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Golda Meir (Hebrew: גולדה מאיר‎, Arabic: جولدا مائير‎, born Golda Mabovitch, May 3, 1898 - December 8, 1978, known as Golda Myerson from 1917-1956) was the fourth prime minister of the State of Israel.

Golda Meir was elected Prime Minister of Israel on March 17, 1969, after serving as Minister of Labour and Foreign Minister . She was described as the "Iron Lady" of Israeli politics years before the epithet became associated with British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.[1] David Ben-Gurion used to call her "the best man in the government."[2]Meir was Israel's first and only woman prime minister. She was world's third woman prime minister, but the first to be hold this office without any prior family connection.[3] Golda was often portrayed as the "strong-willed, straight-talking, gray-bunned grandmother of the Jewish people" [4].

The family settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where her father found a job as a carpenter and her mother ran a grocery store. At the age of eight, she was already put in charge of watching the store when her mother went to the market for supplies.


Meir was born Golda Mabovitch (Ukrainian: Голда Мабович) in Kiev in the Russian Empire (today Ukraine), to Blume Naidtich and Moshe Mabovitch, a carpenter. Golda wrote in her autobiography that her earliest memories were of her father boarding up the front door in response to rumors of an imminent pogrom. She had two sisters, Sheyna and Tzipke. Five other siblings died in childhood. Golda was especially close to Sheyna. Moshe Mabovitch left for the United States in 1903 and the family followed in 1906.

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Golda attended the Fourth Street School (now Golda Meir School) from 1906 to 1912. A leader early on, Golda organized a fundraiser to pay for her classmates' textbooks. After forming the American Young Sisters Society, she rented a hall and scheduled a public meeting for the event. When she began school, she did not know English, but she graduated as valedictorian of her class.

At 14, she went to North Division High School and worked part-time. Her mother wanted her to leave school and marry, but she rebelled. She bought a train ticket to Denver, Colorado,

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and went to live with her married sister, Sheyna Korngold. The Korngolds held intellectual evenings at their home where Meir was exposed to debates on Zionism, literature, women's suffrage, trade unionism and more. In her autobiography, she wrote: "To the extent that my own future convictions were shaped and given form...those talk-filled nights in Denver played a considerable role." In Denver, she also met Morris Meyerson, a sign painter, whom she later married at the age of 19.[6]

Zionist activism

In 1913, Golda returned to her high school in Milwaukee, graduating in 1915. While there, she became an active member of Young Poale Zion, which later became Habonim, the Labor Zionist youth movement. She spoke at public meetings, embraced Socialist Zionism and hosted visitors from Palestine.

After graduating from the Milwaukee State Normal School (a predecessor of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), she taught in public schools. She formally joined Poale Zion in 1915.

Golda and Morris married in 1917. Settling in Palestine was Golda's precondition for the marriage.[7] A short time after their wedding, Golda embarked on a fundraising campaign for Poale Zion that took her across the United States.[8] Finding herself pregnant, she underwent an abortion because she felt "her Zionist obligations simply did not leave room for a child."[9] The couple moved to Palestine in 1921 together with Golda's sister Sheyna.

Aliyah to Palestine

Golda Meir in the fields at Kibbutz MerhaviaIn Palestine, the couple joined a kibbutz. Their inital application to Kibbutz Merhavya in the Jezreel Valley was rejected, but in the end they were accepted. Golda's duties included picking almonds, planting trees, working in the chicken coops and running the kitchen. Recognizing her leadership abilities, the kibbutz chose her as its representative to the Histadrut, the General Federation of Labour. In 1924, Golda and her husband left the kibbutz and resided briefly in Tel Aviv before settling in Jerusalem. There they had two children, a son Menachem (born 1924) and a daughter Sarah (born 1926). In 1928, Golda was elected secretary of Moetzet HaPoalot (Working Women's Council), which required her to spend two years (1932-34) as an emissary in the United States.[10] The children went with her, but Morris stayed in Jerusalem. Morris and Golda grew apart and eventually divorced. [11]Morris died in 1951.

Histadrut activities
In 1934, when Meir returned from the United States, she joined the Executive Committee of the Histadrut and moved up the ranks to become head of its Political Department. This appointment was important training for her future role in Israeli leadership.[12]

In July 1938, Meir was the Jewish observer from Palestine at the Évian Conference, called by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to discuss the question of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. Delegates from the 32 invited countries repeatedly expressed their sorrow for the plight of the European Jews but made excuses as to why their countries could not help by admitting the refugees.Meir was disappointed at the outcome and remarked to the press, "There is only one thing I hope to see before I die and that is that my people should not need expressions of sympathy anymore".[13]

Pre-state political role
In June 1946, the British cracked down on the Zionist movement in Palestine, arresting many leaders of the Yishuv. Meir took over as acting head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency during the incarceration of Moshe Sharett. Thus she became the principal negotiator between the Jews in Palestine and the British Mandatory authorities. After his release, Sharett went to the United States to attend talks on the UN Partition Plan, leaving Meir to head the Political Department until the establishment of the state in 1948.

