Golda Meir

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Golda Meir was the fourth Prime Minister of Israel
Golda Meir was the fourth Prime Minister of Israel
Israeli postal stamp commemorating Golda Meir
Israeli postal stamp commemorating Golda Meir

Golda Meir (Hebrew: ) (b. Golda Mabovitz; May 3, 1898December 8, 1978) was one of the founders of the State of Israel. She served as the Minister of Labor, Foreign Minister, and as the fourth Prime Minister of Israel from March 17, 1969 to April 11, 1974. 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 is the first (and to date only) female Prime Minister of Israel, the third female Prime Minister in the world[1], as well as the only former American citizen to hold the post[2].


Born in the Russian empire

She was born Golda Mabovitz in Kiev, Ukraine, then part of Imperial Russia. Her earliest memories were of her father boarding up the front door in response to rumors of a pogrom. Her life there was tough; she and her two sisters (Sheyna and Tzipke) were often hungry and cold. Golda especially looked up to Sheyna. Her father left for the United States in 1903, and the rest of the family followed in 1906. They settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Emigration to the United States, 1906

In Milwaukee, Golda's father worked as a carpenter and her mother ran a grocery store. When Golda was only eight years old, she had to oversee the store for a short time each morning as her mother was buying supplies at the market.

When Golda was 14, her mother suggested that she give up school for work and to marry an older man. Golda rebelled and ran away. She went to Denver, where her older sister, Sheyna, was living. There she met Morris Myerson, a sign painter, who would later become her husband.

Golda returned to Milwaukee at the urging of her father when she was 18. She participated in public speaking at meetings and in her speeches often advocated for Socialist Zionism. Often she hosted visitors from Palestine.

Upon her graduation from the Milwaukee State Normal School (now University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee) she taught in the public schools. She formally joined the Labor Zionist Organization in 1915. Golda and Morris married in 1917 and began planning to make aliyah. The couple and her elder sister Sheyna emigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine in 1921.

Emigration to Palestine, 1921

Golda and Morris wanted to join a kibbutz. She applied to join Kibbutz Merhavia and was turned down at first, but eventually was accepted into the community. Her duties there included picking almonds, planting trees, caring for chickens, and running the kitchen. She also began to emerge as a leader. Her kibbutz chose her to represent them at Histadrut, the General Federation of Labor. By 1924, her husband tired of the kibbutz life and they left.

They lived briefly in Tel Aviv, before settling in Jerusalem. There they had two children, son Menachem and daughter Sarah. In 1928, Golda was elected secretary of the Women's Labor Council of Histadrut. This required her to move to Tel Aviv, but her husband stayed in Jerusalem while the children stayed with her. Morris and Golda grew apart but never divorced. Morris died in 1951.

She grew increasingly more influential in Histadrut, which evolved into a shadow government for the yet to be born nation of Israel. In 1946, the British cracked down on the Zionist movement in Palestine. They arrested many of its leaders. Golda, however, was never arrested. She gradually took charge over the organization. She negotiated with the British, but also kept in contact with the growing guerrilla movement.

Israel established, 1948

Golda Meir was one of twenty-four (and one of two women) who signed the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel 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 independence."

The following day, Israel was attacked by joint forces from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan and Iraq. Golda was issued Israel's first passport and went to the United States to raise money for the fledgling nation.

September 10, 1948. Ceremony in Kremlin of the first Israeli ambassador Golda Meir handing certificates to the Soviet officials.
September 10, 1948. Ceremony in Kremlin of the first Israeli ambassador Golda Meir handing certificates to the Soviet officials.
Jewish High Holidays in Moscow, 1948. Golda Meir in the crowd (est. 50,000) of Soviet Jews who gathered to meet her
Jewish High Holidays in Moscow, 1948. Golda Meir in the crowd (est. 50,000) of Soviet Jews who gathered to meet her

When she returned, she was assigned to be the first ambassador to the Soviet Union. She served there briefly, leaving in 1949. She then entered the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) where she served continuously until 1974.

Government posts

From 1949 to 1956, she was also the Israeli Minister of Labor. In 1956, she became Foreign Minister. While she was the Foreign Minister, David Ben-Gurion was the Prime Minister. He asked Golda to change her name to a Hebrew name. She chose Meir, meaning "to burn brightly".

In 1965, she resigned from the Cabinet citing illness and exhaustion of her years of service. At first, she returned to her modest life. But she was soon called back into service. She served as Secretary General of the Labor Party for eight months and retired again on August 1, 1968.

After Levi Eshkol died suddenly on February 26, 1969, the party chose her to succeed him as Prime Minister. She came out of retirement to take office on March 17 and served in that role till 1974. Her government was clouded by internal squabbles among the governing coalition, and serious questions over strategic misjudgments and general lack of leadership that resulted in the unanticipated Yom Kippur War. On April 11, 1974, Golda Meir resigned leadership, to be succeeded by Yitzhak Rabin.

When Golda Meir became prime minister, Israel was brimming with confidence, having defeated the Arabs in the 1967 Six Day War and captured large areas of territory. She saw no need to seek compromise with the Palestinians so long as Israel was secure, particularly considering their irredentism. As she herself put it: "Peace will come when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us."

Golda Meir died in Jerusalem, Israel of cancer at the age of 80, and was buried on Mount Herzl, in Jerusalem.


Golda Meir has subsequently been portrayed by actresses as diverse as the late Swede Ingrid Bergman and the Australian Judy Davis on television, and the Jewish-American Tovah Feldshuh on Broadway.


See also


  • Golda Meir: Peace and Arab Acceptance Were Goals of Her 5 Years as Premier, New York Times, December 9, 1978. [3]

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Preceded by:
Levi Eshkol
Prime Minister of Israel
March 17, 1969April 11, 1974
Succeeded by:
Yitzhak Rabin

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