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Again and again, shady affairs involving the prime minister and his sons, and testifying to nepotism of the crudest kind, are brought to the attention of the public. First came news of the involvement of Ariel Sharon's sons in raising funds to finance their father's election campaign in 1999; then the Cyril Kern affair came to light; next, the state comptroller pointed out Sharon's disregard for the conflict of interest between his official role and the fact that his son owns agricultural land; and then, three days ago, came exposure of the agreement signed between contractor David Appel and Gilad Sharon according to which the prime minister's son would receive $3 million in return for helping to promote Appel's plan to set up an island resort in Greece.

The consistency and frequency with which the Sharon family appears to mix its private affairs with those of the state (the affairs are still under investigation), and in which the boundaries between the official roles of the father and the activities of his sons are blurred do not make an impression on the public: It does not call the prime minister to order and makes do with his unconvincing denials.

In this context, the incorporation into the Middle East is complete: The late King Hussein ruled by means of his family and designated his son, Abdullah, as his heir; Hafez Assad appointed Bashar as his successor; Saddam Hussein's two principal aides are his sons, Qusay and Uday; Saudi Arabia is a clan in the guise of a state; and for the past three years, Israel has been governed by the Sharon family.

During Sharon's first term in office, his son, Omri, became the main player in matters of state. Prior to his father's election, Omri had made a name for himself primarily as someone who spent time in fashionable bars, and was not known as a glittering statesman or experienced politician. Overnight, and by virtue of his father's desires, however, Omri Sharon became an official partner to the most sensitive secrets of state.

On behalf of his father, he was sent on delicate missions to Yasser Arafat and became a member of the restricted team negotiating with the Palestinian leader, despite the objections of the attorney general. Sharon, the father, had no qualms about telling the High Court of Justice that his son's missions were intended "to save human lives." Sharon, the father, was so pleased with the performance of his son that he told the media that had he listened to him in the past, he would have risen to the post of prime minister a long time ago.

In the lead-up to the elections to the 16th Knesset, Omri Sharon changed his tune: From being a close confidant, he asked to become a rank-and-file politician. He ran for a place on the Likud Knesset list and was elected to the legislature. To a great degree, this achievement was also made under the auspices of his father and thanks to his father's status as party leader and prime minister. After all, Sharon, the son, did not present himself for election in the Likud Central Committee based on commendable political training; he was elected with the Central Committee members' full awareness that this was the will of his father.

As for the methods by which the Likud candidates for the Knesset were elected, there is no need to elaborate other than to mention the police's interest in the matter.

The police are also showing an interest in the actions of Gilad Sharon, the prime minister's second son. In contrast to his brother, Gilad remains far from the public eye and prefers to maintain his privacy. This desire, however, clashes with the information that is falling into the hands of the police, and with the findings of the state comptroller.

Till now, Gilad Sharon's name has been tied to a number of affairs that appear to indicate an overlapping between his private concerns and his connection to the prime minister. Just as in the case of his brother, these affairs also seem to reflect the generation of personal benefits as a result of their linkage to the public status of Ariel Sharon.

Ariel Sharon and his sons have the right, of course, to support one another within the confines of their own home. They are not entitled to apply this family solidarity to the running of the state. They increasingly appear to be individuals who do not distinguish between the private and the public, and who show contempt for the rules of proper administration. And the public remains silent.