Meir (Myerson), Golda

(1898–1978)
   Fourth prime minister of Israel. From biblical times to the 20th century Golda Meir was the only woman to lead the Jewish nation. She herself would dismiss that comment as irrelevant, having been accepted as an equal in a man’s world, expecting neither concession nor conde-scension because of her sex. BEN-GURION once remarked that Golda was the only real man in his Cabinet.
   She was born in Kiev, Russia, where her father, Moshe Mabovitch, was a carpenter. Her eldest sister Shana was ten years her senior and five other children had died between them. Another sister Tzipka (Clara) was four years younger. The family later moved to Pinsk, which was the home town of Golda’s mother, Bluma. When Golda was eight, the mother and the three girls set out for the United States, where her father had gone three years earlier to start a new life. They settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
   What Golda remembered most vividly about her Russian childhood was the constant fear of pogroms. Once, when she was four, her father nailed planks across the door and explained to her what a pogrom was. A year later, in Minsk, a group of Cossacks galloped straight at Golda and some friends playing in the street, jumped their horses over the heads of the terrified children, and screamed ‘Death to the Jews’ as they rode off brandishing their sabres.
   In Milwaukee her father earned a poor living on construction jobs, while Golda, before and after school, helped her mother run a small grocery shop. After a struggle with her parents, she was allowed to go on to high school and then to the Normal College for Teachers. As a schoolgirl she had already joined Poale Zion, the Zionist socialist movement, and become a ready speaker in Yiddish and English. In 1917 she married Morris Myerson. He was poor and rather plain, but Golda was strongly attracted by his love of books and music. He was reluctantly persuaded to emigrate to Palestine to become a pioneer on the land.
   They set sail in 1921, together with Golda’s sister Shana and her two children, and her school friend Regina Hamburger. After a short stay in Tel Aviv, Golda and Morris were accepted into the kibbutz of Merhavia in the Jezreel Valley. She took to the farm work but he was unhappy, and could not adjust himself to the lack of privacy and intellectual pursuits. A bout of malaria added to his despondency. For his sake Golda agreed to leave the kibbutz. Morris got an ill-paid job as a book-keeper in Jerusalem, and they found a two- roomed home without electricity, the cooking done on a primus stove in a shack in the yard. To make ends meet one of the two rooms was let. Their son Menachem was born in 1924. Feeling utterly frustrated, Golda went back to the kibbutz, but six months later returned to her husband. Another child, Sarah, arrived in 1926 and the boarder had to leave. To pay the rent, Golda took in washing, which she did in the bathtub, heating the water in the yard. Her urge for social work found an outlet when she was given employment as secretary to the local branch of the Women’s Labour Council. It was soon found that she was an effective organizer and speaker, and her knowledge of English was useful. But the baby Sarah remained sickly and was found to have a disease of the kidneys. To provide her with special treatment, Golda undertook a mission to the Pioneer Women’s Organization in the United States. She stayed there two years, from 1932, while her husband remained in Palestine. On her return in 1934, the unofficial separation continued. She was appointed to the executive of the Histadrut (labour union) in Tel Aviv, while he worked in the Haifa office of the Shell Oil Company and visited his family each Shabbat.
   In the Histadrut, Golda’s hard work, sagacity and forcefulness soon gained her respect and influence. She became a member of the inner circle and chairman of the board of directors of the Kupat Cholim, the Sick Fund. Hitler had risen to power and Jewish refugees were streaming out of Germany. Tens of thousands of them immi-grated to Palestine, where the labour market was ill-equipped to absorb numbers of professional men and academics. It was a difficult time for the Histadrut. In 1937 Golda was sent to attend a conference on German refugees that met at Evian-les-Bains in France on the initiative of the United States. Thirty-one countries participated. Much sympathy was expressed but the practical results were meagre since one country after another found good reasons for not opening its own gates. Golda came away with a bitter taste in her mouth, more than ever convinced that the world would do little for Jews in trouble and the Jewish people needed a country of their own.
