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Golda Meir

1898 - 1978.

Golda Meir was an Israeli politician, and Prime Minister of Israel from 1969 to 1974.

Born in Kyiev, her early years were marked by extreme poverty and pogroms, which shaped her deep-seated dedication to Jewish security. Antisemitic violence and hiding memories fuelled her lifelong commitment. Additionally, she recalled her sister Sheyna risking her life to attend Labor Zionist meetings.

Golda Meir in 1973. Source: Library of Congress.

In 1903, her father Moshe left for America and settled his family in the poor Jewish section of Milwaukee (Wisconsin, USA). Golda was eight years old.

At fourteen, Meir fought her parents to attend high school instead of finding a husband. She ran away to Denver, where she developed her political philosophy and fell in love with Morris Meirson, an artist. After returning home, she graduated from high school and became a teacher, advocating for Labor Zionism.

One month after Britain issued the Balfour Declaration supporting “the establishment in Palestine of a National Home for the Jewish people” in 1917, Golda married Morris.

In 1921, they arrived in the Land of Israel and established themselves in Kibbutz Merhavia (close to Afula), where they worked in the fields. Meir emerged as an exemplary kibbutz member and developed expertise in chicken breeding.

Two years later, they moved to Jerusalem, where Golda gave birth to Menachem in 1924, and Sarah in 1926. The family had a life of grinding poverty.

In 1928, she became secretary of Histadrut’s Mo’ezet ha-Po’alot, Women Workers Council. This event caused disturbances in her relationship with her husband Morris.

She quickly evolved in the hierarchy and became a member of the Executive Committee of the Histadrut in 1934 and head of its political department two years later.

During World War 2, she held several key posts in the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency. This was the highest Jewish authority in British-administered Palestine. Until the end of the British mandate, she was its spokesperson in dealings with the British.

In 1948, she led several vital initiatives that contributed to the establishment of the State of Israel. For example, she met with King Abdullah (of Jordan), to try to persuade him to stay out of the war. He remained unresponsive to her pleas. She also traveled to the United States and raised 50 million dollars from the American Jewish community to equip the armed forces.

On May 14, 1948, Golda Meir signed the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel, along with 36 other signatories. Golda Meir and Rachel Cohen-Kagen were the only women to sign the Declaration of Independence.

Foreign Minister Moshe Sharett appointed her ambassador to the USSR. In 1949, she was elected to the Knesset and appointed by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to be Minister of Labor, a position she held until 1956. Her main mission was to find jobs and housing for the nearly seven hundred thousand immigrants who streamed into the country between May 1948 and 1951.

In 1956, Ben-Gurion made her Foreign Minister. He also insisted she adopt a Hebrew-sounding surname to better represent her Hebrew-speaking nation, and Meirson became Meir. She had a unique way of diplomacy, away from formalities. One of her proudest accomplishments was the export of Israeli technical and agricultural expertise to African nations.

In 1966, she retired from the government, at age 68.

Despite Meir's belief that her public career was over, she was convinced to become secretary general of Mapai. She was later secretary of the Unified Labor Party in 1967. However, when Prime Minister Levi Eshkol passed away in February 1969, the party urged her to become Israel's leader to prevent a power struggle. This delayed her retirement plans.

As Prime Minister, Golda Meir tried to reach a political solution to the conflict between Israel and Egypt prior to the Yom Kippur War.

Despite military and diplomatic warnings, she hadn't seen the war coming. On October 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack, starting the Yom Kippur War.

In this YouTube video, you can see the speech she delivered on TV on the first day of the war.

Israeli forces faced considerable casualties, exceeding 2,700, despite eventually regaining the offensive. Golda Meir deeply regretted not mobilizing the reserves earlier, as her instincts urged her to do so. Instead, she trusted the advice of military intelligence experts who did not see the need for immediate action. The nation was gripped by a sense of national trauma, leading to public backlash against Meir. Grieving parents of the deceased blamed her and Defense Minister Dayan for the devastating losses, shouting their discontent in the streets.

She was exonerated from direct responsibility for Israel's unpreparedness for the war by the Agranat Commission.

Although the Labor Party won the December 1973 election, Meir was unable to form a government. She resigned on April 10, 1974, and officially handed over the premiership to Yitzhak Rabin on June 3rd.

During her tenure as Prime Minister, Golda Meir devoted a significant portion of her efforts to diplomacy, combining personal interactions with strategic use of the media. With determination, a friendly demeanor, a grandmotherly image, straightforward yet highly effective communication, and a clear agenda, Golda Meir managed to secure unprecedented levels of financial and military support.

This YouTube video is a speech she delivered in 1973.

Even though she was prime minister on behalf of the Labor movement, her memory is not very empathetic in some left-wing circles. She is seen as someone who paved the way for the Yom Kippur War and corrupted the Mapai apparatus during her time.

Others find in her the warmth of a "Jewish mother" and the ability to withstand stressful situations. In addition, she is famous as the only woman who served as Prime Minister of Israel.

Despite the initial rejection and anguish she experienced from Israelis, she managed to transform into a respected senior stateswoman and a cherished figure among the public in her later years. As time passed, her reputation regained its luster.

Golda Meir died in December 1978, at the age of 80.



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