Editor's note: Gilad Sharon is the youngest of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s three sons and was a confidant to his father. Sharon holds a master’s degree in economics and writes a frequent column for a major Israeli newspaper. A major in the Israel Defense Force reserves, Sharon currently manages his family’s farm in Israel. He is the author of 'Sharon: The Life of a Leader,' of which the following is an excerpt.
My father’s attitude toward individual European states was always shaded by their treatment of Jews. He attached great significance to this matter, examining Europe’s treatment of Jews both over the long course of history and especially during World War II, when a third of the Jewish people was obliterated without too many outward signs of sorrow on the continent, even among those who played no active role in the obliteration.
A pragmatic man, one who constantly had Israel’s best interest at heart, as a minister in government and especially as prime minister, he was quite capable of discerning between past, present and future. He believed in keeping a fastidious historical record but was also committed to combating the still-simmering European anti-Semitism of today and maintaining Israel’s foreign relations and international standing.
European hostility toward Israel, he always believed, was not just linked to the anti-Semitism of old, which has been recycled as anti-Israel and anti-Zionist opinions, but was also a means of clearing the consciences of many nations. If the Jews, the victims, had turned out to be so dreadful, these cruel and crushing occupiers of the poor Palestinians, then perhaps the sins that these nations had visited on the Jews of Europe were not so bad after all.
My father always believed that the one-sided anti-Israel sentiment heard all across Europe is rooted in ancient guilt and bolstered by economic concerns; that is, the European sense of justice had been further skewed by a taste for oil and a desire for a maximal market for their goods.
Another reason for the anti-Israel policies in Europe is a recent development: millions of Muslim immigrants have quietly, resolutely made their way to the continent and become an influential factor. The modern wave of immigration is threatening -- without a single battle -- to achieve what the Moors attempted via Spain in the eighth century and what the Ottomans longed for from the 15th century to the 17th century, until, in 1683, they were finally stopped at the gates of Vienna.
Today the lifestyle and character of many European nations is under threat, and while in the past the threat came from afar, today it comes from within. Indeed, the terror acts that took place in London and Madrid, and even those of 9/11, are connected to the Islamic communities in Europe.
Muslim immigrants arrive in Europe from their native lands with a fully cultivated hatred of Jews and Israel, and elements of that population have committed many anti-Semitic crimes and perpetrated most of the attacks on Jews solely on account of their being Jews.
This minority’s loud and sometimes violent pressure has its effects on the governments of Europe, too. It is entirely possible that these governments have tried to buy domestic silence by adopting a pro-Arab line, opposing and condemning Israel, and even turning a blind eye toward armed Arab terrorists within their borders. These practices were given public backing when Francesco Cossiga, the president of Italy from 1985 to 1992, went on record with the Corriere della Sera in describing the leeway Italy granted to Palestinian terror organizations during the 1970s and ’80s. His remarks were underscored by Bassam Abu-Sharif, a leader in George Habash’s terror organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who, speaking to the same paper, asserted that in fact his organization and other terror organizations were given free rein when operating in Italy.
Muslim immigration is not, above all, the result of a shared allegiance to the ideals of humanism and liberalism that Europe sees as the bedrock of its existence; it is born of economic disparity and the gaping difference in quality of life between the immigrants’ home countries and Europe.
There is a degree of historic justice in that countries that for hundreds of years used their colonies in Asia and Africa to bolster themselves, their economies, and their power are now also receiving, after the flow of pillaged goods, their people. It will be interesting to see how they fare during this challenge.
As a government minister, before serving as head of state, my father was free to take foreign relations less formally. Thus in 1988, my father and my mother and our good friend Professor Boleslav Goldman were in Poland on an official visit. A native of that country, “Bolek,” as his friends call him, was a child during the Holocaust. Poles murdered his father, grandfather and uncles while they were scavenging for food. The rest of the family hid in a hole in the ground deep in the forest. Bolek, who had been fortunate enough to obtain forged identity papers, and his grandmother survived. This was his first trip back to the country he thought he had left forever. For him it was an emotional visit, a full circle -- you tried to kill me, and yet I’ve returned, a professor, the director of a hospital, and I have come on official business, along with my friend, the minister of industry and trade, General Sharon.
My parents were also moved, particularly when visiting the Warsaw Ghetto. My father didn’t miss a single opportunity to remind his hosts that Polish soil had just recently become home to the world’s largest Jewish graveyard. The Jewish pride that had always been an important part of his personality was strengthened in Poland, and the man the Poles saw before them was certainly a stark departure from their notion of a Jew.
Upon arrival at their hotel in Warsaw, Bolek went straight to his room, but after a few minutes he heard a knock at the door. “Arik would like to see you right away,” an Israeli security guard told him. Bolek came immediately.
“Come stand over here,” my father said, placing him so that he faced the ceiling. “Now please translate this into Polish,” he said.
“The president of Poland, a visionary leader, is in fact so visionary that he has placed a camera in my room. Luckily for him, Lily has come along with me on this trip, making the viewing all the more interesting.” Stunned, Bolek translated verbatim.
Similarly, on a trip to Nicolae Ceausescu’s Romania, my father spoke into the microphones and praised his hosts but added, “I’m out of soap and would be happy if more could be brought” -- a request that was filled within minutes.
On a trip to Germany in January 1999, when he served as foreign minister, a German helicopter pilot asked if he had any special requests during their flight from Frankfurt to Bonn. “I’d like it if you could fly at the level of the cows’ horns,” my father said. The Germans, not particularly known for their sense of humor, fulfilled his request to the letter. It was a great experience for him. In general, when on official business he would often ask to see as many cows and other animals and as few people as possible.
In April 1999, during my father’s term as foreign minister, he and my mother paid an official visit to Pope John Paul II. When my father invited the pope to come see the Holy Land, the pope, revealing his scriptural erudition, responded by saying that the Holy Land is for everyone, but the Promised Land is for the Jews alone. My father told the pope, as I heard him say countless times before, “When you hold the Bible in your hands in Israel you don’t need a guidebook of any kind. The names are preserved as they once were, all is written down. Jerusalem is Jerusalem, Hebron is Hebron, Beth-El is Beth-El, Mount of Grizim is Mount of Grizim, Mount Carmel is Mount Carmel...” and the pope himself continued, “Mount Tabor is Mount Tabor, Mount Gilboa is Mount Gilboa, the Jordan River is the Jordan River.”