The death of Ariel Sharon has brought to the fore an array of raw and confounding emotions throughout the country, as many Israelis grapple with his complex legacy. Indeed, it is hard to remember an Israeli leader who embodied so many contradictions so profoundly.

In the course of his military and political career, Sharon championed settlement of the land, yet ruthlessly uprooted thousands of Jews from their homes in Yamit and Gush Katif.

He subdued Palestinian terrorist groups, yet later turned territory over to their control. As defense minister, he fought all the way to Beirut to distance our enemies from our borders, but subsequently as prime minister he enabled them to gain control over Gaza in our backyard.

Clearly, to view Sharon in two dimensions is to do a great disservice to history. He simply doesn’t fit all that easily into the simple, and often simplistic, categories with which we classify leaders.

Nonetheless, that hasn’t stopped Israel’s critics from exploiting Sharon’s passing to vilify him and the Jewish state in a callous and contemptible effort to score political points or garner a headline.

Perhaps the worst offender in this regard is Human Rights Watch (HRW), which chose to dance on Sharon’s freshly-dug grave even before he had been laid to rest in it.

In a statement issued on January 11 under the title, “Ariel Sharon’s troubled legacy,” and highlighted prominently on its homepage, HRW accused Sharon of war crimes and crimes against humanity, as though he were a Jewish Idi Amin and Saddam Hussein all rolled into one.

“Ariel Sharon,” HRW says in the opening paragraph, “died without facing justice for his role in the massacres of hundreds and perhaps thousands of civilians by Lebanese militias in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982.”

“The killings,” they write, “constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

As if that weren’t enough spittle to have hurled at Sharon’s memory, the hypocritical humanitarians over at HRW went further, bemoaning that “Sharon also escaped accountability for other alleged abuses, such as his role expanding settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, prosecutable as a war crime.”

And they summed up his premiership by saying, “During Sharon’s term as prime minister, Israeli forces killed more than 1,430 Palestinian civilians, while Palestinians killed 640 Israeli civilians,” failing to note the wave of Palestinian terror with which Israel had to contend.

Moreover, there is not one word of respect, nor a single expression of condolence to Sharon’s family or country to be found in the organization’s 645-word statement.

Apparently, HRW sees no contradiction between its stated goal of upholding human dignity and the scorn that it heaps on the dead and their memory.

In fact, the only articulation of sorrow to be found in HRW’s statement is the group’s regret that Sharon died without being put on trial.

“It’s a shame that Sharon has gone to his grave without facing justice for his role in Sabra and Shatila and other abuses,” Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW Middle East and North Africa director, is quoted as saying, adding that, “His passing is another grim reminder that years of virtual impunity for rights abuses have done nothing to bring Israeli-Palestinian peace any closer.”

What the witless Whitson and her clueless comrades at HRW fail to grasp is that their one-sided and politically- driven vilification of Sharon makes them no better than the Palestinians who celebrated his death in the streets of Gaza by handing out candy to passersby.

Even the Associated Press (January 11), took note of the resemblance between the two. After quoting a Palestinian who lamented that Sharon had not stood trial, the AP said in a story about the reaction to the former premier’s passing that “the international group Human Rights Watch expressed a similar sentiment.”

Echoing HRW’s tone and language, former Palestinian security official Jibril Rajoub labeled Sharon a “criminal” and said he should have appeared before the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Similarly, Hamas spokesman Salah al-Bardawil also condemned Sharon as a “criminal,” adding, “We pray to Allah that Sharon and all the Zionist leaders who committed massacres against our people to go to hell.”

Is this the kind of company that HRW likes to keep? When an organization ostensibly dedicated to human rights so openly engages in human wrongs, something is clearly amiss.

There is a basic decency and decorum that one expects, particularly from those who position themselves as the guardians of good in the world.

On this score, Human Rights Watch has failed miserably, allowing its long-running anti-Israel bias to cloud its judgment and poison its values.

The inescapable conclusion is clear: if HRW is willing to show such disrespect for the dead, one cannot help but wonder just how much they truly care for the living.

The writer is founder and chairman of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), which assists lost tribes and hidden Jewish communities to return to Israel and the Jewish people.

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