   After World War II, relations between the yishuv and the Mandatory government reached breaking point over the 1939 White Paper restrictions on immigration and settlement, which the British Labour government, elected in 1945, had maintained. In June 1946, a number of Jewish Agency leaders were arrested and interned, including the head of the Political Department, Moshe Shertok (SHARETT). Golda Myerson was installed as acting head and for a period was the leading spokesman of the yishuv and the Zionist Movement in dealing with the Palestine administration. The British quickly abandoned the idea that she would be easier to handle because she was a woman, and found her a tough and blunt-spoken protagonist.
   In March 1947, when two illegal ships, the Dov Hos and the Eliyahu Golomb, were blocked in an Italian port, the thousand refugees on board declared a hunger-strike. At Golda’s instigation, thirteen Jewish leaders in Palestine staged a public hunger-strike in solidarity with the refugees, in the courtyard of the Jewish Agency building in Jerusalem. Although she had just come out of hospital after a gall-bladder attack and her doctor forbade her to do so, Golda insisted on participating. The hunger-strike went on for 104 hours until the boat was allowed to sail.
   On 29 November 1947, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the partition plan that provided for independent Arab and Jewish states in Palestine. The Arabs heatedly rejected it, while the Jews accepted it. In January 1948, the Jewish Agency Executive sent Golda flying to the United States on a vital fund- raising mission. For two months she tirelessly stumped around the country and helped raise fifty million dollars from the Jewish community - double the target figure. As the money came in, it was rushed to the Haganah for arms purchases in Europe.
   There had been secret contacts between the Zionist leaders and King ABDULLAH of Transjordan. In November 1947, Golda had taken part in a meeting with him at Naharaim on the border, south of the Sea of Galilee. He indicated that if the disputed partition plan was adopted at the United Nations, he would accept the Jewish state and annex to Jordan the areas allotted to the Arabs. However, in the months that followed, it appeared that Jordan intended to join with Egypt, Syria and Iraq in the design to occupy the whole of Palestine when the mandate ended. On 10 May 1948, Golda made a secret and dangerous trip to the king in his capital, Amman, in a last effort to head him off. With Ezra Danin, an expert in Arab affairs, she crossed the border at night and was taken by car to Amman. They were disguised as an Arab merchant and his heavily veiled wife and carried false papers that got them through a number of military check posts along the road.
   At the meeting, Abdullah made clear that he was committed to join in the Arab assault. On the way back, the frightened driver abandoned them on the Jordan side of the border and just before dawn they stumbled through no-man’s-land until they were picked up by a Haganah scout. Four days later Golda was one of the group of leaders who signed the Proclamation of Independence of the State of Israel.
   The first two countries that recognized the new state were the United States and the Soviet Union. The following month Golda was appointed as minister to Moscow. Her departure was delayed since she was back in the United States raising funds, and had broken her leg in a taxi accident in Brooklyn. In September, forty-two years after leaving Russia, she returned as the diplomatic representative of a Jewish state. The Legation party included her newly-wed daughter and son-in-law. At Rosh Hashanah (the New Year), the whole staff went to attend services and were astonished and deeply moved to find thousands of Jews packed in the streets round the synagogue. On the Day of Atonement the crowd was even denser. No such outburst of Jewish sentiment had been seen in the Soviet Union since the 1917 revolution, and the dismayed authorities took drastic steps to ensure that the scenes should not be repeated. It was hard for Golda to sit out the War of Independence in a distant and alien capital, occupied with routine diplomatic chores. It was not to be for long. Early in 1949, she was elected in her absence to the first Knesset, and brought back to be minister of labour in Ben-Gurion’s government. She held the post for the next seven years.
   It was a daunting task. Immigrants poured into the small embattled state and gathered in tents and shacks. They had to be provided with homes, however cheap and modest, with jobs, factories, schools, hospitals and roads. There were chronic shortages of food, building materials, machinery, skilled workmen and, above all, money. The minister of labour had to go out fund-raising again - in the United States, in Europe and in Latin America. Golda’s time and energy were under pressures that never let up. Yet it was constructive and purposeful work, with tangible results, and her concern for human beings was fully engaged. Looking back, she regarded these years as the most satisfying period of her life.
