Another Tack: Original sins

Ariel Sharon is a scoundrel. He said so himself.

For reasons, which will forever elude me, my e-mail address was literally inundated with queries about a near-aside in my "Omri's Indian Warriors" Tack of two weeks ago. Inter alia I mentioned the late Shmuel Tamir's charge that Ariel Sharon plagiarized word-for-word the platform he wrote for his erstwhile Free Center party. Sharon's short-lived Shlomzion list and the Free Center are both historical dodos but the textual-purloining accusation intrigued so many readers that I am bound to elaborate. Tamir, who founded the breakaway Free Center after repeated confrontations in then-Herut with Menachem Begin, could never live down the shock of what he dubbed "Arik's colossal hutzpa. In a lifetime of dealing with a zoo-full of scoundrels," he told me, "I am yet to come face to face with Arik's like." Tamir's story started literally on the eve of Sharon's departure from the IDF in early 1973 - after Sharon had already been flirting with the Liberal component of Gahal (the Herut-Liberal block). One day before he was to become a civilian, he phoned Tamir and, though still technically in uniform, asked for an urgent meeting. Sharon posthaste arrived in Tamir's office and cheerfully announced: "I've decided to join the Free Center." It was political manna from heaven for Tamir. He could have used a high-profile recruit. They shook hands and raised a toast to their new partnership. They agreed to meet again the next morning and summon a joint press conference in two days. Tamir, assured this was a serious commitment, handed Sharon a copy of the Free Center manifesto, which he had composed. Sharon didn't glance at it, but folded the papers and shoved them into his pocket. There, however, was no follow-up. Contrary to his undertakings, Sharon never called again. Although the press conference did take place, it was a solo Arik extravaganza. It was convened without Tamir to announce Sharon's plunge into the political waters and proclaim the need to unify the Right. When reporters inquired about Sharon's political creed, he recited the Free Center guidelines verbatim, as they appeared in the document Tamir had given him only two days earlier. Just the same, Sharon couldn't resist publicly lambasting Tamir's views. SAID DOCUMENT would likewise serve Sharon in November 1976, after he quit the Likud he claims to have fathered. He ran in the 1977 race on the Shlomzion ticket, whose recycled defense and foreign affairs platform was that old Free Center paper authored by the twice-dumbfounded Tamir. Shlomzion was unabashedly a political hedge. Sharon was more than skeptical about the Likud's ability to win the 1977 elections and defeat Labor for the first time ever. Were Labor to prevail, it'd be easier for him to win a cabinet appointment if not tied to the Likud. Indeed, at the outset, Sharon invited no less than Yossi Sarid and Amos Keinan to join his list. Extreme-leftist Keinan even came up with the name Shlomzion. Were these original sins signifying fantastic ideological flexibility? Did they presage things to come? Though Sharon later launched his duplicitous Lebanese adventure and outflanked Yitzhak Shamir from the right, did his past indicate he wasn't averse to any opportunist combination? Perhaps. One omen in Shlomzion's annals was that Sharon ignored all internal democratic processes. After Shlomzion delegates elected their Knesset candidates, he imperiously overruled them and substituted his own choices. (These days, incidentally, Sharon is reintroducing his bill obliging parties to pick Knesset nominees via democratic primaries.) Anyhow, as soon as Sharon saw who unexpectedly did triumph in the 1977 campaign, he rapidly reenlisted in the Likud - this time as a Herutik. The Liberals wouldn't take him back. Few figures ever united the strife-ridden Liberals as Sharon had. There was unanimity in the antagonism he aroused. Late liberal headliner Simha Ehrlich regarded Sharon as "a danger to democracy and free society. If given power, he's capable of setting up political prison camps." These words were written in 1977, long before Sharon expelled Gush Katif's communities. Ehrlich had grievances aplenty. The way Sharon merged the Likud's 1973 components was tyrannical. He issued ultimatums, dictated the new Knesset slate's composition, ruthlessly maneuvered, menaced and hectored. He screamed "traitor" at Tamir for dragging his feet on taking the Free Center into the Likud. Even Begin was browbeaten, but Ehrlich was bullied most. Sharon yelled at him: "Accept what I say or I'll drag you down to hell." After Shlomzion's debut, Ehrlich spoke out: "Arik isn't a team-player… He's not one who adheres to convictions. Tactics for him always supersede principles… He shouts orders. What he wants becomes the decision. He isn't a mensch and isn't truthful. He uses people." Shmuel Tamir expressed similar sentiments. It took Sharon two whole weeks after deluding Tamir, standing him up and claiming credit for his platform in 1973 to contact its actual copywriter. "Shalom, Shmuel," he opened, "I bet you're angry with me." Tamir, taken aback by Sharon's temerity and failure to so much as make excuses or offer anything akin to an apology, merely mumbled: "I am surprised, astounded…" Sharon's retort was quick, pithy and unrepentant: "I'm amazed by you. The entire IDF knows I'm a scoundrel. You didn't?" Those who still don't know Sharon is a scoundrel, and who'd rather not rely on my say-so, can find detailed verification of the plagiarism and the above conversation in Tamir's massive autobiography, Son of This Land, Volume II, p.1,412.