Consul general fields questions at Beth Am on Israeli leadership

As Ariel Sharon clung to life after suffering a major stroke and undergoing brain surgery last weekend, questions addressed to Israel’s Consul General David Akov followed a predictable pattern: Will Sharon’s middle-ground Kadima Party survive and who will lead it? Is there a future for the middle ground in Israel today? What is the future of the peace process?

Although many of the responses Akov delivered during a question-and-answer session at a Shabbat potluck — in particular regarding the planned March 28 election — were of a “wait-and-see” variety, the consul general made it clear that many Israeli politicos were ready to continue Sharon’s policies with or without his leadership.

“The fact that the new [Kadima] Party has proven so popular shows that there is a need for a real center party, which never really existed in Israel with an experienced politician” at the helm, Akov said Friday, Jan. 6 at Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills. About 125 attended the potluck, following a packed Shabbat service.

Known as a hawk for his policies during the Lebanon War of the early 1980s and for his walk onto the Temple Mount in 2000, which some say triggered the second intifada, Sharon in recent years has positioned himself squarely in the middle, particularly by championing last summer’s Gaza disengagement.

Said Aaron Goodman of Los Altos: “For a dozen years or more, I felt positive toward Ariel Sharon but felt I was in the minority.” But today, “more and more people who were against him are with him.” Goodman wondered, however, if this was a real shift or a matter of sympathy as a result of Sharon’s stroke.

Akov pointed out the transformation is the result of the changes in Sharon’s position as well as the changes in Israel itself. “You can divide the way people relate to Sharon as the last five years [versus] the time before because it’s completely different.”

But beyond the prime minister himself, he added, there are a number of people with experience and name recognition who are ready to continue Sharon’s legacy.

In addition to frontrunner Ehud Olmert, the acting prime minister, he cited others, including Tzipi Livni, justice minister and member of Kadima; Transport Minister Meir Shetreet, also in Kadima; Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz; and Avi Dichter, former head of the Shin Bet.

“There are quite a few people the Israeli public will see as good candidates,” but who will rise to the top “nobody can know. It depends on a lot of different factors, some political, some psychological and emotional.”

He was noncommittal about both Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister and current Likud leader who took issue with Sharon over the Gaza pullout, as well Labor leader Amir Peretz. Regarding the latter, he said, “He doesn’t have a lot of experience in defense.”

Moving from politics to moral and religious issues, Beth Am Rabbi Janet Marder asked about targeted killings. Referring to Steven Spielberg’s film “Munich,” she wondered whether targeted killings “diminish terrorist acts or spread terrorism.”

“There are different and opposing views in Israel, even in the Israeli military,” said Akov. “I tend to think that in terms of Hamas and terrorist organizations that it does decrease the number of terrorist attacks but not the motives.

“My view is that two or three years ago, it worked. It reduced the number of attacks. Today, I’m not sure it’s needed.”

Barbara Zeidman of Burlingame voiced concerns about the future of pluralism in Israel. Akov pointed out that while Israel does not have the American tradition of separation of church and state, “Israel is a democratic country and there are democratic mechanisms for this change.”

Janet Silver Ghent
Janet Silver Ghent

Janet Silver Ghent, a retired senior editor at J., is the author of the forthcoming book “Love Atop a Keyboard: A Memoir of Late-life Love” (Mascot Press). She lives in Palo Alto and can be reached at [email protected].