   In 1956, Ben-Gurion returned from a period of retirement, took over again from Sharett as prime minister, and appointed Golda as foreign minister instead of Sharett, whom he regarded as over-cautious in the looming Middle East crisis. Golda now shortened her surname Myerson to the Hebrew name Meir. (Her husband had died five years earlier.) When a journalist asked her what it felt like to be a woman foreign minister, she replied acidly, ‘How should I know? I have never been a male foreign minister’.
   With some trepidation, she took over these new responsibilities as the Middle East plunged into the Suez crisis. She was involved in the behind-the-scenes diplomatic activity prior to the Sinai Campaign, and at one point flew secretly to Paris to meet the French foreign minister, Christian Pineau. With the start of the fighting, she came to New York and took charge of the Israel delegation in the United Nations debates that were to drag on for months. The Anglo-French military expedition collapsed. After her brilliant military victory, Israel stood alone facing a United Nations demand for immediate and unconditional withdrawal of her forces from the Sinai desert and the Gaza Strip. The demand was backed by a Russian threat of military intervention and heavy American pressures. The Israel government defiantly stood its ground until a number of concessions were made. A United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) was stationed along the Egyptian (not the Israel) side of the border, and at Sharm- el-Sheikh, at the entrance to the Gulf of Akaba through the Straits of Tiran; and the United States and other maritime powers guaranteed free passage for Israel ships through the Gulf, under Egyptian blockade from 1948. On I March 1957, Mrs Meir stated from the rostrum of the General Assembly the ‘expectations and assumptions’ on the basis of which the Israel troops would complete their withdrawal. It was for her a tense and unhappy moment. An historic opportunity had been thrown away to press for a Middle East peace.
   In the nine years Mrs Meir remained foreign minister she gave the task her own style and personality. Shrewd, direct, down-to-earth, and at times emotional, she had little patience with the niceties of protocol, with the evasive double-talk of diplomatic exchanges, or with the textual quibbling of United Nations resolutions. For her, most issues were moral ones, questions of right and wrong, justice and injustice - an approach which could be uncomfortable for other foreign ministers trained in the professional traditions of European diplomacy.
   Her most moving appearance at the United Nations was before the Security Council in 1960 on a complaint by Argentina that the capture of Adolf EICHMANN had violated its sovereignty. After a powerful address by Mrs Meir about the Holocaust, the Council declared that the Israel government’s expression of regret and the adoption of a resolution would suffice as the ‘adequate reparation’ demanded by Argentina, and endorsed bringing Eichmann to trial.
   This was the decade of rapid decolonization in Black Africa, where one country after another became independent and was admitted to the United Nations. Mrs Meir felt strongly identified with these underprivileged nations and felt it was Israel’s duty to help them. She paid a number of visits to Africa, where her warmth, human compassion and informality made a deep impression on her hosts. She encouraged Israel aid programmes of all kinds in Africa and set up a special department in the Foreign Ministry to handle them. A constructive Israel presence spread through what had been the dark continent. Her travels as foreign minister took her also through Asia and Latin America, and there too programmes of economic and technical co-operation sprang up in her wake. After the general election of 1965, Mrs Meir decided to retire from public life. She was sixty-seven years old, with a lifetime of intensive work, strain and responsibility behind her. Ill health and fatigue weighed on her, also a sense of guilt at neglecting her family. Her son Menachem, a professional cellist, and her daughter Sarah, a member of Kibbutz Revivim in the Negev, were both married and Golda longed to spend time with her five grandchildren. Her role as a private citizen lasted just one month, before she was drafted as secretary-general of the Labour Party. It was torn with dissension and her colleagues felt that only Golda would be able to restore unity.
