These days it is dangerous to claim that the late Rabbi Meir Kahane was right on a slew of issues – it is certainly political suicide in Israel, where even the most Kahanist party, Otzma Yehudit, is forced to argue feebly that it’s not really pushing the late great Zionist’s ideas (for the record, Kahane was also wrong on a number of issues, but that’s for a different debate).
One day following the passing of another great Zionist, Geula Cohen, who will be buried today, Thursday, just short of her 94th birthday, on Mount Olives, it is still safe to declare that she, much like Rabbi Kahane, was right, by which I refer to a memorable shouting match between herself and then Prime Minister Menachem Begin – both being part of the Likud faction in the Knesset at the time – over the approaching peace agreement with Egypt.
Truth be told, only MK Geula Cohen was doing the shouting, heckling the prime minister who, blinded by a notion of an historic achievement, and pressured unrelentingly by the most anti-Semitic US president since Ulysses S. Grant – Jimmy Carter – had agreed to give back the entire Sinai peninsula, liberated by the IDF in 1967, to the Egyptians, in return for their recognition of the Jewish State’s right to exist.
It went like this:
MK Cohen (Likud): We must resign, before the Knesset approves the Camp David agreement.
Knesset Speaker MK Yitzchak Shamir (Likud): MK Geula Cohen, I ask that you stop.
Cohen: A conspiracy between the commander of Etzel (Irgun – Begin) and the commander of Lechi (the Stern gang – Shamir) against Eretz Israel?
Shamir: Mr. Prime Minister, please continue. … Please…
Prime Minister Menachem Begin (Likud): Mr. Speaker, my teachers and elders, members of the Knesset, I bring to the Knesset and through it to the entire nation the message of peacemaking between Israel and the largest Arab state, and eventually, inevitably, with all our neighbors. The documents which have been agreed to at the Camp David conference, and were signed by me in the name of Israel’s government…
Cohen: But not in the name of the people of Israel.
Begin: …are laid out before you.
Cohen: It won’t help you.
Begin: Therefore, I will not take more of the Knesset’s time in order to read them aloud. On the other hand, I am not able to reveal the content of two other documents, namely the Egyptian document that was submitted to President Carter and myself in our first meeting at the Camp David conference, as well as the American document…
Cohen: Why can’t you reveal? Reveal it to the people of Israel. Mr. Prime Minister, stop cheating the people of Israel. Reveal to the people of Israel what’s inside those documents. Derech eretz bishvil eretz (courtesy for the sake of the land). Not a different way (derech) for yourself.
[After some objections to Cohen from the house members]
Begin: Mr. Speaker, I have a request of you, please protect me against Mrs. Geula Cohen.
Cohen: I’m asking, Mr. Speaker, to protect Eretz Israel against the prime minister.
An MK sitting in front of Cohen told her she should show respect to the PM, because the house session was being televised (still a big deal back in 1978).
Cohen: (Angry) Leave me alone with the television. Leave me alone with the television. (To Begin) We didn’t need you to take over in order to give back the land (Begin and his Likud party had just won the 1977 election). There are people who could do it better than you. Peace is important… You sent people to die for Eretz Israel just to give it back?
What followed was a series of warnings by Speaker Shamir at MK Cohen, then the PM explained that there were psychological reasons for his avoiding a reference to the Egyptian and the American versions of the deal, at which point MK Cohen heckled: The problem is the psychology.
The exchange between Cohen and Shamir continued, until the Speaker threatened to remove her from the plenum, and she responded by reminding Begin that he, too, had been removed from the plenum over the same ideals she was upholding. When she was ordered to leave the session, she continued to declare that she would not allow the PM to give the people delusional messages about peace in return for land.
When Likud MKs told her the only reason she was sitting there, in the Knesset, was because of Menachem Begin, Cohen became furious: “I was elected by tens of thousands of Jews whom I represent, because of the love for Eretz Israel which once upon a Time was shared by Begin, too.”
When leftwing MK Meir Pa’il (Moked) told her she was just looking for media attention, Cohen snapped back: “You’re going to regret it, because I was going to suggest [Labour MK Aryeh] Loba Eliav to take over as prime minister. He is very wrong on the issues, but at least he isn’t delusional.”
When Speaker Shamir warned her that this was her final warning, Cohen said: “They’ve already removed settlers from Eretz Israel, you can remove me, too, by force, from the Knesset.”
Shamir called for a 5 minute recess, following which, when MK Cohen continued to disrupt the PM’s speech, the speaker called for a vote to remove her from the plenum, at which point the video ends. On a different occasion, Cohen tore up the Camp David agreement at the plenum.
The above represents my personal take on the importance, even greatness of the late Geula Cohen, a brave woman who became famous as the mysterious voice of the underground’s illegal radio under British rule, and maintained her unwavering faith in the right of the returning Jewish nation to the entire biblical land of Israel her entire life.
Theatrics aside, in her stormy exchange with her own underground commander, Yitzchak Shamir, and the other underground commander, Menachem Begin, Cohen was nothing shot of a prophetess. She recognized that the submission by Prime Minister Begin to outside forces in giving away land was not a necessary evil, it was the start of a much bigger evil. What began as the unloading of desert territory twice the size of post-1967 Israel, continued to an offer to Arab terror gangs to take over Gaza, Judea, Samaria and parts of Jerusalem, an offer to the Syrian regime to take back the Golan Heights, and the unilateral retreat from the Gaza strip which involved uprooting thousands of Jewish settlers.
Did Israel gain peace in return for its sacrifices? To date, the benefits of the deal with Egypt, followed by the deal with Jordan, are dubious at best. Anti-Semitism is still rampant in both neighboring countries, cultural relations are at about zero Celsius, and the policy of rapid punishment against Syria has certainly yielded about the same measure of peace but for much less.
But even if the Camp David agreement had bestowed much more in peace benefits, it was inherently immoral, which is why it has become the poison tree from which all future death traps for the Jewish state are born.
When two countries feud over a swath of land, the normal resolution is to turn to a trusted arbiter who comes up with a compromise solution that would be acceptable to both.
In camp David, Israel committed in advance to giving back every last inch of the Sinai—and the Egyptians insisted on every last inch, literally—before the negotiations even began. In order for then President Anwar Sadat to come to the negotiations table, he was granted everything in advance. What Sadat gave in return was his willingness to stop trying to destroy the Jewish State.
Only one decade later, that second commander of the fearsome underground, Shamir, agreed to go to the 1991 Madrid conference, where Israel was confronted by the Arab countries and faced with a solid front demanding it embrace the 2-state solution. The consequent, bilateral Israeli–Palestinian negotiations eventually led to the signing of the Oslo Accord, on the lawn of the White House, on September 13, 1993 (which fell on the week of Rosh Hashanah).
Today, due to the frailty of both Begin and Shamir, presumably the two toughest rightwing Israeli leaders ever, Israel is facing a reality in which that miserable 2-state solution may be delayed, postponed, ignored – but few doubt its very tangible future.
Geula Cohen, brave woman, you were right and so many of us were dead wrong. Which is why so many of us are dead, before our time.