Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who was elected on a security
platform and was expected to establish public order by going
head-to-head with the Palestinians, has been doing just the
opposite ever since taking office.
Over the past few weeks he has been placing his bets on a
policy of restraint and although he has faced tremendous
criticism from the right, so far it has worked out: it was
this policy that eventually led the U.S. to impose the cease-
fire on Arafat through CIA Director George Tenet.
If a survey had been conducted six months ago asking people
what they thought Sharon would do after a terrorist attack
in which 20 young Israelis were killed, 98 percent of
respondents would undoubtedly have said he would launch the
kind of military strike on Palestinian targets that would
not soon be forgotten. And if those surveyed were asked what
Sharon would do after a terrorist attack in which a five-
month-old baby was killed, invariably the responses would
have been similar.
But Sharon has surprised everyone, perhaps even himself.
After the attack at the Dolphinarium he chose to show
restraint and to try to use it to leverage a cease-fire via
political and diplomatic channels. He took the same approach
following the attack in which the baby, Yehuda Shoham,
z'l, was fatally wounded, and beforehand when Jews
were killed on the roads of Judea and Samaria.
So far, Sharon's bet has been paying off. Had he opted for a
military solution, it seems unlikely that he would have
obtained the results he achieved with last week's cease-
fire. Now the ball is in Arafat's court and it is up to him
to implement the cease-fire agreement.
Sharon bet the farm. If the cease-fire agreement had not
been reached, security figures predicted serious escalation,
to the point of a possible blood bath. In such a scenario
the settlers would of course be the primary victims and
would amplify their criticism of Sharon, telling him, "We
told you so. Not only did you achieve nothing, but you also
impaired your deterrent capability and showed weakness. If
you had struck out at them on time, the Palestinians would
have been deterred and would have been afraid of the
consequences of escalating the violence."
Man of Mettle
Sharon has always been considered courageous, and last week
he again displayed his mettle when he decided to come to the
funeral of Yehuda Shoham, z'l, and delivered a eulogy
before thousands of participants, mostly hard-core right-
For Sharon, this was like descending into a pit of lions.
This sector has been transformed from faithful supporters to
outspoken opponents. Until a short time ago, Sharon was
adored by the Right and despised by the Left. Today that
situation has been reversed: the Left lavishes him with
praise and sympathy and meanwhile his opponents on the Right
keep growing in number.
Twelve hours before the baby passed away Sharon arrived at
the hospital to pay a visit. If he hadn't had a chance to
make the visit, the settlers would have been enraged over
the fact that he found time to visit the victims of the
Dolphinarium bombing, but had no time for a little baby that
knows no sin, and would have accused him of discriminatory
treatment. It is also uncertain whether the baby's parents
would have allowed him to deliver a eulogy during the
funeral if he had not made that appearance at the
Sharon is well aware that despite the way the Left has been
embracing him, in the long run he must retain the Right's
support. Although the Left has been smiling upon him lately,
one day this political quirk will have run its course and
the previous dynamics will be reinstated. This might even
take place overnight with the resumption of the political
When it does happen Sharon will need the Right on his side.
He cannot afford to leave them out. He has to make every
effort to keep them as close as possible by making
conciliatory gestures toward them to blunt the anger and
resentment felt toward him. That was the reason why he
decided to go to the funeral, despite the GSS' objections
and despite warnings that he might subject himself to
heckling that could harm his political image.
Sharon is satisfied with his current political situation.
Surveys indicate an impressive rate of support and forecast
victory against every potential rival from the Labor Party,
as well as his rival back home, Binyamin Netanyahu. As far
as Sharon is concerned, the latter threat overshadows the
Yet in all of the surveys his high approval ratings stem
from Left-wing support. On the Right, however, there is a
decrease or standstill, leaving Sharon afraid of a move by
Netanyahu and encouraging him to do everything in his power
to make amends with the settlers in spite of their recent
apathy toward him.
Sharon's fears of Netanyahu are so great that last week he
found time to attack his loyal follower, Yisrael Katz.
In the midst of all of the chaos, tumult and emergency
meetings, Sharon convened an urgent meeting with coalition
party heads, asking them to mobilize their forces to defeat
Yisrael Katz' Galilee Bill. The official reason offered for
his opposition to the bill is its astronomical cost. But the
real reason is his strong lack of any desire to grant Katz--
and via him Netanyahu--such a significant achievement to
wave before Galilee residents, many of whom are of course
It can definitely be said that despite the problems from the
Right, as long as Ichud Leumi-Yisrael Beiteinu is in the
coalition Sharon can expect relative peace from the Right.
His problems with the Right will begin once it resigns, just
as his problems with the Left will begin when the Labor
Last week the Prime Minister held talks with members of the
Center Party about the possibility of bringing them into the
coalition for just this reason. According to indications,
for the time being the Center Party does not have any
intention of joining the coalition unless Dan Meridor and
Roni Milo are given decent portfolios, and at present, none
are available. Such portfolios will only become available if
Lieberman and Ze'evi or the Labor Party resigns.
From Sharon's perspective Meridor and Milo are a pair that
could be useful under either of the following set of
circumstances: If the Labor Party resigns, bringing in
Meridor and Milo, who have a moderate left-wing image, could
be a great help. If Ichud Leumi-Yisrael Beiteinu resigns,
the pair can always point to their Likud origins, their
tutelage under Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin, and their
education in the Jabotinski school of thought to reinforce
their entry into the government and meet the needs of the
Holding Back the Non-Jewish Masses
At a meeting of the Knesset Committee for Immigration and
Absorption last week it was reported that ten years ago an
average of 340 people converted to Judaism every year, while
today some 4,000 people convert to Judaism every year
including the Falashmora, i.e. an increase of 1,200%. But
despite this alarming figure, the situation could be
During the course of the committee meeting almost all those
present vented their frustration over Israel's inadequate
conversion rate, the lack of budgetary funds for conversion
ulpanim, the personnel shortage--in short, the
situation from our perspective may be better than it appears
at first glance.
The following is a sample of quotes taken from the committee
Committee chairman Tzvi Handel (Ichud Leumi): "The number of
people seeking conversion requires the establishment of an
improved, well-oiled conversion system to replace the
current one, which does not meet the demand."
Professor Benny Ish Shalom, head of the Joint Conversion
Ulpanim: "The issue of conversion is not a high priority,
and the resources and budgetary funds necessary to improve
the conversion system and to transform it into a national
project are lacking."
Dr. Meir Peretz, director of the Ministry of Education's
Department for Adult Education: "Conversion ulpanim
are in danger of being closed since no one in the State of
Israel recognizes them."
Marina Solodkin (Yisrael Ba'aliya): "According to the way
things are being run today, the amount of attention given to
this issue is not very significant."
Assuming the majority of the 4,000 annual conversions are
fictitious and are not done according to halacha, this
represents a very troubling figure. However, credit is due
to a number of organizations for helping to ensure that the
wholesale conversion machine, which could have transformed
many more goyim into pseudo-Jews, has not gained momentum.
Leading the list is the Vaad Horabbonim Haolami Leinyonei
Giyur headed by HaRav Chaim Kreiswirth, av beis din
of Antwerp, and Yated Ne'eman.
The Vaad has been fighting through a variety of channels for
many years, particularly during the last ten years, against
efforts to engineer an assembly-line conversion system here
in Israel. The Vaad heads would enjoy reading the minutes of
last week's meeting of the Committee for Immigration and
Absorption; the grievances voiced there are proof that their
efforts have produced results. Still, much work remains in
order to bring bogus conversions to a halt, for every such
conversion is one too many.