Golda Meir Jewish politician who led the people of Israel in the deep values of Zionism and social democracy. She defended the interests of Israel worldwide.
Why is Golda Meir considered an extraordinary woman? Let’s start with five of her performances and words.
Golda Meir’s memories
Recalling the years of her childhood, back in 1900, at the time of the Russian tsars, when the Jews were cruelly attacked in their homes, she said: “I recognize that I have the progrom complex; my remotest memory is to see my father covering the entrances of the house with tables, before the imminent hordes. If there is an explanation for the direction my life has taken, it is surely my desire and determination that a Jewish child would never have to live such an experience again”.
In 1938, as a Jewish observer from Palestine, she attended the Conference called by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which sought to help Jewish refugees who were victims of the anti-Semitic policies of the Nazi regime in Germany and Austria; and that culminated in the night of broken glass.
Golda was enraged at the hypocrisy of the 32 western countries invited, who filled their mouths with sympathy for the persecuted, while apologizing why their countries could not offer them refuge.
She commented to the press, “There is only one thing I hope to see before I die, and that is that my people do not need manifestations of compassion ever again“.
In January 1948, faced with the imminent danger of a violent attack by Arab countries, the treasurer of the Jewish Agency was convinced that Israel would not be able to raise more than US$ 8 million from the American Jewish community.
Golda went to the USA and returned with 50 million dollars, which would be used to buy arms in Europe, for the defense of the nascent State.
Ben-Gurion later said that Golda Meir was the Jewish woman who got the money that made the creation of the State of Israel possible.
To cater to the wave of Jewish refugees arriving in Israel, she designed what is known as the “Meyerson Plan“, which consisted of building more than 30,000 single-room housing units.
She also supervised the construction of some 200,000 apartments. Golda Meir noted that “in Israel, these refugees are treated as human beings, and the State has done everything possible to provide them with work and decent housing. By contrast, in Arab countries, Arab refugees are kept in refugee camps, and are given little or no help in integrating into society”.
In one of her official speeches, she said: “Israel entered the desert and the steep and rocky slopes to establish new villages, build roads, houses, schools and hospitals; while Arab terrorists, from Egypt and Jordan, were sent to kill and destroy“.
“We Israelis dug wells, beautifying wide spaces with water; Egypt sent the Fedayeen to destroy the aqueducts. The Jews from Yemen brought the sick, malnourished children, with the sad expectation that 2 out of 5 would die; we have reduced this number 1 child out of 25“.
“While Israel fed these children and treated their illnesses, the Fedayeen were sent to drop bombs on the children in the synagogues, and grenades in the nurseries“.
Golda Meir’s childhood and family
Golda Meir was born in Kiev, Ukraine, then belonging to the Russian Empire.
Her parents Moshe Mabovitch and Blume were Jews of very humble condition and already had six children when Golda was born on May 3, 1898.
Five of her older brothers died as children, from poverty and disease.
In addition to the suffering caused by extreme poverty, her family experienced first hand the anti-Semitic pogroms, the brutality of the Cossacks who charged against the young Socialists, the fanatical crowds who had become especially violent and attacked the Jews in their homes.
In 1903, the situation was dire. Golda’s first memory was of her father knocking on doors and windows, to prevent Cossacks from entering the house and killing them.
Finally, her father decided to emigrate to the United States, hoping to prepare a refuge there for her wife and the three remaining daughters (the eldest Sheyna, Golda and Zipke the youngest).
Plunged into misery, the four women left for their maternal family’s home in Pinsk, Belarus. The hunger was terrible, and sometimes there were only a few crumbs that were enough just to feed little Zipke.
Golda Meir was able to meet her father in the USA
Happily, in 1906, they were able to join the father in Milwaukee, on the west shore of Lake Michigan, north of Chicago.
Moshe, the father, had managed to save enough money to reunite his entire family.
Golda’s mother Blume opened a grocery store in uptown Milwaukee, where little 8-year-old Golda attended whenever needed.
From 1906 to 1912, Golda attended primary school. At fourteen, she had to go to high school.