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In January 1948, the treasurer of the Jewish Agency was convinced that Israel would not be able to raise more than $7-8 million from the American Jewish community. [15]Meir traveled to the United States and managed to raise $50 million, which was used to purchase arms for the nascent state in Europe. [16]Ben-Gurion wrote that Meir's role as the "Jewish woman who got the money which made the state possible," would go down one day in the history books. [17]

On May 10, 1948, four days before the official establishment of the state, Meir traveled to Amman disguised as an Arab woman for a secret meeting with King Abdullah of TransJordan at which she urged him not to join the other Arab countries in attacking the Jews. Abdullah asked her not to hurry to proclaim a state. Golda, known for her acerbic wit, replied: "We've been waiting for 2,000 years. Is that hurrying?"[18]

As head of the Jewish Agency Political Department, Meir called the mass exodus of Arabs before the War of Independence in 1948 as "dreadful" and likened it to what had befallen the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe.

Ministerial career

Meir was one of twenty-four signatories (two of them women) of the Israeli declaration of independence on May 14, 1948. She later recalled, "After I signed, I cried. When I studied American history as a schoolgirl and I read about those who signed the Declaration of Independence, I couldn't imagine these were real people doing something real. And there I was sitting down and signing a declaration of establishment."

Israel was attacked the next day by the joint armies of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan, and Iraq in the Israeli War of Independence.

Ambassador to Moscow

Armed with the first Israeli-issued passport,[20] [21] Meir was appointed Israel's ambassador to the Soviet Union. During her brief stint there, which ended in 1949, she attended high holiday services at the synagogue in Moscow, where she was mobbed by thousands of Russian Jews chanting her name. Despite Stalin's repression of Jewish identity in the Soviet Union, the turnout showed that the Jewish community was still strong and united. The Israeli 10,000 shekel banknote issued in November 1984 bore a portrait of Golda on one side and the image of the crowd that turned out to cheer her in Moscow on the other

Labor minister

In 1949, Meir was elected to the Knesset as a member of Mapai and served continuously until 1974. From 1949 to 1956, she served as a Minister of Labor, introducing major housing and road construction projects.[23]

Foreign minister

In 1956, she became Foreign Minister under Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Her predecessor, Moshe Sharett, had asked all members of the foreign service to Hebraicize their last names. Upon her appointment as foreign minister, she shortened "Meyerson" to "Meir," which means "illuminate." As foreign minister, Meir promoted ties with the newly-established states in Africa in an effort to gain allies in the international community.[23] But she also believed that Israel had experience in nation-building that could be a model for the Africans. In her autobiography, she wrote: "Like them, we had shaken off foreign rule; like them, we had to learn for ourselves how to reclaim the land, how to increase the yields of our crops, how to irrigate, how to raise poultry, how to live together, and how to defend ourselves." Israel could be a role model because it "had been forced to find solutions to the kinds of problems that large, wealthy, powerful states had never encountered."[24]

In the early 1960s, Meir was diagnosed with lymphoma. In January 1966, she retired from the Foreign Ministry, citing exhaustion and ill health, but soon returned to public life as secretary general of Mapai, supporting the prime minister, Levi Eshkol, in party conflicts.[23]

Prime Ministership

After Levi Eshkol's sudden death on February 26, 1969, the party elected Meir as his successor.[25] Meir came out of retirement to take office on March 17, 1969, serving as prime minister until 1974. Meir maintained the coalition government formed in 1967, after the Six Day War, in which Mapai merged with two other parties (Rafi and Ahdut HaAvoda) to form the Israel Labor party.[23]

In 1969 and the early 1970s, Meir met with many world leaders to promote her vision of peace in the Middle East, including Richard Nixon (1969), Nicolae Ceausescu (1972) and Pope Paul VI (1973). In 1973, she hosted the chancellor of West Germany, Willy Brandt in Israel.[23]

In August 1970, Meir accepted a U.S. peace initiative that called for an end to the War of Attrition and an Israeli pledge to withdraw to "secure and recognized boundaries" in the framework of a comprehensive peace settlement. The Gahal party quit the national unity government in protest, but Meir continued to lead the remaining coalition.[26]

Munich Olympics

Main article: Operation Wrath of God
In the wake of the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics, Meir appealed to the world to "save our citizens and condemn the unspeakable criminal acts committed."[27] Outraged at the lack of global action, she authorized the Mossad to hunt down and assassinate the Black September and PFLP operatives who took part in the massacre.[28] The 1986 TV film Sword of Gideon, based on the book Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team by George Jonas, and Steven Spielberg's movie Munich (2005) were loosely based on these events.

