Cool Tel Avivian or Pro-settler Nationalist? Netanyahu Could Be Ousted by This Man

Last Wednesday, Geula Cohen was laid to rest on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. The former Knesset member and matriarch of the Israeli right wing had died just a week short of her 94th birthday. President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both attended and eulogized her, as did her son, Likud minister Tzachi Hanegbi.

One of Cohen’s oldest comrades sought out another Likud politician standing a few rows back. “Geula said many years ago that you would one day be prime minister,” the comrade whispered to Gideon Sa’ar, a former Likud minister and the only candidate running against Netanyahu in Thursday’s election for Likud leader.

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 54

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Gideon Sa’ar at Geula Cohen’s funeral at the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, December 18, 2019.Hadas Parush/Flash90

Few remember it, but Geula Cohen was one of the earliest political influences and mentors of Gideon Zarechansky, as he was known then. Neither of the two were Likud members. Cohen was a leader of the smaller, far-right Tehiya party, and Sa’ar, a former national organizer of the youth wing, remained active in the party as a student. If Cohen had listened to Sa’ar and like-minded party members in 1992 and not pulled out of Yitzhak Shamir’s Likud government, Israeli history might have turned out differently.

The place that has become synonymous with Sa’ar’s image is Tel Aviv –  where he was born and lives today. He’s the Tel Aviv Likudnik. Of course, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about Sa’ar living and socializing in Tel Aviv, except for the fact that in so many people’s minds, the Israel of Tel Aviv is the antithesis of the Israel of Likud. Being a consummate Tel Avivian makes Sa’ar, mistakenly, seem to many people somehow less of a staunch nationalist.

Sa’ar actually spent part of his childhood in a much more left-wing environment than Tel Aviv. When he was 2, the family, following father Shmuel’s job as a pediatrician, moved to the Negev town of Mitzpeh Ramon, and two years later to nearby Kibbutz Sde Boker, where they lived for five years.

Shmuel Zarechansky’s job as the kibbutz doctor meant he also came into regular contact with Sde Boker’s most illustrious resident, David Ben-Gurion, whose archives contain the medications and diet prescribed him in Zarechansky’s haphazard handwriting. His eldest son Gideon would sometimes join him when he visited the Old Man in his kibbutz bungalow.