Former Lawmaker Geulah Cohen, the ‘First Lady of the Right,’ Dies at 94

Cohen fought in the pre-state Lehi underground militia and and dedicated much of her life to the settlement project and the greater Land of Israel

Ofer Aderet
Jonathan Lis
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Geulah Cohen at the Knesset in 1990.
Geulah Cohen at the Knesset in 1990.Credit: Saar Yaacov/GPO
Ofer Aderet
Jonathan Lis

Former Knesset member Geula Cohen, a journalist, author and former fighter in the pre-state Lehi underground militia, , Cohen was dubbed the “first lady of the Israeli right.” was buried Thursday in the Mount of Olives cemetery in Jerusalem, a day after she died just shy of her 94th birthday. 

An Israel Prize laureate, Cohen, a journalist, author and former fighter in the pre-state Lehi underground militia, Cohen was dubbed the “first lady of the Israeli right.” She dedicated much of her life to the settlement project and realizing a “greater” Land of Israel, incorporating occupied territory.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the funeral of Geula Cohen on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, on December 19, 2019.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the funeral of Geula Cohen on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, on December 19, 2019.Credit: Emil Salman

Born in Tel Aviv, Cohen served 19 year in the Knesset, some of them alongside her son Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi, a Likud MK.  

Geulah Cohen with her son Tzachi Hanegbi, currently the regional cooperation minister, in 1986.
Geulah Cohen with her son Tzachi Hanegbi, currently the regional cooperation minister, in 1986.Credit: Yaron Kaminski
The funeral of Geula Cohen on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, on December 19, 2019.
The funeral of Geula Cohen on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, on December 19, 2019.Credit: Emil Salman

She vehemently opposed the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians and the withdrawal from Sinai for a peace treaty with Egypt. Cohen famously heckled the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat during his historic visit to Jerusalem in 1977 and later broke away from Likud to co-found Tehiya, a far-right, pro-settler party.

Cohen was born in Tel Aviv in 1925. Her father Yosef immigrated to Ottoman Palestine from Yemen in 1905 and was one of the founders and heads of the Association of Yemenite Jews in Israel. Her mother Miriam was born in Jerusalem’s Old City to a Mizrahi family. 

Geulah Cohen with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, 2002.
Geulah Cohen with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, 2002.Credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO

She grew up in Tel Aviv’s Kerem HaTeimanim neighborhood. She went to the Balfour School and at age 12 joined Beitar youth, an arm of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Zionist movement.

Cohen joined the Etzel militia in 1942, then moved over to Lehi, a more extremist group. Her weapon was the microphone. Under the code name “Ilana,” Cohen broadcast the “Voice of the Hebrew Underground.” 

After being caught by the British she was sentenced to seven years in prison. Cohen famously escaped from the lockup disguised in Arab dress with the help of an Arab Lehi member. 

She was first elected to the Knesset in 1973, representing Likud.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in his eulogy that Cohen had a “consciousness about the struggle and a belief in redemption ever since her youth. As a young fighter with Lehi she broadcast the voice of the underground on the radio, fled prison twice, and was wounded” in action.“Geula fought all her life for the redemption of the country and the people; she fought bravely and tried to inspire the masses of Israelis,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his eulogy for her.

Geulah Cohen with Israeli politician Yossi Sarid in 2005.
Geulah Cohen with Israeli politician Yossi Sarid in 2005.Credit: Assaf Evron

“Her voice will not go silent. We will always preserve the memory of her great work on behalf of the freedom of Israel and her dedication and love for the Land of Israel. She belonged to the generation of giants and will always remain a memory and ... an example for us, who continue on her path.”

Her son, Hanegbi, tweeted: “I had the honor of growing up with an outstanding woman whose entire life was dedicated to the unity of the homeland, to the ingathering of the exiles, to educating the future generation. Her love of the people did not overshadow her love as a mother and her dedication as a grandmother.”

President Reuven Rivlin said she was “an inspiration of strength, devotion, and love for the people in its land.” 

He added that she will always serve as the light guiding our way on the paths she paved and built as a legislator and in her work in the underground and in settling the land. 

Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz said Cohen was an “ideological rival, but I respected her for her devotion to her beliefs.”

Geulah Cohen in 2009.
Geulah Cohen in 2009.Credit: Motti Kimchi

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