Remember Ariel Sharon? Nearly Six Years In A Coma, And Israel Stays Mum

In early 2006, Israel’s then-prime minister, Ariel Sharon, suffered a devastating stroke that ended his political career but not, as it turns out, his life. All but forgotten, Sharon is nevertheless alive, thanks to a life support system that costs the fa

Sharon (rt.) in 2003 with U.S. President Bush and Palestinian leader Abbas
Sharon (rt.) in 2003 with U.S. President Bush and Palestinian leader Abbas
Laurent Zecchini

JERUSALEM -- Consider the following scene: on Sept. 4, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the marriage ceremony of the daughter of Eli Yishai, the interior minister and chairman of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party. While giving a short speech, Netanyahu refers to one of his predecessors, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"May his memory be blessed," says Netanyahu. The audience is silent, looking both stunned and embarrassed. Netanyahu quickly catches his mistake and corrects himself: "May he live long..."

The gaffe was revealing. Most Israelis have forgotten Ariel Sharon, even though he is still alive. After suffering a stroke on Jan. 4, 2006, Sharon plunged into a deep coma. Since then he has been kept on life support at Sheba Hospital in Tel Aviv. He is 83 years old. He has a single room that is not located in an intensive care unit. In five years and nine-and-a-half months, he has not given a single sign of waking up, but has he had no major complications either.

"He has a sturdy body, but his case is exceptional," says a doctor. "Many patients would have died of an infection by now. Not him; he's still holding on. This situation may continue for a long time, but he has absolutely no chance of regaining conscience."

The fate of Ariel Sharon has been kept silent for years – word does not get past any doctors, politicians or members of his family. In September 2009, the spokesman for Sheba hospital had only this to say to Le Monde: "The only information I can provide you is that his condition is stable and unchanged. For more information, please contact the members of his family."

"If this were anyone else," says the discreet but well-placed doctor, "they would already have let him die. Sharon is kept alive because it is the will of his family, but the situation is… pathetic."

What may look like aggressive therapy is actually not dictated by religious reasons: Ariel Sharon, like his parents and his sons, Gilad and Omri, is not at all religious. "His family is very attached to him. One might think that it's irrational, but there it is," says the physician.

The high price of survival

Sharon is, however, a very expensive patient. His hospital treatment costs nearly 300,000 euros per year. Thanks to a decision in August, 2010 by the Israeli Parliament, the Sharon family now has some help with the hefty hospital bills – from the state, which agreed to bear half the costs.

Since then, the Israeli press has lost interest in Sharon – though not in his sons, Gilad and Omri Sharon. This past February, police recommended that criminal charges be brought against the two men, who are accused of profiting from bribes and kickbacks to the tune of $4.5 million. Investigators suspect the money came from a man named Martin Schlaff, an Austrian businessman who wanted to build a floating casino in the southern city of Eilat.

Part of this money would actually have been used to pay off the former prime minister's election debt. The case caused a stir in 2001, and forced Sharon and his sons to pay a total of $3 million. Since then, the criminal investigation has stalled, and for good reason: Martin Schlaff does not intend to answer any questions posed by the Israelis, and Ariel Sharon, of course, remains silent.

Read more from Le Monde in French

Photo - Wikipedia

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

How Facebook's Metaverse Could Undermine Europe's Tech Industry

Mark Zuckerberg boasted that his U.S. tech giant will begin a hiring spree in Europe to build his massive "Metaverse." Touted as an opportunity for Europe, the plans could poach precious tech talent from European tech companies.

Carl-Johan Karlsson

PARIS — Facebook's decision to recruit 10,000 people across the European Union might be branded as a vote of confidence in the strength of Europe's tech industry. But some European companies, which are already struggling to fill highly-skilled roles such as software developers and data scientists, are worried that the tech giant might make it even harder to find the workers that power their businesses.

Facebook's new European staff will work as part of its so-called "metaverse," the company's ambitious plan to venture beyond its current core business of connected social apps.

Shortage of French developers

Since Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his more maximalist vision of Facebook in July, the concept of the metaverse has quickly become a buzzword in technology and business circles. Essentially a sci-fi inspired augmented reality world, the metaverse will allow people to interact through hardware like augmented reality (AR) glasses that Zuckerberg believes will eventually be as ubiquitous as smartphones.

The ambition to build what promoters claim will be the successor to the mobile internet comes with a significant investment, including multiplying the 10% of the company's 60,000-strong workforce currently based in Europe. The move has been welcomed by some as a potential booster for the continent's tech market.

Eight out of 10 French software companies say they can't find enough workers.

"In a number of regions in Europe there are clusters of pioneering technology companies. A stronger representation of Facebook can support this trend," German business daily Handelsblatt notes.

And yet the enthusiasm isn't shared by everyone. In France, company leaders worry that Facebook's five-year recruiting plan will dilute an already limited talent pool, with eight out of 10 French software companies already having difficulties finding staff, daily Les Echos reports.

The profile of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg displayed on a smartphone

Cris Faga / ZUMA

Teleworking changes the math

There is currently a shortage of nearly 10,000 computer engineers in France, with developers being the most sought-after, according to a recent study by Numéum, the main employers' consortium of the country's digital sector.

Facebook has said its recruiters will target nations including Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands and Ireland, without mentioning specific numbers in any country. But the French software sector, which has so far managed to retain 59% of its workforce, fears that its highly skilled and relatively affordable young talent will be fertile recruiting grounds — especially since the pandemic has ushered in a new era of teleworking.

Facebook's plan to build its metaverse comes at a time when the nearly $1-trillion company faces its biggest scandal in years over damning internal documents leaked by a whistleblower, as well as mounting antitrust scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators. Still, as the sincerity of Zuckerberg's quest is underscored by news that the pivot might also come with a new company name, European software companies might want to start thinking about how to keep their talent in this universe.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!