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Ira Sharkansky


Opponents may criticize,
but Sharon is poll leader,  June 24, 2005

By Ira Sharkansky
Ariel Sharon is on top of all the polls. If he runs in Israel's next election, which will occur sometime before the Fall of 2006, current projections are that he would beat all comers. His calmness in the face of domestic and international pressure is impressive. He is willing to absorb some losses to Palestinian violence rather than upset the period of relative calm by a thoroughgoing onslaught. Yet he has warned the Palestinians that violence against the removal of settlers from Gaza would bring a severe reaction, even one that would overlook the likelihood of significant civilian casualties. In other words, do not bring a blood bath upon yourselves.
Yet all is not well for the prime minister. The attached photo of a poster is a charm of political propaganda. It portrays the portly son, Omri Sharon, whispering (obviously something sinister) to the even more portly father, Ariel. Omri is himself a member of Knesset and--together with his younger brother Gilad--a prominent operative in his father's most inner circle. The poster cites four separate allegation against the Sharons: one dealing with influence peddling concerning a development by a Likud Party contributor on a small Greek Island; illegal political contributions by South African Cyril Kern; fictitious organizations meant to channel illegal campaign funds; and the refusal to dismantle illegal settlements in the West Bank. The header and footer of the poster express the theme of Sharon's personal defense against these allegations: I didn't hear anything and I don't know anything. It sounds a bit like some of Richard Nixon's defenses while Watergate was unraveling.

So far, none of this has kept Sharon from leading in the polls.
Partly this is due to the lack of enthusiasm for any of the likely contenders. Within his own party, the most likely replacements (Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Olmert) have themselves been tarnished by charges no less juicy than those leveled against Sharon, and they are not as magisterial as Sharon in dealing with the Palestinians. Things are arguably even worse in the major opposition party: Labor. Just yesterday an internal party inquiry revealed that as many as one-third of the enrollment forms submitted for new members are forgeries; they had been presented by "vote contractors" seeking to improve the chances of one or another candidate in a party primary. Due to the revelations, the party manager has cancelled the primary scheduled for next week, and has declined to name a new date. One of the candidates for leadership, Shimon Peres, said that postponement of the primary (which he might have won) represents the bankruptcy of the party.
Israel's politics may not be the cleanest in the world, but they do not depart significantly from the norm. Most of the funny business involves illegal campaigning, including campaign finance. I recall a New York Times editorial saying that the cat and mouse game of fixing campaign financing legislation and exploiting the numerous loopholes intentionally left in the repair of the legislation was the most polished indoor sport of Washington's elite. For those interested in the comic opera surrounding a recent American state election, check out I admit to being the father of one of the site's most diligent and outspoken contributors. Details differ from place to place, but the actions of prominent British, German, and French politicians do not differ significantly from those of Americans or Israelis. The Russians are in another league altogether, while the Egyptians and Syrians do not even aspire to rules.

Sharkansky is a member of the political science department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem