Golda Meir (1898 - 1978)
Foreign Minister of Israel 1956 - 1966
Israeli Prime Minister 1969 - 1974
"Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against
Moses. He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us
to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil!"
Goldie Mabovitz was born in Kiev, Russia in 1898. Her father was
a carpenter. Times were hard, with occasional pogroms and very little money. So in 1905 her father emigrated to the U.S. and settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His family joined him there the next year.
As a teen, Golda joined the Labor Zionist Party (Poalei
Zion). She graduated from teachers' college and taught in the public
schools. When she was 19, she married Morris Meyerson. In 1921 the
couple moved to Palestine, where they lived for a while in a
kibbutz. Although Golda was happy there, kibbutz life proved
to be difficult for Morris. Also, Golda was becoming increasingly
involved in political and social activities that kept her away from
home. In 1924 they moved to Tel Aviv with their two young children,
Sarah and Menachem. That year, Golda became an official of the
Histadrut Trade Union and also served as a manager in the union's
construction corporation, Solel Boneh.
In 1928, she was elected to the Women's Labor Council of Hechalutz.
She served as its secretary from 1932 to 1934, working as an emissary
to the United States. In 1939, still working with the Labor
Movement, she attended the Zionist Congress in Geneva to help ensure
protection of European Jews.
By 1946, she was separated from her husband (some sources say
divorced). When the British authorities in Palestine imprisoned most
of the Jewish community's senior leaders, she became head of the
Jewish Agency's political department, which made her the chief Jewish
liaison with the British. In that capacity, using her iron will and
her grandmotherly image, she raised money (which mostly came from the United States) to help pay for the Israeli War of Independence and
organized the immigration of many European Jews to Palestine.
She held this post until 1948, when she was part of the council which
signed the proclamation that established the State of Israel. She
became a member of the provisional government, serving as an
ambassador to the Soviet Union and secretly meeting with King
Abdullah of Jordan in an unsuccessful attempt to convince him not to attack the newly-formed Israel.
The next year, 1949, she was elected to the Knesset as a Mapai
member. She served as Minister of Labor and National Insurance until
1956. It was a demanding position, due to social unrest and a high
unemployment rate caused by the massive influx of immigrants from
Europe, but she found the job rewarding.
In 1956, she changed her name from Meyerson to the more Hebrew Meir, and became Israel's Foreign Minister. In this role, she became
involved with the secret planning of the Israeli-British-French attack
on Egypt after the nationalization of the Suez Canal. She was
also instrumental in offering Israeli aid to emerging independent
countries in Africa. She held the post of Foreign Minister until
1966, after which she served for two years as the Labor Party's
When Prime Minister Levi Eshkol died suddenly in 1969, Meir became
the first (and so far only) female Prime Minister of Israel, and the
third female Prime Minister in the history of the world (after Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka and Indira Gandhi of India.
Golda Meir's term as Prime Minister was plagued by dissension within
the administration over what to do with the Arab territories that
Israel had taken during the Six-Day War in 1967. Meir and her
Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan, favored continuing the expansion of
settlements in the occupied territories. Other, more moderate,
members of the administration were willing to return the Sinai to Egypt, the Golan Heights to Syria, and the West Bank to Jordan as part of a peace settlement.
In 1973, Egypt and Syria launched massive coordinated assaults on
Israel. Israel was unprepared for the attacks, and a great many
Israeli soldiers died. Without American aid, Israel would certainly
have suffered even greater casualties in the Yom Kippur War. Disputes broke out over the blame for Israel's unpreparedness for the attacks. There were demands for new leadership, and divisions deepened within the Labor party.
Meir could not get her cabinet to reach an agreement on policies. In
1974, exhausted by the bickering and by her ill health (she had been
suffering from leukemia since 1966), Meir resigned and handed over the job of Prime Minister to Itzhak Rabin.
After her resignation, Golda Meir withdrew from political and public
life. She died of viral hepatitis in Jerusalem in 1978.