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Golda Meir elected in Israel

Golda Meir elected in Israel

On March 17, 1969, 70-year-old Golda Meir makes history when she is elected as Israel’s first female prime minister. She was the country’s fourth prime minister and is still the only woman to have held this post.

Meir, who was born in Kiev, Ukraine and raised in Wisconsin, began her career as a Zionist labor organizer, and later held several positions in Israeli government, including Minister of Labor and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Upon the sudden death of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol in 1969, Meir was chosen as his successor.

During her tenure, Meir gained a reputation as a savvy diplomat. She saw the country through the Yom Kippur War in October 1973, after Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack on Israel. Although Israel was victorious, over 2,500 Israelis died, and many criticized the government for a lack of preparedness.

Due in part to her age and ailing health, Meir resigned in October 1974. She was succeeded by Yitzhak Rabin.

Meir died in Jerusalem on December 8, 1978, at the age of 80.

READ MORE: 7 Women Leaders Who Were Elected to Highest Office


The Untold Truth Of Golda Meir

It's nearly impossible to imagine the existence of the modern state of Israel without the many contributions of Golda Meir. Sometimes known as "The Iron Lady of the Middle East" (via Rosen School of Hebrew), Meir was among the early Zionist immigrants to the Palestine area, one of only two women to sign the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948, and served as its fourth prime minister (and first female prime minister) from 1969 to 1974. Following her resignation and retirement from politics, Meir went on to become one of the most-quoted political leaders in history, taking a seat in the pantheon next to figures like Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln.

It's clear that Israel as we know it wouldn't exist without the wit and leadership of Golda Meir — but how much do you know about her, really? Read on for some of the facts about Meir you may not have learned in history class.


Golda Meir

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Golda Meir, original name Goldie Mabovitch, later Goldie Myerson, (born May 3, 1898, Kiev [Ukraine]—died December 8, 1978, Jerusalem), Israeli politician who helped found (1948) the State of Israel and later served as its fourth prime minister (1969–74). She was the first woman to hold the post.

Why was Golda Meir important?

Golda Meir (1898–1978) was an Israeli politician who helped found (1948) the State of Israel and later served as its fourth prime minister (1969–74). She was the first woman to hold that post.

What was Golda Meir’s early life like?

Golda Meir was born Goldie Mabovitch in Kiev. Her family immigrated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1906. She attended the Milwaukee Normal School (now University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and later became a leader in the Milwaukee Labor Zionist Party. She immigrated to Palestine in 1921 with her husband, Morris Myerson, and joined a kibbutz.

How did Golda Meir become famous?

During World War II Golda Meir (Hebraized from Goldie Myerson) was a forceful spokesman for the Zionist cause. In 1948 she signed Israel’s independence declaration and was appointed minister to Moscow. She was elected to the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in 1949 and served in that body until 1974.

What did Golda Meir accomplish?

As prime minister, Golda Meir traveled widely and met with Nicolae Ceauşescu and Pope Paul VI. Meir pressed for a peace settlement in the Middle East by diplomatic means, but her efforts at forging peace with the Arab states were halted by the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War in October 1973.

In 1906 Goldie Mabovitch’s family immigrated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she attended the Milwaukee Normal School (now University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and later became a leader in the Milwaukee Labor Zionist Party. In 1921 she and her husband, Morris Myerson, immigrated to Palestine and joined the Merẖavya kibbutz. She became the kibbutz’s representative to the Histadrut (General Federation of Labour), the secretary of that organization’s Women’s Labour Council (1928–32), and a member of its executive committee (1934 until World War II). During the war, she emerged as a forceful spokesman for the Zionist cause in negotiating with the British mandatory authorities. In 1946, when the British arrested and detained many Jewish activists, including Moshe Sharett, head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency, Goldie Myerson provisionally replaced him and worked for the release of her comrades and the many Jewish war refugees who had violated British immigration regulations by settling in Palestine. Upon his release, Sharett took up diplomatic duties, and she officially took over his former position. She personally attempted to dissuade King ʿAbdullāh I of Jordan from joining the invasion of Israel decided on by other Arab states.

On May 14, 1948, Goldie Myerson was a signatory of Israel’s independence declaration, and that year she was appointed minister to Moscow. She was elected to the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in 1949 and served in that body until 1974. As minister of labour (1949–56), she carried out major programs of housing and road construction and vigorously supported the policy of unrestricted Jewish immigration to Israel. Appointed foreign minister in 1956, she Hebraized her name to Golda Meir. She promoted the Israeli policy of assistance to the new African states aimed at enhancing diplomatic support among uncommitted nations. Shortly after retiring from the Foreign Ministry in January 1966, she became secretary-general of the Mapai Party and supported Prime Minister Levi Eshkol in intraparty conflicts. After Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War (June 1967) against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, she helped merge Mapai with two dissident parties into the Israel Labour Party.

