Orit Struk
Orit StrukIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Member of Knesset Orit Struk (Jewish Home) spoke in Knesset on Wednesday and addressed reactions to her controversial response to the death of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

After Sharon’s death, Struk recalled him as “one of the great builders of the land of Israel, and its greatest destroyer,” and expressed gratitude that Sharon “was taken from our public lives” before implementing plans for a second “Disengagement” in Judea and Samaria.

Her comments were made in reference to Sharon's "Disengagement Plan", in which thousands of Jews were ethnically-cleansed from Gaza and northern Samaria - an act which stood in sharp contrast to his previous role as a leading figure in the movement to resettle Judea and Samaria.

Struk was sharply criticized by many for the remarks, and Minister Naftali Bennett, head of her party, termed her statements “very serious,” given that they were made during the mourning period for the former Prime Minister.

Struk clarified Wednesday, “I was not in any way happy that [Sharon] died.” However, she said, “I said, and I will say again, that I am very happy that Sharon left politics.”

Struk noted that her statements regarding what would have happened had Sharon remained in power were no different from those made by many on the political left, including Sharon’s successor, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

“They said it was unfortunate that Sharon left politics before he managed to carry out a second Disengagement in Judea and Samaria, and that there is no doubt that had he stayed Prime Minister, he would have received over 40 mandates and carried out another Disengagement,” she said.

Instead, Sharon suffered a severe stroke that left him comatose. His successor, Olmert, managed to lead the newly-created Kadima party to victory, but with just 29 mandates, far fewer than anticipated. Just four months later war broke out on Israel’s northern border, and the political fallout from the government’s decisions during the war left Olmert lacking the political support to make dramatic moves.

The Olmert administration’s failure to do what a Sharon administration may have successfully done was a blessing for Israel, Struk said. At that time, she explained, “The nation did not understand the significance of ‘Disengagement’ at all. It did not realize that the south would be hit by terrorism.”

“If there were to be a Disengagement in Judea and Samaria, the Tel  Aviv region would become the ‘Judea and Samaria belt,’ and missiles would land on you,” she added, speaking to MK Itzik Shmuli (Labor), one of her critics. “That’s why I’m happy.”

“I expressed happiness over the fact that Sharon was removed from the position of Prime Minister of Israel before bringing disaster upon us,” she continued. “A Disengagement from Judea and Samaria would mean my home would be bulldozed, and immediately afterward, your home would come under rocket fire.”

In the years after Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, the area around Gaza become known as the “Gaza belt” due to the frequent rocket and mortar shell attacks on that region.  

While Struk did not apologize for questioning Sharon’s legacy, she did express regret for the timing of her statements.

“I should have waited two or three days after he was buried,” she conceded.