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Sharon More Popular With the Older Crowd

Monday, August 27, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags: ,

The campaign of front-runner Ariel Sharon hit a few bumps in Israeli high schools in recent days, but among the country's adult electorate, he still looks on course to survive his opponents scare tactics and complete a remarkable political comeback.

At a routine campaign stop at a high school on Monday, a 16-year-old student stunned Sharon when she accused him of bearing personal responsibility for causing her and her father grave suffering as a result of his leadership in the Lebanon War in the early 1980s. Her statements, seized by the media for their emotional and dramatic impact, seemed at first to give a boost to Prime Minister Ehud Barak's flailing campaign. But her father, a veteran of the war, seemed to defuse the impact of her accusations by openly questioning Barak's conduct as his senior commander in one of the largest and most tragic battles in the Lebanon conflict.

Ilil Komai, a student at a Beersheba high school, cried "Ariel Sharon, I, Ilil Komai, am the daughter of Tzvika Komai, who was a soldier in the Lebanon War. My father, like many others, was in the war and saw many of his friends killed. My father, whom I very much admire, recovered from shell-shock without drugs. Ariel Sharon, I accuse you of having caused me suffering for more than 16 years. I accuse you of having caused my father suffering for many years. I accuse you of many things, because you caused a great deal of suffering to many people in this country. I don't think that you can now be elected prime minister, Ariel Sharon."

After a few moments of awkward silence, Sharon responded, "I'm sorry for your pain, but the facts are that we were in Lebanon from December 1975, when the Prime Minister was Rabin and the Defense Minister was Shimon Peres. Secondly, the facts are that for years there was murder and terrorism in southern Lebanon, which led to the evacuation of half the Jewish population in northern Israel. The alternatives were either to cave in to the pressure and violence like Barak, or to provide defense and security to the citizens of Israel."

After her remarks and several moving photographs of her weeping while wearing a Barak campaign t-shirt made front-page news, Komai became an instant celebrity, and the Barak campaign said it would consider using Komai in future television commercials.

Sharon's campaign chairman, Likud MK Silvan Shalom, denied that the teen's statements shook the campaign, and accused the Barak campaign of orchestrating the affair, noting that Komai chairs a pro-Barak organization in her school and that she had met with Absorption Minister Yael (Yuli) Tamir, a friend of the family, prior to the event.

Reporters then flocked to Ilal's father, Tzvika, for his reaction, with little results at first. Tzvika served in a tank in the battle of Sultan Ya'akub in 1982, one of the bloodiest battles in the Lebanon war, and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his experiences there. Barak served as his commander at the time, tragically advancing his forces into a Syrian trap without proper cover.

But then, although he is pro-Barak, in a candid interview with MA'ARIV, Tzvika evened the playing field for Sharon by casting doubt on Barak's leadership in that battle. He expressed concern over reports he heard over the years that Barak slept during the battle and that it was prohibited to disturb him during critical moments in the conflict.

"This is what I found out years after the terrible battle. I do not know more than that about the involvement of Ehud Barak, Yanoush's deputy. I would be happy if someone would finally lift the doubts from that odd battle, and investigate the role of Barak in the battle that left scars that I bear to this day. From my standpoint, the battle was in a panic, disorganized, lacking intelligence, a big mess, exhaustion, hunger, and a lack of information. We were told that an elite force had gone ahead of us and that the area was clear. Instead of that we were trapped by Rifat Assad's top commando force."

Then, at the leftist bastion Yitzhak Rabin High School in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Sharon responded to questions submitted by students in advance and upset some when he tried to steer away from the Lebanon subject. "This isn't the time and place to deal with those issues. We need to discuss the situation Mr. Barak has led us into. What should concern you is the future." He claimed many of the students had been "brainwashed" by Labor's lies about him concerning Lebanon.

Barak received a warm welcome at the same school 15 minutes after Sharon left, and urged the students to "convince your parents" to vote for him.

Not long afterwards, results of the mock election at the Blich High School in Ramat Gan were announced, giving Barak 58 percent of the vote, while Sharon received 42 percent. Although in the past the educational polling exercise has been an early indicator of final results, it failed to predict Binyamin Netanyahu's victory over Shimon Peres in 1996, and looks to be far from accurate again this year. Several polls of the entire population published on Tuesday, two weeks before the real voting, show that Sharon continues to lead Barak by between 16 and 20%.

These polls, however, did not reflect other missteps by Sharon. In an interview with THE NEW YORKER magazine, Sharon called PLO chief Yasser Arafat "a liar and a murderer" and had disparaging remarks about Muslim worshippers. He also zig-zagged a bit on whether he still plans to form a national unity government if elected. Sharon indicated that if Labor did not accept his offer promptly after February 6, he would form a narrow right-wing coalition and hold open a few cabinet posts for Labor.

No matter, even staunch doves are admitting Sharon's lead over Barak in the polls is so large, he can absorb many blows without losing much ground.

The Sharon campaign has yet to go on the offensive against Barak's attempts to scare voters concerning Sharon's role in the Lebanon War - even though it has collected much damaging information regarding his actions during that conflict. Three soldiers remain missing-in-action from the failed Sultan Ya'akub battle. Also, Likud sources say that in March 1982, three months before the "Peace for Galilee" Operation began, then-Maj.-Gen. Ehud Barak sent a letter to Sharon in which he said he "supports the planned war in Lebanon, and even proposes extending it to Syrian-controlled territory."

Labor Party's campaign broadcasts yesterday included a "nightmare" scenario of what could happen should Sharon be elected prime minister. The scenario included the annulment of all agreements with the Palestinians; the National Religious Party and Shas passing a law prohibiting all travel on Shabbat; heightened violence in the territories; Sharon ordering the army to conquer the Gaza Strip and Jericho; and Jordan and Egypt terminating their peace agreements with Israel.

Sharon's campaign team attacked the broadcast saying that Barak "had stooped to new lows in his campaign of incitement, hatred and character assassination directed at Ariel Sharon."

Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

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Worthy Christian News » World News » Sharon More Popular With the Older Crowd