Upon Eshkol’s death on February 26, 1969, Meir, the compromise candidate, became prime minister. She maintained the coalition government that had emerged in June 1967. Meir pressed for a peace settlement in the Middle East by diplomatic means. She traveled widely, her meetings including those with Nicolae Ceauşescu in Romania (1972) and Pope Paul VI at the Vatican (1973). Also in 1973, Meir’s government was host to Willy Brandt, chancellor of West Germany.

Her efforts at forging a peace with the Arab states were halted by the outbreak in October 1973 of the fourth Arab-Israeli war, called the Yom Kippur War. Israel’s lack of readiness for the war stunned the nation, and Meir formed a new coalition government only with great difficulty in March 1974 and resigned her post as prime minister on April 10. She remained in power as head of a caretaker government until a new one was formed in June. Although in retirement thereafter, she remained an important political figure. Upon her death it was revealed that she had had leukemia for 12 years. Her autobiography, My Life, was published in 1975.


No one since Golda: Woman politicians in Israel and beyond

The issue of women’s representation in politics has been the focus of intensive public debate in many countries over the last two decades. The basic premise of this debate is that significant representation of women in political roles is of great importance. Women’s presence in the public arena is perceived as positive and, indeed, essential, in the context of basic democratic values such as equality and pluralism. Furthermore, such a presence bolsters women’s status in society and the internalization of the fact that women must be citizens of equal value.

This discussion, however, plays out against the backdrop of a reality in which, in many countries, women are still very much under-represented in political roles. This gap has led numerous countries and political parties to take active steps to enhance women’s representation in politics. Thus, several states have instituted gender quotas which have led to a consistent and significant increase in women’s representation in parliament. Recently, there has even been an increase in the number of gender-balanced cabinets — those with an even number of men and women serving as ministers. There have also been more cases of women reaching the highest political position, of Prime Minister or President (depending on the system of government).

Women at the Top

The number of women who have reached the highest political position in their country (Prime Minister or President) has grown significantly over the last decade. At the time of this writing, women serve as leaders of eight out of the 37 OECD countries. These include Angela Merkel (Germany), Erna Solberg (Norway), Jacinda Ardern (New Zealand), and Mette Frederiksen (Denmark). As clearly shown in Table 1, since 2012, women have served in these positions in more than half the OECD countries. This list includes countries in which the glass ceiling was smashed for the first time during this period (Germany, Belgium, Austria), as well as countries in which women had already held this role (United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand).

In 15 of the 37 OECD countries, women have never been appointed to the highest political position. The United States is one of these, though the recent election of Kamala Harris as the country’s first woman Vice President is an important milestone. Israel was one of the first countries in which a woman filled such a position. When Golda Meir was elected Prime Minister in 1969 she was only the third woman in the world to reach such a position. However, since she left the post in 1974, Israel has had eight men Prime Ministers, and not a single woman.

Table 1. Most recent year in which a woman held the most senior political position* in the 37 OECD member countries

Country Name Year
Estonia Kaja Kallas Incumbent
Lithuania Ingrida Šimonytė Incumbent
Finland Sanna Marin Incumbent
Denmark Mette Frederiksen Incumbent
Iceland Katrín Jakobsdóttir Incumbent
New Zealand Jacinda Ardern Incumbent
Norway Erna Solberg Incumbent
Germany Angela Merkel Incumbent
Switzerland Simonetta Sommaruga 2020
Belgium Sophie Wilmès 2020
Austria Brigitte Bierlein 2020
UK Theresa May 2019
Chile Michelle Bachelet 2018
Poland Beata Szydło 2017
South Korea Park Geun-hye 2016
Latvia Laimdota Straujuma 2016
Slovenia Alenka Bratušek 2014
Australia Julia Gillard 2013
Slovakia Iveta Radičová 2012
Canada Kim Campbell 1993
Portugal Maria Pintasilgo 1980
Israel Golda Meir 1974

* Prime Minister, or President in presidential democracies (ceremonial presidencies are not included in this list)

Colombia, Czech Republic, France, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, and the United States have never had a woman head of state.

Women in Israeli Government

Until 1974, the only woman who had served as a minister in Israel’s governments was Golda Meir. With this exception, the government had always been entirely male. The next female ministers were Shulamit Aloni (1974), Sarah Doron (1983), Shoshana Arbeli-Almozlino (1986), and Ora Namir (1992). But by 1996, there were still only five women who had served in the government.

