinians was shared by Pretoria’s generals in their combat against so-called “terrorist” groups during the former apartheid regime. The subdued atmosphere marking Sharon’s burial and efforts to cast him as a great statesman reflects how desperate Israel is to fend off an unstoppable BDS tsunami that is threatening its legitimacy and existence as a settler regime. VOC