Political leaders hail Sharon as founding father of Israel

AP Photo/Oded Balilty
By Kelsey Durham

Queens paid tribute to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon this week as a courageous warrior who stood his ground to defend the people of his young nation.

Sharon died Saturday at the age of 85 after lying in a stoke-induced coma for eight years.

After hearing of Sharon’s death, Queens’ congressional leaders released statements in memory of Sharon and offered sympathies to his family as well as the millions of people in Israel who are mourning his death. U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) said she was deeply saddened to learn of Sharon’s passing and remembered him for the dedication he gave to helping to establish Israel.

“He was a warrior and a statesman who was indispensable to the creation and development of the state of Israel,” Meng said. “I send my heartfelt condolences to his family and the people of Israel during this difficult time.”

Sharon’s role in the nation’s development was also praised by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) as she mourned the former leader, who served as a commander in the Israeli army before eventually becoming the country’s 11th prime minister in 2001. Maloney called Sharon’s death a “sad occasion” as she recalled his contributions.

“There have been few people in modern history as courageously dedicated to the cause of a great people,” Maloney said. “Whether you agreed with him or not, Ariel Sharon stood astride the state of Israel from its inception as a fierce guardian dedicated to its survival.”

U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) said “former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will be remembered for his commitment to the state of Israel ,” while U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) called Sharon a “courageous leader.”

“Sharon was an everlasting advocate for a secure and viable state for the Jewish people,” Meeks said. “His vision and dedication to peace and security for Israel will continue to inspire future generations.”

One of the Queens’ largest Jewish populations is concentrated in Forest Hills, where City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) said Sharon will be remembered for helping to make Israel what it is today.

“His story is the story of modern Israel,” he said. “From its birth to its wars and its conflicts, everything is a product of his efforts.”

Lancman said Sharon’s legacy among the Jewish community is that of a founding father who put everything he had into helping to establish and maintain a safe, secure state for his people. As the people of Israel cope with the death of their late leader, Lancman said he is sure the country will continue to remember Sharon for years to come for what he truly was: a giant.

“There’s just no other word for him except that,” he said. “There are few people in history you can really call that, but Sharon is in that category.”

Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at kdurham@cnglocal.com.

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