Since then, the situation has improved somewhat, and an additional 19 women have been appointed to ministerial positions. However, at the present time, out of 267 ministers to have served in Israeli governments over the years, only 24 have been women — less than 9%.

Israel’s 35th government, the bloated unity government created after the 2020 elections, included a record number of eight female ministers when it was formed,[1] twice as many as the previous record of four women serving in the government.

However, this improvement in female representation in government is no cause for celebration. First, none of these women was appointed to head one of the more prestigious ministries, Finance, Defense, or Foreign Affairs. The last woman to serve as Foreign Minister was Tzipi Livni (2006–2009), and no woman has ever served as Defense Minister or Finance Minister. Of the six women currently serving in the government, only two were appointed to major ministries: Gila Gamliel to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, and Miri Regev to the Ministry of Transport. The other four were given minor, and even marginal, ministerial positions.

Second, having so few women in the government stands in stark contrast to the trend in many democracies, in which women’s representation in government has risen significantly and where there have been more and more cases of cabinets with an even gender balance, or very close to it. As can be seen from Figure 1, Finland, Sweden, Austria, and Spain currently have governments with a female majority, while the governments in Canada and the Netherlands have an almost even number of male and female ministers. There has also been a significant improvement in this regard in the United States. A year ago, women constituted just 13% of the members of Donald Trump’s cabinet. Today, this figure has risen sharply to 38% in the cabinet of the newly elected Joe Biden, including the first woman to hold the position of Vice President and the first woman to serve as Secretary of the Treasury (Janet Yellen). In Israel, by contrast, the percentage of female ministers is just 22%, at six out of 27.

Figure 1. Gender Distribution of Cabinets, February 2021 (%)

Women in the Knesset

In Israel’s first three parliamentary elections (1949–1955), women constituted around 10% of those elected to the Knesset (see Figure 2). Subsequently, over the four decades up to 1999, the number of female Knesset members dropped, and ranged between a low of seven (1988) and a high of 11 (1992). Between 1999 and 2015, there was a steep rise in the number of women in the Knesset, but this has tailed off since the 2015 elections. In the last four elections, the number of women elected to the Knesset has been between 28 and 30, around one-quarter of the total of 120 members.

Figure 2. Number of women in Knesset at the time of its election: 1949–2020


A comparison between women’s representation in the Knesset and in parallel legislatures in other countries, reveals that (as of the beginning of 2021) Israel ranks 72 nd out of 190 countries. If we focus only on the 37 OECD nations, we find that Israel comes in 26th. The rise in women’s representation in the Knesset is not a unique phenomenon. In fact, the steep rise in the number of women elected to parliaments around the world has been one of the most striking political developments of the last two decades, and not only in democratic countries. For example, until 2003 there was only one country in the world in which women constituted more than 40% of members of parliament. Today, there are 23 such countries (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: States with at least 40% female representation in parliament (up to January 2021) *


* Data relates to single house of representatives or to lower house


March 17 In History: Golda Meir Became Israel's First Female Prime Minister And Degraded Palestine By Considering It Not Existed

Former Israeli PM, Golda Meir (Source: Commons Wikimedia)

JAKARTA - On March 17, 1969, for the first time Israel had a female prime minister (PM). She is Golda Meir. The fourth prime minister of Israel is known as an ironwoman because of her tough and firm attitude.

Cited from History, Golda Meir was born in Kyiv, Ukraine, May 3, 1898. Golda Meir then moved to the United States (US). There she grew up there.

Golda Meir started her career as a Zionist labor leader. She later held key positions in the Israeli government, including the Minister of Manpower and Minister of Foreign Affairs. After the death of Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol in 1969, Golda Meir was appointed Prime Minister of Israel.

During her tenure, Golda Meir's popularity continued to increase due to her diplomatic prowess. Golda Meir observes her country during the Yom Kippur War in October 1973, when Egypt and Syria launched attacks on Israel.

Despite the eventual victory, 2.500 Israelis died. Apart from that, various critics have also blamed the Israeli government for being considered unprepared.

Humiliating and disregarding Palestine

On the other hand, Golda Meir also often uses sentences that are more xenophobic, especially those related to Palestine. "There is no such thing as a Palestinian", she said, quoted by Al Jazeera.

"When will there be independent Palestinians with a Palestinian state? Aren't there Palestinians in Palestine who think of themselves as Palestinian? We came and kicked them out and took their country from them. They do not exist", said Golda Meir about the existence of Palestine which for her does not exist.

For her critics, Golda Meir's quote on Palestine is one of her most burdensome legacies. According to many observers, Golda Meir has been unable to contemplate that the creation of Israel gave Palestinians - who lost their homes after its resurrection - a different narrative of events.

