The Israeli Revolutionary Who Bewitched Anwar Sadat

The Egyptian president was taken by the Israeli MK Geula Cohen's 'feminine charms.’ That’s revealed in a trove of personal documents on display at a Tel Aviv exhibit of decorated Israeli women.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

On a piece of plain lined paper, in handwriting that’s not entirely clear, is a philosophical message then-Defense Minister Moshe Dayan wrote to MK Geula Cohen: “Geula. As someone who sees with only one eye I’m aware of sayings related to vision, blind people, etc. And on that subject: Nobody is more blind than he who doesn’t want to see. Moshe.”

He wrote her the note in the late 1970s, when he was serving in the government of Menachem Begin, elected after the political upheaval of 1977 when the right wing, led by Likud, won a plurality for the first time. The only one who knows the exact context and date of the note is Cohen, a fighter in the pre-state underground militia Lehi, and later a writer, journalist and right-wing Knesset member, who will celebrate her 88th birthday this year. The words written to her by the controversial military and political leader are now in the public domain.

The note is just one of a series of personal documents that Geula Cohen loaned to the exhibition of decorated Israeli women, pioneers and dreamers at Bank Discount’s Herzlilienblum Museum in Tel Aviv, where personal items belonging to a selection of women who made outstanding contributions to Israeli society are on display. Next to Moshe Dayan’s note are personal letters and documents that Cohen received from David Ben-Gurion and Ariel Sharon, and U.S. President Richard Nixon.

“Geula, you’re so beautiful this morning that it leads me to turn to you again ‏(this time for that reason‏). Don’t leave us! Yours always, Arik,” wrote Agriculture Minister Ariel Sharon after Cohen announced her resignation from Likud in 1970. Sharon’s warm words didn’t change Cohen’s mind, and she went on to establish the Tehiya party. Later on, however, she returned to Likud.

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was also impressed by her. “She has beautiful eyes and feminine charm,” he said to MK Shimon Peres during one of their conversations. Peres wrote down these words and sent them to Cohen in 1978 or 1979.

That paper with the Knesset logo, in Peres’ handwriting, was kept in her home until now and is currently on display at the exhibition. The letter indicates that Sadat told Peres that one of the discussions held in the Knesset, in which MK Cohen condemned the peace talks with Egypt, had been recorded for him. “Among other things I heard the words of that woman,” said Sadat to Peres. He could recall only the first letters of her name, and Peres helped him to remember her full name.

“She has beautiful eyes and feminine charm. She called someone ‘a dictator, a Nazi, a general,’ − was she referring to me?” he asked. According to the letter Peres replied: “Sometimes it’s hard to agree with her. But she speaks frankly and with passion.” Sadat replied: “Yes, it looks that way.”

In Cohen’s private archive there is another document in Sharon’s handwriting. “Geula my friend,” he wrote to her, “the main goal in my opinion is that already next week dozens and hundreds of Jewish children will be running around in Samaria. I attribute no importance to uniforms. As far as I’m concerned the settlers can even walk around naked.” Sharon’s words were referring to the proposal to dress the settlers in uniform and to consider them soldiers.

Moshe Dayan’s handwriting also stars in another note on display at the exhibit. The addressee in this case was Prime Minister Golda Meir, who had returned from a visit to Iran. “What do you think of my romance with the Shah? I feel that it’s too good,” she wrote to him in May 1972 upon her return.

Secret meetings with the Shah

“I heard ‏(in a short phone conversation‏) about the subject of your talks,” replied Dayan. “It’s better for things to be ‘too good’ than for them to be bad. In any case, the Iranian position will become clear in the near future.” This correspondence, which was donated to the exhibition by the Israel State Archives, is evidence of the period when Israel and Iran enjoyed friendly relations. Meir’s meeting with Shah Reza Mohammad Pahlavi, which took place on May 18, 1972, was only one in a series of secret reciprocal visits by Israeli leaders and senior military and Mossad officials, which led to close military and commercial ties between the countries.

Many visitors will be surprised to see a rare picture of Hannah Szenes, as they have never seen her. The famous Hungarian-born paratrooper, who wrote the lyrics to the the popular song “Eli, Eli,” appears in the picture in her high school prom dress in 1937 or 1938, before she immigrated to Palestine. The original picture is in the Hannah Szenes Museum on Kibbutz Sdot Yam.

Two items from the world of literature and poetry are sure to be of interest to visitors.”That’s the most popular item in the exhibition. Everyone lingers in front of it,” says museum director Yehudit Ben Levy, pointing to the manuscript of Lea Goldberg’s children’s book “Where’s Pluto?” including pictures of the famous dog. Another popular item is the original page with the words of the song “Jerusalem of Gold, by Naomi Shemer, which includes her corrections.

Geula Cohen and Ariel SharonCredit: Discount’s Herzlilienblum Museum

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