But her mother believed that she already had enough with basic studies and began to look for a husband.
Young Golda ran away from home
Golda disagreed with these expectations, bought a train ticket with her money and ran away to Denver, to the house of her older sister, Sheyna, who was married.
In Denver, she studied and worked helping her sister; Sheyna and her husband held nightly gatherings at their home, where Golda listened to debates about Zionism, literature, women’s suffrage, and unionism.
In these gatherings her vocation germinated, and her political and social education began.
Golda Meir returned home and was able to study
In 1913, her father sent her a letter asking her to return home, promising that she could study and would not have to fear a marriage tax.
They already lived in a spacious house, more financially comfortable, more in rapport with the city’s Jewish community, and had acquired a certain social position.
Golda returned and continued studies at the High School until her graduation, in 1915.
She attended in 1916 and part of 1917 at the Milwaukee Normal School.
After graduation, she taught at the Milwaukee Public Schools.
Golda Meir’s beginnings in the Zionist movement
In that period she became an active member of the Labor Zionist youth movement. At those meetings she met David Ben Gurion.
That Zionist movement commissioned her to organize a demonstration in Milwaukee, as an act of repudiation of anti-Semitic pogroms in Ukraine and Poland. She was the main speaker.
On December 24, 1917, she and Morris Meyerson, a young painter she had met in Denver, married in Milwaukee, with a religious ceremony, as her mother had demanded.
Meyerson was an extraordinarily good man, educated and kind. From him, Golda learned music and poetry.
The young couple had planned to move to Israel immediately after the wedding; but, it was not possible, because all the transatlantic trips for passengers had been canceled, due to the outbreak of the First World War.
Golda then devoted all his energies to the activities of the Zionist movement “Workers of Zion“, and began a fundraising campaign for this movement by traveling throughout the United States.
Golda Meir and part of her family moved to Israel
In 1921, the couple and their sister Sheyna with their family moved to “Eretz Israel” (Land of Israel or Holy Land or Promised Land), already in British power.
Five years later, her parents did the same, in 1926.
Initially, the Meyerson couple settled in a rented apartment in Tel Aviv.
Before long, they asked to join as members of the Merhavia kibbutz in the north of the country.
The kibbutz’s initial response was negative; but they did not have the tenacity of Golda Meyerson, who did not give up in her attempts until they were accepted.
Golda enjoyed four years in the kibbutz, working hard, planting trees, gathering almonds, raising chickens, and collaborating in the kitchen. Of the kibbutz, she liked everything.
The Meyerson kibbutz, at first, had nothing but bogs and sand; but, soon after it became an orchard full of oranges and fruits.
Her husband Morris soon became fed up with community life and the hardships suffered in the kibbutz.
He had gone to Israel because Golda wanted to go; he entered the kibbutz, because Golda wanted it that way.
But it was a life that did not suit him; he did not like heavy work, or eating together with others.
Golda Meir and her husband left the kibbutz
Eventually Morris won out of exhaustion; and, in 1925, they both moved to Tel Aviv; and then to Jerusalem, where they were given a job at a construction company for the Histadrut Union.
Her stay in Jerusalem, meant for Golda the reunion with an old acquaintance: poverty.
Later she remembered that time as the most miserable of all her life.
They were years of tightness, she washed the dirty clothes of all the children from the kindergarten to which she sent her oldest son (Menájem, born in 1924) because they had no money to pay the monthly school fee. In 1926, her daughter Sara was born.
The year 1928 brought the great change in Golda Meyerson’s life.
She was offered the position of Director of the women’s branch of Histadrut (the General Federation of Land Workers of Israel).
This position involved having to travel a lot and the incompatibility of married life with her husband.
Golda moved with her two children to Tel Aviv. Her mother, Blume, went to live with her; but her father Moshe stayed in Jerusalem.
Little by little, Morris Meyerson and Golda grew apart, but they never formally divorced; he died in 1951 of a heart attack.