Golda Meir with a number of children (Source: Commons Wikimedia)

"(Golda Meir) intended to ethnically cleanse the indigenous population of Palestine to make room for Jewish immigrants", said Muslim Americans for Palestine, a US-based group dedicated to educating the US public about Palestine and its heritage.

"She had no problem forcing people to move from their homes and expelling them from their countries so that Israel remains".

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations issued a decision to divide the territories of Israel, Palestine, and Jerusalem. This proposal was welcomed by Israel but not by the leadership of the Palestinian state. It was upon this decision that Golda Meir also took part in the establishment of Israel.

On May 14, 1948, Israel proclaimed independence which was followed by wars with Arab countries that rejected the zoning plan. Golda Meir, who was still the Head of the Political Department of the Jewish community, was sent to the US to ask for aid.

The aid funds were then given to Israeli soldiers. Its success in obtaining aid from the US was considered an extraordinary achievement.

Golda Meir wanted peace

Even though Golda Meir was always on the winning side, she also lost many lives. Therefore, Golda Meir herself does not like violence.

In an interview with the New York Times, Golda Meir said her only ambition was to see Israel accepted by its Arab neighbors and living in peace. With determination and determination, she sought it all, even though she failed to achieve that goal.

"We say 'peace' and the return echoes from the other side, 'war'", she lamented. "We don't want war even if we win".

Not without reason, Golda Meir hates violence. While still living in Kyiv, Golda Meir's life was always close to death. At that time there were many incidents of massacres in Kyiv.

Since then Golda Meir doesn't like anything violent. "I always felt too cold on the outside and too empty on the inside", she recalled.

Golda Meir Monument on Baseina Street, Kiev, Ukraine (Source: Commons Wikimedia)

Her food is sometimes given to her younger sibling, Zipke. Meanwhile, their older sibling, Sheyna often fainted from hunger.

Finally, in 1906, Golda Meir's family migrated to the US. Golda Meir's father lived in Milwaukee for three years to save money and prepare for the next life.

Golda Meir's father managed to find a job as a carpenter. Meanwhile, her mother opened a small grocery store.

Starting at the age of eight, Golda Meir had to look after the shop every morning when her mother was at the market to buy supplies. Golda Meir always came late to school every day, crying the whole way from home.

Her peaceful attitude was also strengthened when he met Pope Paul. Golda Meir emphasized Israel's desire for peace and explained Israel's position on the possibility of achieving a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict through negotiations between the parties involved.

Pope Paul at that time expressed the hope that a just peace would allow all people in the Middle East to live together. The Vatican then concludes the statement and "restates the Holy See's intention to do everything in its power to achieve this end".

*Read other information about the ISRAEL-PALESTINE CONFLICT or read other interesting articles by Putri Ainur Islam.


Israeli documentary may knock Golda Meir off her pedestal — and into your heart

NEW YORK — It has been just a little over 45 years since Golda Meir resigned as prime minister of Israel. She was Israel’s fourth prime minister, and one of the first female heads of a modern government. And depending on if you are reading this from Israel or outside of Israel, you probably have a very different opinion about her.

When I was growing up in the United States (and too young to “know” her while she was in power) she was an adored figure. A grandmotherly figure originally from Ukraine (like my actual maternal grandmother!) she immigrated to the United States, lived in Milwaukee, grew to become one of the more important Zionists, and eventually became a key figure in government. David Ben-Gurion famously called her the “only man in her cabinet,” which he probably thought was cute. In our left-leaning Zionist household, this capable and caring Jewish bubby fit our idealized vision of the Land of Milk and Honey far better than the bellicose Uzi Narkiss or Moshe Dayan. She seemed nice.

In Israel, as I’ve discovered, the dominant sentiment is quite the opposite. Her legacy is greatly tarnished for, as many believe, botching opportunities for peace, exacerbating problems between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi Jews, and failing to prevent the costly Yom Kippur war.

This schism between domestic and Diaspora opinion is at the center of a new documentary called “Golda,” which premiered November 10 at New York’s prestigious Doc NYC festival. It will continue a run of upcoming Jewish film festivals in Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, Richmond, Philadelphia, Denver and elsewhere before an eventual, general release.

The documentary is informative and intelligent in contextualizing Golda’s political life from a current perspective. It is a mix of talking head interviews from people who knew her as well as archival clips, the crown jewel of which is a lengthy chat recorded in 1978.

That footage, never seen before, is an unfiltered conversation with two journalists in a television studio after the “official” interview was over. They were off the air, but the cameras were still rolling. With her guard down, the now-retired prime minister speaks from the heart, showing her vulnerable side. It acts as this film’s spine.

