WaPo's Ugly Profile of Sharon
The Romans had a commandment that has remained relevant down through the ages -- "De mortuis, nil nisi bonum" (Of the dead, speak only the good) But don't expect the Washington Post's news section to abide by it -- not when it smears Sharon with an especially ugly brush, highlighting ad nauseam all his low points while skipping all his historic feats as a field commander in Israel's existential wars and his achievements as a statesman in pursuit of peace.
In a Jan. 13 article, Jerusalem bureau chief William Booth unloads buckets of bile to besmirch Sharon. Here are the first three paragraphs of his dispatch:
"As thousands paid tribute to the former Israeli prime minister's coffin on Sunday, world leaders boarded planes to come and praise his courage -- and sheer bold brass. But there were other voices to be heard here, for whom the name Ariel Sharon is more curse than blessing.
"Palestinian youths at the Khan Younis refugee camp burned Sharon's photograph and handed out candy in celebration of his death. A leader of the Fatah Party in Ramallah called him a war criminal. A spokesman for the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said Sharon's hands were 'covered in Palestinian blood.'
"Sharp-eyed assessments of his legacy were not confined to Palestinians. A leftist historians recalled Sharon's disastrous invasion of Lebanon in 1982. A human rights activist branded Sharon a symbol of impunity for the Sabra and Shatila massacres in Beirut that year. But some of the harshest words came from supporters of Israel's settlement movement." ("To evicted settlers, Sharon was no hero -- Israelis who dwelled in Gaza say the former leader ruined people's lives when he forced them out in 2005" Page A6)
And so it goes as Booth engages in highly selective journalism in pursuit of his anti-Sharon agenda. In an article that runs for 26 paragraphs, 24 paragraphs are devoted to digging up the worst about Sharon.
This is miles from even-handed journalism. While unquestionably there were chinks in Sharon's armor, they were more than offset by his achievements on the battlefield and in Israeli politics.
No mention, for example, that Sharon was badly wounded in Israel's 1948 Independence War when he was given up for dead, but nevertheless summoned enough strength to save himself and another wounded soldier. No pause amid all the pejorative paragraphs to explain how Sharon's daring military tactics allowed the IDF to cross the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. These were wars when Arab armies were intent on eliminating the Jewish state from the Middle East, and Sharon was in the forefront of denying them such an outcome.
How toxic is Booth's piece? Just take a look at the New York Times, not known as a pro-Israel paper, for the same date, which also features a major piece about Sharon's passing ("Praise and Criticism as Sharon's Body Lies in State -- Some Israelis Recall a Determined Leader, While Others Revile Him as the Man Who Removed Jewish Settlements in Gaza" page A4).
Jodi Rudoren, the Times' Jerusalem bureau chief, doesn't skip Sharon's flaws, but her dispatch also gives him his full due -- the good, the bad, the heroic-- something you won't find in the Washington Post's hateful piece.
Incidentally, there's an intriguing irony in Booth's article, which dwells at great length about Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, whose settlers never forgave him. Settlers and settlements are usually fodder for anti-Israel articles. But of a sudden, in Booth's story, they are trotted out as worthy sources to besmirch Sharon. For a change, settlers are not demonized. To Booth, shafting Sharon is worth treating settlers as decent, sympathetic folks.
Any tactic to smear Sharon will do.
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington Bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers