I did so even as I have been a persistent and public critic of Sharon's policies and withdrawal from Gaza, over the past many months. But some of Sharon's political opponents, many of them religious Jews, felt unable to pray for Sharon, citing his callous treatment of the settlers of Gush Katif, many of whom are still strewn about Israel in makeshift homes or hotels, having been evicted from their homes for no other crime other than being the victims of terrorism.
But this is an absurd, unG-dly, and immoral posture. Politics must never compromise humanity, decency, and goodness. Sharon may, in the opinion of his critics, be misguided. But he is G-d's child, our human brother, our Jewish compatriot, and in his lifetime he rendered the most incredible services to the Jewish people and the State of Israel. I still remember as a child of seven how, when Syrian and Egypt invaded Israel and nearly crushed it during the Yom Kippur War, Sharon, willfully bending orders from his superiors, crossed the Suez Canal, cut off the Egyptian Third Army, and eventually saved Israel from certain catastrophe.
I still remember the two occasions when I met Sharon. First, when he was my guest at Oxford in 1992 for a full day with his wife, delivering a lecture to a thousand students and spending most of the day in my office with me. I found him to be incredibly humble and accessible, and as I have written several times, a romantic husband beyond compare, so much so that, as he toured the streets of Oxford, he never once let go of her hand. At his Oxford Union lecture, which I introduced, he was strongly challenged by Arab students, yet he never lost his calm and tried to placate each and every hostile questioner.
Nearly 10 years later, I again met with him. Sharon was now Prime Minister of Israel and I brought Michael Jackson to meet him in an attempt to persuade Michael to travel to Israel and visit with Israeli victims of Arab terror. Sharon was the consummate gentleman. He knew how controversial Michael was. But he extended a warm invitation to him to visit Israel. What I remember most about that visit was how shy Sharon was, uncomfortable in crowds and almost reluctant to be the center of attention.
Sharon's legacy will be mixed one, both among Arabs and Jews. The Arabs always detested him for the very reason so many Jews loved him. He was seen as the uncompromising Israeli military leader who always put the safety of the Israeli nation before every consideration, even if it made him deeply unpopular. After the evacuation from Gaza, however, many Arabs developed a respect for him, even as so many Jews began to abandon him for abandoning the ideology of strength for which they elected him.
Amid this confusing legacy, that Ariel Sharon's mixed legacy has created a new divide, but this time not between Arabs and Jews, but between those who believe in civility and goodness, and those who would place their political positions before their decency. Any religious Jew who refuses to pray for the recovery of a compatriot because they reject their legitimate politics has placed ideology before decency and political affiliation before G-d and morality. Likewise, Arab leaders, however much they disagree with Sharon, who have now publicly stated that they wish him dead, such as the evil president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have shown that they have contempt for their own religion's teachings for compassion and humanity. We know that Iran has a thoroughly immoral, even evil government that has fermented hatred around the world. Jews and all people who aspire to a noble, civilized world must never emulate such a brutal example.
Sharon's political life is over. Pray for his well being, pray for his family, and pray to G-d for peace between all the children of Abraham, and all of G-d's children all over the world.