By Muriel Goldhammer
KFAR SABA, Israel — Back when I was a kid, we never missed Will Rogers’
radio program. Will Rogers was a “cowboy” comedian who began his career in
vaudeville twirling his lasso while commenting on the news of the day, or the
odds and ends of human behavior in America. He began every show with
“All I know is what I read in the paper.”
Well that’s my expertise too, and during the past month things have been
happening faster than most of us can absorb them. Ariel Sharon had a stroke and
on Wednesday, the Palestine Authority held an election and Hamas won. Suddenly
it’s a brand-new ball game.
This letter will be about Sharon and post-Sharon. The next will be about
Most everyone who follows the news knows something about Sharon and his
controversial career, first as a hard-liner and a brilliant tactician and then
his about-face when as Prime Minister he led Israel to disengage from Gaza, with
an implied promise of further disengagements from the West Bank.
Everyone could tell from his pictures that he ate more than was healthy and
that at age 78 he was not so young any more. Still it was a shock to the
country when he had his first mini-stroke. He insisted on returning to
work a few days after being discharged from the hospital, and a couple of weeks
later had a massive brain hemorrhage. He is now considered to be in a
vegetative state and it is expected that he will be transferred to a long term
I remember when I was a kid, around Lincoln’s birthday the Sunday supplement
of the newspaper would often have a lengthy article about his assassination and
the follow-up care. I don’t remember the details, other than there were
questions about conspiracies in the hospital not to save Lincoln. Some of
you may also remember when Jack Kennedy was killed in 1963, there were questions
about the care that he received in the hospital. Do you think it’s any
The furor seems to have died down, but for days it seems that every doctor in
the country was second guessing the care that the Prime Minister received and
everyone would have done it differently. Hadassah was also criticized for not
making all the details available to the public after the first mini-stroke, even
though it was obvious that Sharon himself insisted on returning to work too
soon, and demanded that he be allowed to go to his ranch the day of the major
stroke, even though wisdom dictated that he should remain in Jerusalem. As
the information gradually emerged, it was evident that because of the numerous
cardio-vascular problems, any type of treatment would be a judgment call, and
each treatment could create anticipated and unanticipated problems.
For days after the cerebral hemorrhage, the newspapers were filled with stories
about Arik’s biography and his legacy. No one expected that he would be
able to return to the government.
Life goes on
Back in my community leadership days, I used to say that the most important
job a leader had was to train her successor.
The first time I voted was for Franklin Roosevelt, then running for his fourth
term I remember his newsreel pictures at the time – dark circles under his
eyes, and a pallid complexion. Would he last out his term? He
didn’t. Nor did he prepare his Vice-President for the task ahead –
winning the war and the peace to follow. It was fortunate that Harry
Truman was a truly remarkable man and quickly made himself the president and not
just a successor.
When Sharon was incapacitated, most of us were apprehensive. Elections for the
PA were scheduled in January and Israel was facing elections in March with a
major realignment of political parties here. Ehud Olmert was deputy PM.
Was he up to the task? The answer was YES and we have all been surprised.
We have found out during recent days that Olmert was not just holding a
position but had been a confident of Sharon and had participated in the decision
making about the disengagement. Sharon did train his successor. Since
Olmert became acting Prime Minister, he has organized the new Kadima party,
managing not to ruffle too many feelings of all the "would-be"
parliamentarians who have joined Kadima. He is in the process of cracking
down on the militant settlers in Hebron and in the illegal settlements. And
he has impressed the foreign dignitaries visiting the country. He may lack
the charisma of Ariel Sharon, but he is growing into the job.
Kadima continues to lead in the pre-election polls, indeed seems to be gaining
support. If Olmert is elected, he will face many challenges, but he will
have a very strong group of assistants according to the new Kadima list.