Shani Rozanes, an Israeli filmmaker currently living in Berlin, is one of the three directors behind “Golda.” I had the good fortune to speak to her after the New York premiere. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.

“Golda” is up-front about its intentions from the first frame, with a title card discussing the different perceptions of Golda Meir in and out of Israel. As an American Jew, I admit she still retains some of that “Queen of the Jewish People” halo.

I’m interested to see if we move the dial.

I can say from my experience, growing up with a father who was a veteran of the Yom Kippur War, it is a painful topic. When I was maybe nine years old and, as a young girl, looking for role models, I looked at the lady from the 10 shekel bill. I asked my mom, “Hey, what about Golda? The first woman prime minister! She’s a woman worth admiring, right?” And she said if I was “looking for a woman to admire, Golda Meir is the wrong one.” I remember that distinctly.

For that generation, those who were in their early 20s during the Yom Kippur War, she is a very controversial figure. There’s a lot of resentment and pain and anger. While there has been much debate about her role in the war, she herself has assumed responsibility for it as prime minister.

Still, her supporters have said it isn’t a prime minister’s role to know, say, how many helmets are in storage. So the controversy around that war and around her in general is still felt. And it has created a certain imprint on Golda, which is why, I feel, our movie could not have been made earlier. It needed time and perspective, and a younger generation.

So has your opinion of Golda changed, working on this?

Yes, it has. You get to know a person when you make a film. Any person. But she is very impressive.

Growing up she wanted to study, but her father said, “People don’t like clever women.” They wanted her to marry and have babies and that’s it. She had her perseverance and vision it is something you have to admire, coming from that background. This is a key part of the movie — people seem to wonder if we are for her or against her. We’re trying more to be with her. She is a captivating, charismatic personality. It is hard not to be touched by her humanity. I maybe don’t agree with everything she says! But I understand her upbringing and therefore her conviction. I want the movie to do that, to see the bigger picture of her as a round character, not just a villain or a big Jewish grandmother.

Tell me more about this great 1978 “off the air” interview you found.

Once we saw it we were floored. You see her just talking, smoking, laughing. It’s magnetic. You can’t take your eyes off it. We had to bring it in. It helped us organize the whole film. We came to this asking, “How do we tell this story?” She lived to the age of 80 and had 50 years in public life. Where do we start? How do we focus?

We wanted to tell the story of Israel, its hardships, how it was built, what it still struggles with today: the rocky relationship between Mizrahi and Ashkenazi, the Palestinian nationality issues, global terror, settlements, economic hardship. It’s all still current, so we wanted to tell her story and how it entwined with all these conflicts. That interview is a perfect guideline. Each chapter begins with a clip from that interview, either from a political or personal perspective.

This is the first time this footage has been shown?

Yes, it was in the Israeli Broadcasting Authority archives. They have so much material from the early days that has never been digitized. It’s on old formats in this case it was basically just a black box and no one knew what was inside. It’s not the type of thing you can just pop into a machine to view. So the deal with filmmakers is this: if you digitize it yourself, you get to use it. It helps their efforts to digitize the archive, but filmmakers take a gamble. You spend the money and you might end up with nothing, or you spend the money and you might end up with gold. Which we did.

Her living family members had never even seen it. One of her grandchildren came to a screening and was so touched, saying, “This was her!” It was exciting and meaningful for him to have another piece of Grandma.

Yes, she’s got her guard down, and there’s a nice moment where she makes a crack about modern music and the way women dress these days. It’s very human.

It’s something of a legacy interview. She knew it would be one of the last interviews she’d ever give. She became quite ill soon thereafter. She wants to talk about idealism. She wanted to have her say, and even though it was off the air, she knew she was talking to journalists.

You worked on this with a team, you in Germany and your two partners in Israel. Like the moon landing, two on the surface and one orbiting in the command module. I’m curious about that process and also — not to make everything about gender — but you are a woman and they are men, and this is a movie about one of the most important women of the 20th century. Were there times when that perspective made for a specific contribution?

Yes, I am a woman, and a remote woman, and also a young mother. I have brought two sons into the world, so I always say “Golda” is my third child. So it was hard. But I’ve known Udi Nir and Sagi Bornstein for years and have a great bond with them. I do wish I had more time in the archives, but I was traveling to Israel a lot for all the production interviews. I was remote for much of the editing, but we made it work.

We each bring something different. I am more of the history geek. Sagi’s filmmaking style is more about the emotional and visual aspects. Udi brought in the political and idealistic statements as well as her personal aspirations. But I do recognize, as a woman, I do wish we had more references to her perspective of femininity, and her struggles as a woman. But the political storylines became more dominant.