Golda Meir in the 1930s
Between 1932 and 1934, Golda traveled to the United States several times to raise funds for the Zionist cause.
She was soon admitted to the Executive Committee of Histadrut, the powerful union guild, where she worked alongside figures such as David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharet and Berl Katzenelson.
Golda was elected delegate of the Labor Party. She always had two main questions in mind: a) the rights of the worker – even more, the worker’s right – and b) the aid to refugees.
In 1938, she attended as an “Jewish Observer for Palestine” at an international conference held in France, which sought to assist Jewish refugees who were victims of the anti-Semitic discriminatory policies of the Nazi regime, in Germany and in Austria.
Golda was enraged by the hypocrisy of the 32 western countries invited and commented to the press, “There is only one thing I hope to see before I die, and that is that my people will never again need demonstrations of compassion“.
Ernest Bevin (1891-1951), a British trade unionist and then Foreign Minister, was a staunch opponent of opening doors to refugees from Europe.
Over the years, Golda Meir said: “I do not know if this man was insane, or just anti-Semitic, or both… Our main accusation against him is that he prevented having saved hundreds of thousands; or even if it were not, tens of thousands; or even a single Jew! ”
Golda Meir’s post-war performances
At the end of the war, Golda Meir went on a hunger strike to protest against British detention centers for Holocaust survivors.
She synthesized her thought thus: “Zionism does not make sense, if it is not to rescue the Jews“.
Subsequent history confirmed that the conflicts between Israelites and Palestinians would not have been so unfortunate if this Mr. Bevin had not acted as he did.
After the Second World War, the tension between the Zionist movement, which demanded independence, was sharpened and the British authorities, to whom the situation in Palestine was getting out of hand.
The performance of the English was extremely clumsy and short-sighted; they carried out a vast search and arrest operation, which included much of the Jewish leadership.
Golda Meyerson was released from prison because he was in Europe.
Faced with the power vacuum, she became Head of the State Department, and David Ben Gurión’s right-hand man.
The creation of the State of Israel
She was commissioned to be the main negotiator with the English authorities. At the same time, she kept in close contact with the main armed Jewish resistance groups.
On November 29, 1947, the historic United Nations decision occurred, creating a Jewish state and an Arab state.
Seeing the total rejection of the Arab countries to this decision, the Zionist leadership understood that war was inevitable, and they sent Golda Meyerson to collect donations from the North American Jewish community, to finance the purchase of weapons.
To the enormous surprise and joy of the Treasurer of the Jewish Agency, Golda returned with an amount of 50 million dollars in her pocket, which was used to buy weapons in Europe for the nascent State.
Golda Meir also obtained valuable help from the Argentine government. On one of her trips, she personally thanked Eva Perón.
On May 12, 1948, Golda clandestinely crossed enemy lines, to meet in Amman with King Abdullah I of Jordan, in order to ask him to refrain from intervening in the impending contest.
The king was evasive and asked her to be patient, and not to rush to declare independence.
Once again Golda understood that Israel was alone and that in order to survive they had to take this into account.
When two days later, on May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion read in Tel Aviv the act of declaration of independence of the State of Israel, Golda Meyerson was one of its 25 signatories.
Later she would say: “After signing, I cried. When I studied the history of the United States and read about those who signed the declaration of independence, I could not imagine that they were real people doing something real. And there I was, sitting and signing a declaration of independence“.
As the Israelites suspected, the following day they were attacked by a coalition of armies: Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, along with the expeditionary forces from other Arab countries and the Arab guerrilla movements.
Israel stopped the aggression and ended up expanding its territorial possessions. This war was called “Israel’s War of Independence“.
The coffers were empty and Golda again went to collect in the United States.
Golda Meir was ambassador to the USSR
That was it, when she was appointed as Israel’s first ambassador to the Soviet Union.
Good relations with the Soviet Union were important to Israel’s ability to source arms from Eastern European countries.
Furthermore, Stalin and Molotov sought to cultivate a strong relationship with Israel, as a means of promoting the Soviet position in the Middle East.
