Ariel Sharon could lay on the charm, and in private he surprised people by being nothing like his fearsome bulldozer persona.
There was a “yawning chasm between his image and the reality,” David Landau, journalist and author of the new biography “Arik: The Life of Ariel Sharon,” told me. “His image was that of a tough old general. In real life he was courteous and civil host and guest. He was remarkably well brought up. Whenever a lady walked into his room he would spring up. At his weight to spring up is not so easy.”
For years Sharon, who died Jan. 11, was identified in articles as the “beefy ex-general.” Landau made it clear that Sharon did love his food.
“His eating was plentiful and characterized by very, very strict manners,” Landau said. “He ate with knife and fork with his elbows tucked straight down because he’d been educated by his parents — they’d stuck books under his armpits, and the books fell down [if he raised his arms]. Even as an adult or an old man he ate like that. It was really a pleasure to watch.
He loved music. He always had music on in the office. He had his own seat at the Tel Aviv concert hall.
I asked Landau how he made sense of that – the gruff, security obsessed, settlement-building Sharon spending an evening in the concert hall.
“When you think of that, there’s no need for good manners or an interest in the arts to clash with a man’s career as a military general,” he answered. “Why should they contradict?
But sometimes one’s enjoyment of the finer things can seem out of place to others. Like in the middle of the Yom Kippur War.
Sharon was a reserve general when the 1973 war began. “When his wife, Lily, sent him to the battlefield, she sent along all sorts of gourmet foods,” Landau said.
Being a man with impeccable manners, Sharon shared his victuals with his officers. “Some officers found that a bit too much,” Landau said.
Too much? Why? Because it was Yom Kippur or because they were feasting in the middle of battle?
“Because they were at war and it seemed to them inappropriate,” he said.
[email protected] Twitter: @davidholzel
See also: Sharon’s long good bye.