One of the curious things about her life, and I think you can say this about many pioneer women, is that as trailblazers one wants to brand them as a feminist, but she was hesitant —

More than hesitant! She was against it! Ask her and she would vehemently oppose being defined as a feminist. She never saw herself as a gender-oriented politician. If you asked Golda what she was, the first thing she’d say would be, “I’m a socialist.”

No, that’s not true. The first thing she’d say would be, “I’m a Jew,” and then she’d say, “I’m a socialist.”

What she ultimately did for women in politics was far beyond her conception. Her effect on gender politics was far beyond whatever was going on in her head.

What do you think of representations of Golda in other media, like the movie “Munich” or the play “Golda’s Balcony.”

“Golda’s Balcony” is a great example of the difference in how she is perceived in Israel and elsewhere. It never would have been a success in Israel. Never.

Take as another example the Gallup Poll in 1974. Golda Meir was voted the most admired woman, the first non-American woman ever. At that very time she was probably the most hated woman in Israel. A very different point of view.

So we’re trying to break that. It’s easy to just call someone a villain or a saint. We’re trying to show the complexity. It’s something we don’t do with politicians. We forget they are humans.

You live in Germany now, what is the perception of her there?

A lot of curiosity. The initial idea for this came from our German producer. He came across her and was shocked he didn’t know there was a woman Israeli prime minister. He had the perception of Israel as being very male, with the generals and that image.

So people are intrigued. It shows a different side of Israel. Plus in Germany, the Munich massacre is something that strikes a chord, it’s another shameful part of the joint history.

If you were to sink your teeth into another prime minister, who else needs a revisionist view?

Levi Eshkol, definitely… [He’s having] a bit of a renaissance. I’d love to look at him and understand him better. At the time he was considered something of a gray personality, but now there is more appreciation. All those gentle, quiet, patient qualities — all the things he was mocked for in the past are now valued as an advantage. The story of him and the Six Day War is the watershed moment for Israel. Everything changes.

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Golda Meir elected in Israel - HISTORY


Golda Meir

Golda Meir and David Ben Gurion

Golda Meir was the Iron Lady of Israeli politics years before the epithet was coined for Margaret Thatcher. David Ben Gurion once described her as "the only man in the Cabinet."

She was in all ways a formidable woman: in appearance she was tall and austere, with the stresses of a hard life reflected in her face in personality, she was honest, straightforward and single-minded. In the eyes of the world, she personified the Israeli spirit.

After the death of Levi Eshkol in 1969, Golda Meir was called out of retirement, at the age of 70, to become the new prime minister of Israel.

It marked the high point of a long career dedicated to the cause of the Labour party's vision of Zionism.

Although she was born in Russia and educated in the United States, where she trained as a teacher, she arrived in Palestine when she was in her twenties and lived on a kibbutz.

She immediately became active in the newly-formed Histadrut trade union movement, but broke off for four years to stay at home and raise her two children. But there was nothing of the housewife in Golda Meir.

"There is a type of woman," she said, "who does not let her husband narrow her horizons."

In 1928 she returned to the Histadrut, becoming Secretary of its Council for Women Workers. By the mid-1930s Golda Meir was heading the Histadrut's political department, and was active as an administrator in many spheres of public life.

Her enormous workload contributed to the collapse of her marriage in 1945.

Golda Meir in 1948
With her children grown, Golda Meir devoted even more of her time and energy to public service. In 1946, she was appointed head of the political department of the Jewish Agency - the body organising the migration of Jews to Palestine.

Late in the following year, with war between the Jews and the Arabs looming, she undertook a daring mission. Disguised as an Arab woman she crossed the border into Transjordan and held secret talks with King Abdullah. She tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to keep his country out of the war.

In 1949, a year after the creation of the state, Golda Meir was appointed Israel's first ambassador to Moscow.

She also won a seat in the first Knesset, remaining in parliament until 1974. During that time she held several ministerial posts and was active in Labour politics.

When Golda Meir became prime minister, Israel was brimming with confidence, having humiliated the Arabs in the 1967 war and captured large areas of territory.

She saw no need to seek compromise with the Palestinians so long as Israel was secure. Her rigid nationalism and blinkered view of the Arabs led her to say once: "There are no Palestinians."

Israel's euphoria in the early 1970s was punctured by the 1973 war. After early reverses, Israel - with American assistance - fought back and won.

But the government was severely criticised for the fact that the country had been caught napping by its Arab enemies. Much of the blame was directed at Golda Meir.

The government won the elections held two months after the war, but Golda Meir, still facing criticism, resigned a few months later.

She left public office, therefore, under something of a cloud and without the recognition she perhaps deserved for a lifetime in public service. She died in 1978.


