Sharon remembered as warrior, peacemaker

Jewish organizations in Israel, the United States and the Bay Area remembered the late Israeli leader Ariel Sharon this week as a bold military strategist, a tough statesman and a fighter for peace.

“His legacy is a more secure State of Israel, safe on its borders and resolved to put an end to the campaign of Palestinian terrorism once and for all,” Barry Curtiss-Lusher and Abraham Foxman, the national chair and the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement. “It is not only Israel, but the Jewish people, the U.S. and the international community who have lost a towering figure who offered hope to his people and the region.”

Sharon died Jan. 11 at 85 after eight years in a coma following a massive stroke.

“He was a man of towering strength, uncompromising commitment, steely determination and creative vision,” said David Harris, the American Jewish Committee’s executive director.

Debra DeLee, president of Americans for Peace Now, said, “Israelis today are saying farewell to a bold leader who toward the end of his political career was transformed from a staunch hawk who initiated war and provocative belligerent actions to a leader who recognized that Israel’s strategic interests lie in an agreement with the Palestinians.”

The Jewish Federations of North America in its statement from Chairman Michael Siegal and President Jerry Silverman said, “Ariel Sharon was a highly regarded military leader, but he was also a peacemaker. One of the country’s most daring and celebrated generals, he was also a man who was able to take bold steps in the hopes of achieving peace.”

Sharon never made an official visit to the Bay Area, but several local Jewish leaders remember meeting him in Israel.

Bay Area philanthropist Tad Taube, chairman of Taube Philanthropies and president of the Koret Foundation, met him once briefly while on a group visit to Israel.

“He was a fierce advocate for Israel and for the survival of the Jewish people,” Taube said. “He was a world leader, although a lot of the world resented it. He made mistakes, he was criticized for them, and he accepted the blame. But he contributed to the strength and survival of Israel in very difficult circumstances. His toughness left its mark on Israel’s leadership.”

One of the last lions of Israel’s formative years, Sharon said and did what he wanted, which charmed some even as it annoyed others. But no one disputed his commitment to Israel’s security and future well-being.

Rabbi Brian Lurie was executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation in fall 1982 when Ehud Olmert, then a rising star in Sharon’s Likud Party who went on to become prime minister, visited the Bay Area Jewish community.

News about the massacres inside the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps had just broken, Lurie recalls, and he and other local Jewish leaders asked Olmert to “get some answers” from Sharon, who was defense minister at the time.

Olmert’s trip culminated at a major-gifts event for the federation at Trader Vic’s, where Lurie announced there would be no fundraising because Bay Area Jews had not received word from Sharon regarding the camps.

But that didn’t mean the community was turning against him. During the Q&A session that followed, Lurie recalls, Bay Area businessman Joseph Koret, first chairman of the Koret Foundation, stood up in front of 150 people to speak his mind.

“He said, Sharon might be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” — jta

J. editor Sue Fishkoff contributed to this report.