Ariel Sharon was once the right-wing bogeyman of Israeli politics, despised and feared by Jewish moderates and liberals in both Israel and the United States. Sharon first garnered attention conducting "retaliatory" raids against Palestinian villages in Israel’s 1948 war of independence; he later earned opprobrium for allowing the slaughter of Palestinian refugees by Christian militiamen during Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. Today he is Israel’s prime minister, and his belligerent attitude and policies toward the Palestinians have changed little. What has changed is the support Sharon enjoys among Israelis and American Jews. Sharon’s tough policy of leveling Palestinian refugee camps, assassinating "known terrorist leaders," humiliating Yasir Arafat, and destroying the Palestinian Authority’s physical infrastructure is supported by a remarkable two-thirds of the Israeli public and American Jews.
Why have so many Jewish liberals and long-time peace activists here and in Israel rallied behind Sharon’s actions? "We have no choice," is the most frequent response. Arafat’s apparent rejection of Ehud Barak’s unprecedented offer at Camp David, the renewed intifada and especially the waves of suicide bombings, the growing chorus of European criticism of Israeli military actions, and the outbreak of anti-Semitic violence across Europe are seen as constituting a threat to the very existence of the Jewish state.