The mixed legacy of Golda Meir, Israel’s first female PM

Meir’s tenure was marked by racist comments about Palestinians and contentious events on her watch.

Golda Meir, Israel’s only female prime minister, once commented on her fairly advanced years upon securing the country’s top job, saying “Being 70 is no sin, but it’s not a joke either.”

But Meir, who was confirmed by the Knesset as prime minister 50 years ago on Sunday, was also renowned for her more xenophobic remarks, particularly at the expense of Palestinians.

“There were no such thing as Palestinians,” she was quoted as saying in the Sunday Times and Washington Post in June 1969.

“When was there an independent Palestinian people with a Palestinian state? … It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist,” Meir said.

For her critics, Meir’s jingoistic comments concerning Palestinians remain one of her defining – and most damning – legacies.

Meir, said Elinor Burkett, author of Golda Meir: The Iron Lady of the Middle East (2008), “was not a subtle thinker.”

Indeed she was, according to many observers, incapable of contemplating that the creation of Israel had given Palestinians, who lost their homes in the wake of its rise, a different narrative of events.

“[Meir] was intent on ethnically cleansing the indigenous population from Palestine to make room for Jewish immigrants,” the American Muslims for Palestine, a US-based group dedicated to educating the American public about Palestine and its heritage, said. “She had no problem with forcibly removing people from their homes and kicking them out of their country in order that Israel may exist.”

Jonathan Ofir, an Israeli musician, conductor and blogger based in Denmark, wrote of Meir’s observations about Palestinians: “If one wanted to be apologetic, one could attempt to see Meir’s comments as a mere reference to national definition, as I have heard even liberal Israelis seek to do.

“But, as mentioned, the view of the nationality and local connection as ‘non-existent’ played a part in the Israeli-Zionist ideology of dispossession.”

Meir, right, is escorted by Israeli Major General in the Reserves Ariel Sharon, left, while visiting the Sinai Peninsula, then occupied by Israel, October 29, 1973 [File: Yehuda Tzion/Government Press Office/Handout/Reuters]

Meir grabbed the reins of the prime minister’s post and held on tight for five years.

Her tenure saw her make headlines for her terse and aggressive comments, but also for those events that happened on her watch – not least the 1972 Munich massacre in which 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were killed and the 1973 October War.

But, according to Burkett, this Jewish immigrant to the United States and Israeli stateswoman was certainly no feminist.

“American feminists loved to adopt Golda, but she was not interested,” Burkett told Al Jazeera. “It wasn’t that she was hostile to women’s achievements, it was that she ignored gender prejudices. And she was like a bulldozer … She didn’t think of her [premiership] as an achievement for women. She thought of it as an achievement for Golda.”

Born into poverty in what is today Ukraine, in 1898, she emigrated to the US as a child with her family and settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she completed her education and eventually became a teacher.

In 1921, after marrying, she and her husband immigrated to Palestine, then under British mandate. From then on, her political trajectory took flight and by 1948, when the state of Israel was established after the British mandate expired, she had already cemented her place in Israeli history.

Prior to her assuming the most powerful job, Meir, a socialist Zionist, cut her teeth as a cabinet minister, not least as minister for labour and then as foreign minister.

In the former role, and as Jewish immigrants flocked to settle in the new nation-state as Palestinians were forced from their homes, she oversaw the construction of housing and a new welfare system.

“As foreign minister, [her activities] with Africa kept Israel popular at the UN, much, much longer than would have been expected,” Burkett, the biographer said, referring to Meir’s foreign policy overtures in supplying aid and technical know-how to emerging African states.

But it was her alliance with the US that many of her advocates see as her ultimate achievement as the state’s top diplomat.

“People forget that the alliance between the United States and Israel, coming from the top of the US government, was not so clear before Golda was foreign minister,” continued Burkett. “But Golda made that happen.”

By the time this mother of two took over as prime minister in March 1969, Meir’s fire was fading – and she was at an age where many, even today, would consider calling it a day.

Her perceived successes as a politician – and her role in 1948 in raising millions of dollars in funds from the US to aid Israel’s evolution – had given her national clout like few others as the rise of Israel saw the rights of Palestinians become ever-more superfluous.

However, Meir, who was secretly undergoing cancer treatment at the time and who often played up to her craggy appearance as a good-natured Jewish grandmother, now faced a very different kind of role in the hot seat, which opened up following the death of then-Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol.

In this time of turmoil, Meir, tempted back having previously retired from politics, found favour with her Labour Party as a “consensus candidate”.

“Her motive as prime minister was ‘don’t rock the boat’,” said professor Meron Medzini, author of Golda – A Political Biography, to Al Jazeera of Meir’s “temporary” job that lasted half a decade.