The welcome that the Russian Hebrew community offered to the diplomat of the brand-new State was tremendous.
There is an anecdote that occurred in those days: in November 1948, at the reception offered in the Kremlin to the diplomatic corps, on the occasion of the 31st anniversary of the October Revolution, the wife of Foreign Minister Molotov greeted Golda Meir in Yiddish.
Within a few months, this good lady was detained by the Soviet secret police and sentenced to five years of forced labor in the Gulag, accused of maintaining criminal relations with Hebrew nationalists.
Golda did not reach a year as an ambassador. Soviet-Israeli relations were complicated by Soviet policy against religious institutions in general, and Jewish ones in particular.
Furthermore, the USSR authorities decided to ban the study of Hebrew.
Golda Meir from the year 1949
Starting in 1949, Golda was a deputy for her party (the Mapai) and assumed various important positions in the new State of Israel: Minister of Labor and Social Security, and Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Before these appointments, Ben Gurion asked her to change her married name (Meyerson) to one with more Hebrew phonetics. It was renamed Meir, Golda Meir instead of Golda Meyerson.
In carrying out these positions, her objectives were very clear and focused from the perspective of her socialist convictions.
She devoted herself to it with intelligence and tenacity: obtaining funds to carry out the project of building a prosperous socialist state; road and housing construction; generation of jobs; and support for immigration policy.
She demonstrated great effectiveness in the construction of the Israeli welfare state and in the labor and social integration of the immigrant masses who flocked to the country; leaving an indelible stamp to this day, in the advanced labor legislation that it brought about.
When she traveled to the United States, she told supporters with her cause, that she was not asking for food packages, but rather financial aid to be able to give work to immigrants who came in waves, to give them a home, and thus not have to see them vegetate as beggars, in refugee camps. She obtained aid for the construction of 30,000 houses.
Soon after, she had the joy of supervising the construction of 200,000 apartments for families who had recently migrated.
Her goal and that of her colleagues in government was to restore the dignity and self-esteem of these people.
She carried out an intense activity to strengthen relations with the United States, with the countries of Latin America and with the new independent countries that emerged from African decolonization.
Especially with the latter, as she believed that Israel’s experience in nation building could be a model for Africans.
In her autobiography, she wrote: “Like them, we have escaped foreign domination; like them, we had to learn how to reclaim the land, how to increase crop yields, how to irrigate, how to raise poultry, how to live together, and how to defend ourselves”.
When Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956, it was not only a hostile action against France and Britain, but it also blocked Israel’s commercial access to Southeast Asian countries.
This, together with the Fedayeen guerrilla warfare, which Nasser had been promoting since 1952, motivated Israel’s entry into what was called the Sinai War or Suez Crisis.
Golda Meir led the negotiations with the two European countries. Egypt had only the testimonial support of the other Arab countries.
Golda Meir’s health issues
In 1965, ever since she was found to have lymphoma and secretly started receiving chemotherapy treatment, her serious health problems came close to making her announce her withdrawal from political life.
GoldaMeir decided to continue as the party’s secretary general, and actively participated in the reunification of all parliamentary socialist forces in the Unified Labor Party.
In 1969, she ran for general election for Parliament’s sixth legislature (consisting of 120 seats) and was backed by loose representation.
But she decided to continue with the national coalition government, adding to her government Menájem Beguin and his right-wing group.
In her first speech to Parliament on the day she took office she said: “We are ready to talk about peace with our neighbors, at any time and in relation to all aspects“.
The answer came from Egypt three days later: “There is no voice that overcomes the sounds of war … nor is there a holier call than the call to war“.
Golda Meir met with many world leaders to promote peace in the Middle East, including Richard Nixon and Pope Paul VI.
In August 1970, Golda Meir accepted a peace initiative presented by the United States, known as the Rogers Plan, as part of a global peace agreement involving Arabs and Israelis.
She was always in favor of negotiating with the Palestinians and with the Egyptians a “Peace Treaty” (not merely agreements and a ceasefire), committing Israel to withdraw from the conquered lands, in exchange for recognized and secure borders.
