On Jan.11, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon passed away at the age of 85.
Although he could be a polarizing political figure and his policies have had many critics, I found Henry Kissinger’s remembrance of Sharon in the Jan.13 issue of The Washington Post to be an accurate and fair representation of Sharon’s legacy.
Kissinger described him as a fierce warrior. From a young age, Sharon was made famous by his talent for an unfortunate fact of Israeli life—war. He is credited for commanding the battle that turned the tide of the 1973 war, earning a reputation as a hawk.
But like many of his peers, Sharon came to understand that the best way for Israel to become a secure state was to work toward establishing a lasting peace.
In 2002, I was invited by the Israeli government to join Jewish legislators from around the world in Israel for the Sixth International Conference of Jewish Ministers and Members of Parliament. The conference included 55 legislators from 23 different countries and I was asked to serve on a panel on education.
We met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in his office on January 8, 2002. I took extensive notes during my week in Israel. Describing Sharon, I wrote:
“He is a jovial, grandfatherly general who spent 28 years in the army. Mr. Sharon spent about 45 minutes talking about the millions of people who came to Israel to build the country with a plow in one hand and a sword in the other. He told us that he grew up on a farm and is looking forward to spending more time riding his horses and that his only ambition is to bring security and peace to the people of Israel. As one who has seen the horror of war, he understands, more than many politicians, the importance of peace. He described his beloved nation as one consisting of people from 102 countries speaking 82 languages. I was thinking that Flushing is still more diverse.”
Several years later in 2005, Sharon presided over the withdrawal of Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip, an operation that was hailed by leaders worldwide as a remarkable act of diplomacy.
As I reflect on his life, I find myself admiring Sharon not only for his political and military prowess, but also for his unwavering dedication to serving his people. I mourn along with the people of Israel the passing of leader whose life and work shaped a nation, a region, and the world and hope that his great ambition for peace can soon be realized.
Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, the first woman from Queens County elected to the State Senate and the first woman to Chair the Senate Committee on Higher Education, represents District 16.