“No revolutions, no changes, no experiments – both at home and overseas. This had partly to do with her age and partly to do with the fact that she had lost her revolutionary zeal … Her achievements were before she became prime minister.”

That said, Meir was, as political leaders the world over, at the mercy of events.

Arguably, the most contentious of all was the 1973 October War, which saw Egyptian and Syrian forces launch a surprise attack against Israel on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Israel soon turned the tide – but at great military cost.

Meir, whose government was lambasted for its lack of preparedness and who remains the subject of fierce criticism from some in Israel for allegedly ignoring previous peace overtures from then Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, stepped down amid the political fallout in April the following year.

Israeli left-wing activists wear T-shirts with pictures of first Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, right, and fourth Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir as they participate in a rally against West Bank Jewish settlements, in Jerusalem on May 15, 2010 [Sebastian Scheiner/AP]

Shunned by Palestinians who recall her indifference to their rights, Meir, who died in Jerusalem in 1978 at the age of 80, is not beloved by all Israelis, despite many in her country recalling her with fondness.

Ofir, himself born in the early 1970s, told Al Jazeera that, while he felt pride for Meir in his younger days, his views of Israel’s uncompromising stateswoman had changed rapidly over the years.

“In the end, her attitude towards Palestinians was basically a macho, chauvinist, denialist attitude, which is intrinsically inherent in Zionism,” he added.

Follow Alasdair Soussi on Twitter: @AlasdairSoussi


Israel’s History: When Golda Meir Endorsed Palestinian Citizenship

An archive containing nearly 70,000 Palestinian citizenship requests submitted to the British Mandate between 1937 and 1947 has been digitized and was made public Thursday. Many of the requests were filed by Jews fleeing from Europe fleeing the Nazis during World War Two.

The digitization of the archive was a joint venture between the Israeli State Archives and MyHeritage – a high-tech Israeli firm which specializes in gene pools and family trees, allowing users to locate long lost relatives.

Among those who applied for citizenship were some individuals who went on to become prominent figures in Israeli history, including former Israeli President Shimon Peres, who at the time of his application was known as Shimel Perski radio broadcaster Dahn Ben-Amotz and photographer David Rubinger. Peres’ application included a request to legally change his name to Shimon.

Each request consisted of 15-20 pages, and included the names and birthdates of every applicant’s immediate family members. The total sum of names included in the archive is roughly 206,000.

The applicants were also required to enclose two letters of recommendation by Palestinian citizens endorsing their requests. Among those endorsing requests were prominent Zionist figures such as former Prime Minister Golda Meir and David Florentin, a Greek Jew who founded the eponymous Florentin neighborhood in Tel Aviv.

“After extensive digitization and indexing, we are proud to add and grant access to one of the most significant historical collections of archives in the history of the state,” said MyHeritage CEO and founder Gilad Yefet, adding that “Many Israelis, as well as Jews living all over the world with relatives in Israel, will be able to use these archives to find documentation and pictures of their loved ones, and to discover new and exciting details about them.”


Israel’s History: When Golda Meir Endorsed Palestinian Citizenship

An archive containing nearly 70,000 Palestinian citizenship requests submitted to the British Mandate between 1937 and 1947 has been digitized and was made public Thursday. Many of the requests were filed by Jews fleeing from Europe fleeing the Nazis during World War Two.

The digitization of the archive was a joint venture between the Israeli State Archives and MyHeritage – a high-tech Israeli firm which specializes in gene pools and family trees, allowing users to locate long lost relatives.

Among those who applied for citizenship were some individuals who went on to become prominent figures in Israeli history, including former Israeli President Shimon Peres, who at the time of his application was known as Shimel Perski radio broadcaster Dahn Ben-Amotz and photographer David Rubinger. Peres’ application included a request to legally change his name to Shimon.

Each request consisted of 15-20 pages, and included the names and birthdates of every applicant’s immediate family members. The total sum of names included in the archive is roughly 206,000.

The applicants were also required to enclose two letters of recommendation by Palestinian citizens endorsing their requests. Among those endorsing requests were prominent Zionist figures such as former Prime Minister Golda Meir and David Florentin, a Greek Jew who founded the eponymous Florentin neighborhood in Tel Aviv.

“After extensive digitization and indexing, we are proud to add and grant access to one of the most significant historical collections of archives in the history of the state,” said MyHeritage CEO and founder Gilad Yefet, adding that “Many Israelis, as well as Jews living all over the world with relatives in Israel, will be able to use these archives to find documentation and pictures of their loved ones, and to discover new and exciting details about them.”


Watch the video: Harold Isaacs - Golda Meir (January 2022).