Between Olmert and Sharon

Both are corrupt. But one is loved, while the other is loathed. So what is the difference between Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert?


No doubt about it, the prime minister is an unpopular guy. His approval rating is in the single digits – and that was before the Talansky Affair broke, with stories of Olmert receiving envelopes stuffed with cash from American Jews apparently looking for influence.


Olmert is now embroiled in his umpteenth criminal probe, with suspicions of fiscal wrongdoing relating to his various real estate dealings still hovering overhead. Yet dirty money is only a small part of Israelis’ growing hatred for the former Jerusalem mayor.


And Sharon, too, had his share of financial improprieties. There was the Greek Island affair, in which Sharon was said to have intervened on the behalf of Dudi Appel for a major real estate deal. One son went to jail for breaking campaign financing laws o nhis father’s behalf, while the other son narrowly avoided a similar fate for what looks to every reasonable person like a cushy-job-for-favors deal.


Israelis ultimately overlooked Sharon’s transgressions, while Olmert’s misdeeds only compound his lowly image. Why?


Let’s look at the similarities, and the differences.


Sharon was responsible for Israeli soldiers in the hands of the enemy (Benny Avraham, Adi Avitan and Omar Sawayid, as well as Elhanan Tannenbaum), as is Olmert (Gilad Schalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev). But Sharon brought “his” captives home, while Olmert has thus far failed to do so.


Sharon turned over territory to the Palestinians (the Gaza Strip), and now Olmert is talking of surrendering territory (the Golan Heights) to the Syrians. Most Israelis supported leaving Gaza, while most Israelis do not support leaving the Golan. Both diplomatic moves can be derided as politically expedient acts, but one is seen as an ideologically motivated step in the interests of Israel, while the other is seen as simply a desperate maneuver in the interests of the prime minister.


Sharon fought Operation Defensive Shield, while Olmert fought the Second Lebanon War. The former was widely seen as a necessity, and its execution was an undeniable success. The latter was seen as an irresponsible escapade, and its execution a farce.


As a wartime leader, Sharon was respected. Both to the north and to the south, Israel’s enemies knew that “The Bulldozer” was one tough SOB. Sharon cut off all ties to Yasser Arafat and essentially put him in a prison in Ramallah; he ordered the assassinations of Hamas’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and its political leader, Abdel Aziz-Rantissi, in quick succession. Operation Defensive Shield was decisive and effective, shutting down the Second Intifada. Israelis felt a lot more secure at the end of Sharon’s term than they did at the beginning of it.


Olmert, on the other hand, is the battlefield equivalent of a wet noodle. He embraces Mahmoud Abbas like a life raft, and he is carrying out talks with the Gaza leaders of Hamas. Hizbullah may respect Israel’s air force and its firepower, but it clearly has no respect for Olmert.


In addition, there is a difference in the way the two approached responsibility. Sharon took the heat for his own controversial policies, while Olmert has blamed everyone but himself. Despite his apparent monetary misdeeds, Sharon managed to maintain a certain amount of integrity. Olmert has not.

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