Ariel Sharon, who will likely become Israel's next prime minister, swears he has no trouble concentrating.
No trouble, that is, except when it comes to Condoleezza Rice.
Sharon, 73, was quoted as telling a group of Israeli television journalists and executives that he found President Bush's national security adviser so attractive when they met last summer that he could barely focus on what she was saying.
Sharon, the hawkish leader of Israel's Likud Party, holds a commanding lead in opinion polls heading into Israel's prime ministerial elections tomorrow. A two-time widower, he met with Rice in August when she made her first trip to Israel.
Sharon's interest in Rice, who is 46 and single, was first reported Friday by Israel's mass-circulation newspaper Yedioth Aharonoth. According to the article, Sharon told journalists and executives of Israel's Channel 2 News last Tuesday, "I have to confess, it was hard for me to concentrate in the conversation with Condoleezza Rice because she has very nice legs."
However, a journalist at Channel 2 who sat in on the meeting said Sharon actually said he found Rice's overall appearance attractive.
The journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Sharon also made what could have been interpreted as a sexual innuendo to a female correspondent. In response to her repeated questions, Sharon told her to wait patiently for his answer, and promised she would be "satisfied." The word in Hebrew he used for "satisfied" is a double-entendre.
A spokeswoman for Sharon did not immediately return a phone call. A spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Barak, despite having called attention to Sharon's remark, declined to comment on it.
In fact, Sharon's remark about Rice is not likely to generate much comment in Israel, where a modicum of sexism is tolerated and even expected.
Sharon, a former general who spent 25 years in the Israeli army before going into politics, leads Barak by 20 percentage points in the latest opinion polls. It is so widely assumed here that he will win handily that political conversations have moved beyond his campaign and turned to the composition of his Cabinet.
Still, in leaks to the Israeli media, Barak's campaign has repeatedly attempted to raise questions about Sharon's fitness for office and his health generally. Sharon, whose second wife, Lilly, died last year, has been said to tire easily and to have difficulty concentrating. On occasion, he rambles in public discourse.
The Channel 2 journalist said that Sharon's remarks about Rice caused some slight embarrassment. "In this case it was not a matter of age or health condition," the journalist said. "It was a matter of point of view. ... You know these people who serve too many years in the army, it's the way they see things."www.acj.org/Feb_5.htmE-mail this article