Yom Kippur War

A sculpture of Golda Meir at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, CaliforniaIn the days leading up to the Yom Kippur War, Israeli intelligence was not able to determine conclusively that an attack was imminent. However, on October 5, 1973, Meir received official news that Syrian forces were massing on the Golan Heights. The prime minister was alarmed by the reports, and felt that the situation reminded her of what happened before the 1967 war. Her advisers, however, assured her not to worry, saying that they would have adequate notice before a war broke out. This made sense at the time, since after the 1967 war, most Israelis felt it unlikely that Arabs would attack again. Consequently, although a resolution was passed granting her power to demand a full-scale call-up of the military (instead of the typical cabinet decision), Meir did not mobilize Israel's forces early. Soon, though, war became very clear. Six hours before the outbreak of hostilities, Meir met with Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan and general David Elazar. While Dayan continued to argue that war was unlikely and thus was in favor of calling up the air force and only two divisions, Elazar advocated launching a full-scale pre-emptive strike on Syrian forces.[29]

Meir sided with Dayan, citing Israel's need for foreign aid. She believed that Israel could not depend on European countries to supply Israel with military equipment and the only country that might come to Israel's assistance was the United States. Fearing that the U.S. would be wary of intervening if Israel were perceived as initiating the hostilities, Meir decided against a pre-emptive strike. She made it a priority to inform Washington of her decision. Then-U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger later confirmed Meir's assessment by stating that if Israel had launched a pre-emptive strike, Israel would not have received "so much as a nail."[citation needed]

Biographer Elinor Burkett comes to a different interpretation of Meir: She says that Meir was the real hero of the war and not the Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan, who considered surrender. [30]

Following the Yom Kippur War, Meir's government was plagued by in-fighting and questions over Israel's lack of preparedness for the war. The Agranat Commission appointed to investigate the war cleared her of direct responsibility, and her party won the elections in December 1973, but she resigned on April 11, 1974, bowing to what she felt was the "will of the people."[31] Yitzhak Rabin succeeded her on June 3, 1974.

In 1975, Meir was awarded the Israel Prize for her special contribution to the State of Israel.[32]

On December 8, 1978, Golda Meir died of cancer in Jerusalem at the age of 80. She was buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on December 12, 1978.

Golda Meir's grave on Mt. Herzl
Portrayals in film and theater
Golda Meir's story has been the subject of many fictionalized portrayals over the years. In 1977, Anne Bancroft played Meir in William Gibson's Broadway play Golda. Ingrid Bergman and the Australian actress Judy Davis played Meir in the television film A Woman Called Golda (1982), opposite Leonard Nimoy. In 2003, the American Jewish actress Tovah Feldshuh portrayed her on Broadway in Golda's Balcony, Gibson's second play about Meir's life. The one-woman show was controversial in its implication that Meir considered using nuclear weapons during the Yom Kippur War. Valerie Harper portrayed her in the touring company and in the film version of Golda's Balcony.[citation needed] In 2005, actress Lynn Cohen portrayed Meir in Steven Spielberg's film Munich. Later on, Tovah Feldshuh assumed her role once again in the 2006 English-speaking French movie O Jerusalem.


Collection of quotations related to:

  • Golda Meir "The Muslims can fight and lose, then come back and fight again. But Israel can only lose once."
  • "There were no such thing as Palestinians. When was there an independent Palestinian people with a Palestinian state? It was either southern Syria before the First World War, and then it was a Palestine including Jordan. 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."
  • "[The Arabs] will stop fighting us when they love their children more than they hate [Jews]."
  • "When peace comes we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons." (Press conference after the Six-Day War, 1967)


Memorial plaque in KievGolda Meir Center for Political Leadership at Metropolitan State College of Denver[35]
Golda Meir House, Denver, Colorado[36][37]
Golda Meir School, Milwaukee, Wisconsin[38]
Golda Meir Library
Golda Meir Boulevard, Jerusalem, Israel
Golda Meir Center for the Performing Arts, Tel Aviv

Published Work
This is Our Strength (1962) - Golda Meir's collected papers
My Father's House (1972)
Meir, Golda (1975). My Life. Putnam. ISBN 0-399-11669-9

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