I’ve been thinking about Ariel Sharon’s decision at age 78 to leave the political party he founded and run against it in the forthcoming Israeli election. I’ve wondered whether some Shakespearian figure might illuminate Sharon’s course — is he perhaps a foolish King Lear, a conquering Caesar, an imperious Coriolanus, a chastened Prospero? Or is he some visionary statesman the likes of which I don’t recall ever reading about in Shakeseare?
I don’t have the answer, but I have something to chew on in Charles Moore’s Telegraph column: “How did we forget that Israel’s story is the story of the West?” In the middle of his meditation on Sharon’s story and its coincidence with the story of Israel, Moore writes:
If one stands back from the moral argument that rages round Israel, and just looks at this as a story, it reminds one intensely of that of ancient Israel’s enemy, the Roman republic. An austere nation builds its power in the face of enemy neighbours. It does so by great feats of arms, and so its soldiers often become its political leaders. The commitment those leaders must give to the nation is absolute, lifelong, life-threatening. The deeds done in the nation’s defence are frequently brave, sometimes appalling. Some would see Sharon as Milosevic, but might he not be Caesar?
But there’s also an important difference from Rome: the purpose of victory has been more about security than conquest for its own sake. Israeli politics for the past dozen years has been the attempt to reconcile extrication from territory with security. That is what Sharon thinks about all the time, as did his Labour predecessors, Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak.
In the history of the West, such a narrative used to command fascination and respect. Many could apply it to their own people. British people whose convict cousins had built Australia out of their barren exile could understand; so could Americans, who had overcome hostile terrain and hostile inhabitants, and forged a mighty nation. So could any country formed in adversity, particularly, perhaps, a Protestant one – with its idea of divinely supported national destiny and its natural sympathy for the people first chosen by God. The sympathy was made stronger by the fact that the new state was robust in its legal and political institutions, free in its press and universities – a noisy democracy.