Despite Israel’s initial willingness to accept the proposal, it was never able to secure a positive decision from the Arabs.
Palestinian terrorist attacks
The sadly famous Palestinian terrorist attacks of 1972 are remembered from her period of government: the hijacking of the Sabena plane; the Japanese Red Army massacre at Ben Gurion International Airport, with a balance of 25 victims; and above all, the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, the closure of the Austrian Emigration Center and the Yom Kippur War.
In August and September 1972, in Munich, Federal Germany, the Summer Olympics were held. Eight members of the Palestinian terrorist organization “Black September” stormed the Olympic village, taking eleven Israeli Olympic athletes hostage and killing two of them on the spot.
The terrorists demanded the release of 234 Arabs detained in Israeli prisons, and the release of the founders of the German Red Army faction terrorist organization, Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, who were in German jails.
Prime Minister Golda Meir declined the request, saying: “If we negotiate, no Israeli citizen will be safe anywhere in the world in his entire life“.
The German rescue operation failed and all nine Israeli athletes were killed by Palestinian terrorists.
Outraged by the lack of global reaction, Golda Meir ordered the Israeli Intelligence Services to reach out to all the leaders and involved in the terrorist organizations “Black September” and the “Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine” that participated in the Massacre of Munich.
This operation culminated in the search for and elimination of all Palestinian terrorists who participated in the murder of the athletes.
In 1973, the efficient foreign policy carried out during the Golda Meir government, especially with the Soviet Union, allowed the emigration of some 200,000 Soviet Jews to Israel, through Austria, to be authorized. In one of the shipments, these emigrants passed through Austria to Israel.
On September 28, 1973, a group of Arab terrorists from Syria kidnapped seven of these Jewish emigrants on the Austrian border, including a 73-year-old man, a pregnant woman, and a 3-year-old boy.
The terrorist group demanded the closure of the Schoenau transit center in Austria, threatening to execute the hostages.
Despite Golda Meir’s outrage, Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky relented on the demands and ordered the Jewish Agency facilities closed and facilitated the transfer of the terrorists to Libya.
Golda’s performance in the Yom Kippur war
In 1973, Israel had to face a new war aggression by a coalition of Arab countries, known as the Yom Kippur War.
During the months leading up to the war, the Israeli intelligence services reported extensively on the possibilities of a combined attack.
King Hussein of Jordan himself warned Minister Meir of the impending war. But Golda doubted his true intentions.
Only a few hours before the outbreak, the Prime Minister decided to ignore her military – Defense Minister Moshe Dayán and her minister and former Commander-in-Chief Jaim Bar-Lev. Golda Meir never forgave her crucial contribution to the fiasco.
Although Israel rejected Arab aggression, responding with a forceful and victorious offensive against its enemies, the war left a deep and indelible scar on Israeli society.
Golda Meir was discredited, but she managed to win the general elections of 1974. She benefited from the conclusions of a Parliamentary Commission, which freed all politicians from blame and office.
Public opinion disagreed with the commission’s report and the Prime Minister was forced to submit her resignation shortly after her reelection on April 11, 1974.
Golda Meir retires from political life
Isaac Rabin replaced her at the head of the government and the Labor Party. Four days later Golda resigned her seat in Parliament and retired from political life.
She retired to the Revivim kibbutz, at her daughter Sara’s house, where she spent her last years, until cancer subdued her.
On December 7, 1978, she was admitted to the Hadasa Hospital in Jerusalem, where she died the following day, at the age of 80.
Four days later, she was buried in the pantheon of the “Greats of the Fatherland“, on Mount Herzl, in Jerusalem.
Her great value was in resolutely guiding Israel along the path of sacrifice. She was a model and symbol of female power in the 20th century.
Had she coincided in some activities, he would surely have sympathized on the latter point with the Spanish Clara Campoamor.
Golda Meir led her country with loyalty to the deepest values of Zionism and social democracy. She eagerly defended the interests of Israel and the Jewish people, in all international fields.