   In February 1970, Premier ESHKOL died suddenly of a heart attack. To avoid a power struggle within the party eight months before the next general election, Golda Meir was proposed as an interim premier. Doubts were expressed whether it was reasonable to impose the burden on an ailing seventy-two-year-old woman, even as a stop-gap. To the general surprise, she responded to the challenge with renewed vigour. Within a short time she was firmly in the saddle, with her authority unquestioned in the Cabinet and the country. After the elections, it was taken for granted that she would continue to head the government. It was a time for strong but sober leadership. NASSER’S war of attrition was in full swing. The all-party national government that had come into being on the eve of the Six-Day War was still in existence. In August 1970, Mrs Meir was prepared to give up this unity, in order to accept an American initiative for a renewed cease-fire and negotiations through Dr Jarring. The Gahal bloc, headed by BEGIN, left the government on this issue and returned to the Opposition benches. In the next few years, peace remained out of reach. Mrs Meir’s government maintained Israel’s armed strength, fruitlessly sought a peace settlement based on withdrawal to secure frontiers, and devoted increased attention to internal economic and social problems, as well as the absorption of an influx of immigrants from Soviet Russia. The greatest test of Mrs Meir’s long career came when she led the country through the traumatic experience of the Yom Kippur War and the negotiations that followed. Her position as leader of the Israel Labour Party remained unchallenged for the Knesset elections at the end of 1973. Sensitive as ever to the plight of the deprived, she concentrated on raising the living standards and educational levels of Israel’s oriental communities. One of the highlights of her premiership was the influx of new immigrants from Soviet Russia, the land she had left more than sixty years before. Mrs Meir’s sturdy character and habit of plain speaking were evident even on the august occasion of a meeting with Pope Paul at the Vatican, in January 1973. She reacted when the Pope suggested that Israel policies lacked compassion. She reminded him of the persecution Jews had suffered in Christian lands, and added: ‘Your Holiness, do you know what was my earliest recollection in life? A pogrom in Kiev. When we were compassionate and when we had no homeland and when we were weak, we were led to the gas ovens.’ After much heart- searching Golda consented to lead her party in 1973, thereby committing herself to a further term as Prime Minister. She published her autobiography My Life in 1978.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • MEIR (Myerson, née Mabovitch), GOLDA — (1898–1978), mapai leader and Israeli prime minister in 1969–74; member of the First to Eighth Knessets. Meir was born in Kiev, Russia, where her father was a skilled carpenter. In 1906 the family migrated to the United States and settled in… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Golda Meir — (1973) Golda Meir (hebräisch ‏גולדה מאיר‎, ursprünglich Golda Meyerson, geb. Mabowitsch; * 3. Mai 1898 in Kiew; † 8. Dezember 1978 in Jerusalem) war eine israel …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Golda Meir — Infobox Prime Minister name = Golda Meir גּוֹלְדָּה מֵאִיר جولدا مائير order =4th Prime Minister of Israel term start =17 March 1969 term end =3 June 1974 predecessor =Levi Eshkol successor =Yitzhak Rabin office2 =Foreign Affairs Minister of… …   Wikipedia

  • MEIR (G.) — MEIR GOLDA MYERSON née MABOVITZ ou MABOVITCH dite GOLDA (1898 1978) Née à Kiev (Ukraine), Golda Mabovitch émigre aux États Unis avec sa famille en 1906; celle ci s’établit à Milwaukee, où l’enfant suit l’enseignement du Teacher’s Seminary.… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Golda Meyerson — Golda Meir Golda Meir גולדה מאיר 4e Premier ministre israélien …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Golda Meïr — Golda Meir Golda Meir גולדה מאיר 4e Premier ministre israélien …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Meir (name) — Meir is a Jewish masculine given name, and an occasional surname. There are variants and alternate spellings. People with the name include: Contents 1 Given name 2 Middle 3 Surname 4 See also …   Wikipedia

  • Meir — [me ir′] Golda [gōl′də] (born Goldie Mabovitch, later Goldie Myerson) 1898 1978; Israeli statesman, born in Russia: prime minister of Israel (1969 74) …   English World dictionary

  • Meir, Golda — orig. Goldie Mabovitch later Goldie Myerson born May 3, 1898, Kiev, Russian Empire died Dec. 8, 1978, Jerusalem Ukrainian born Israeli stateswoman, fourth prime minister of Israel (1969–74). Her family immigrated to Milwaukee, Wis., U.S., in 1906 …   Universalium

  • Golda Meir — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Meir. Golda Meir גולדה מאיר Mandats …   Wikipédia en Français

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.