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Meir, Golda

Golda Meir

Born: May 3, 1898
Kiev, Ukraine
Died: December 8, 1978
Jerusalem, Israel

Israeli prime minister, Zionist leader, and political leader

Golda Meir served as Israel's foreign minister from 1956 to 1966 and became its fourth prime minister in 1969. By the end of her life, she had become a hero as one of the first women to head a nation in the modern era. Meir was a leading figure in the movement called Zionism, the movement to create a Jewish state in Palestine, the area the Jews regarded as their historical home. The Zionist movement helped lead to the founding of Israel.

Childhood and early interests

Golda Meir was born the daughter of Moshe and Bluma Mabovitch in Kiev, Ukraine, on May 3, 1898. She moved with her family to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1906. The Mabovitch family had fled their home in part to escape pogroms (mob attacks) that had been carried out against Jews in Russia at the time. Meir later recalled that her childhood terror of anti-Semitic (anti-Jewish) violence strongly influenced her later commitment to establish Israel as a safe, secure Jewish state.

After attending high school, Meir went to the Teachers' Training College in Milwaukee in 1917. She had attained her school-teacher's training over the objections of her parents, who had felt that girls should be married, not pursue a profession. Meir did both, marrying Morris Myerson in 1917 (later she modified her name to Meir). In 1921 they left for Palestine. This Middle Eastern region, which included the territory of modern-day Israel and the West Bank, was at that time under the administration of Great Britain and largely populated by Arabs.

After arriving in Palestine, the Myersons joined a kibbutz (a communal settlement) where after some training they were put in charge of the chicken farm. However, Golda's husband became ill, and the couple decided to move to Tel Aviv. The couple eventually moved to Jerusalem where their two children were born. In Jerusalem, Golda found work as treasurer of the Office of Public Works of the Histadruth, a labor organization that included kibbutz workers and that became the most important economic organization in the Israeli state.

Birth of Israel

From 1928 Golda Meir was the secretary of the Working Women's Council in Palestine and served as its representative on the leadership of the Histadruth. She also represented the council at a number of international labor meetings and was a delegate to its sister organization, the Pioneer Women, in the United States. After 1929 she was elected a delegate to most meetings of the World Zionist Organization. This was the real beginning of her Zionist political activity. In 1940 she was appointed head of the political department of the Histadruth. As such, she fought against the British White Paper of 1939, which limited Jewish immigration to Palestine. Meir organized illegal Jewish immigration to Palestine at this time, when Jews faced danger in Europe because of World War II (193945) and persecution by the German Nazi regime.

When the Palestine Administration (the main British governing body) imprisoned the leaders of the Jewish Agency, a Zionist organization, in June 1946, Meir was appointed acting head of the Jewish Agency's political department. Originally picked to replace the arrested Moshe Shertok-Sharett (18941965) in this position, she continued in this role until the proclamation of the independence of Israel on May 14, 1948. Early in 1948 she visited the United States to organize an emergency fund campaign for Palestine, with very successful results. On May 14 she was, as a member of Israel's Provisional Council of State, among the signers of its Declaration of Independence.

Israeli leader

Meir started her political career in Israel as its representative to the Soviet Union. With her election to the first Israeli Parliament (governing body), she returned to Israel and was appointed minister of labor and social insurance. While in this office, she worked to solve the most important internal problems of Israel: housing and employment for the new mass Jewish immigration. Still known by her married name, she engineered what became known as the "Myerson Plan," which allowed for the construction of more than thirty thousand units of one-room housing. She also oversaw the construction of some two hundred thousand low-income apartments to house Israel's newly immigrated families.

In 1956, Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion (18861976) called Meir "the best man" in his cabinet and named her to replace Shertok-Sharett as foreign minister, among the most important government jobs in the nation. It was now, as a result of Ben-Gurion's desire to have all Israelis bear Hebrew names, that she reluctantly altered her name to Meir, while keeping it as close as possible to Myerson.

In 1966, tired and ill, Meir resigned as minister of foreign affairs. However, soon after, under pressure from her political party, she agreed to take over the leadership of Israel's Labor Party. Over the next two years, she succeeded in reuniting three main labor groups that had split, the Mapai, the Achdut Ha'Avodah, and the Rafi, into one political party. The merger took place on January 2, 1968, and in August she retired from political activity. However, after the death of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol (18951969), when it looked as if conflict might arise within the Labor Party in the effort to find his replacement, Meir again came out of retirement to assume the post of Israel's prime minister on March 17, 1969.

Prime minister

Though elderly and in poor health, Meir proved her abilities to the country during her initial nine-month term. As a result, her Labor Party won the 1969 elections. Meir thus gained her own four-year term as prime minister. This period was marked by Meir's efforts to gain U.S. aid in the form of military and economic assistance. The assurances she won from U.S. president Richard Nixon (19131994) helped her open peace talks with the United Arab Republic in 1967, during which one of the several conflicts between Israel and its Arab neighbors (known as the Arab-Israeli Wars) had occurred.

Meir sided with radicals in her government who felt that the territories captured during the 1967 war should be settled by Israelis, yet she also retained the support of moderates who favored giving up land claims in exchange for peace. However, in 1973 and 1974, Israel's unpreparedness for another of the Arab-Israeli Wars, known as the Yom Kippur War, brought demands for new leadership. After the 1973 elections, Meir was still able to form a new government, but divisions only increased and on April 10, 1974, she resigned as prime minister.

Even in retirement, Meir remained an important political presence in Israel. Her autobiography, My Life, helped assure her place in the public's imagination as the kindly grandmother who had risen to greatness in her nation's hour of need. Meir died in Jerusalem on December 8, 1978.

For More Information

Adler, David A. Our Golda, the Story of Golda Meir. New York: Viking Press, 1984.

Amdur, Richard. Golda Meir: A Leader in Peace and War. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1990.

Hitzeroth, Deborah. Golda Meir. San Diego: Lucent Books, 1998.

Meir, Golda. My Life. New York: Putnam, 1975.

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Golda Meir

Golda Meir

The Zionist Labor leader Golda Meir (1898-1978) served as Israel's foreign minister from 1956 to 1966. In 1969 she became Israel's fourth prime minister.

Golda Meir was born the daughter of Moshe and Bluma Mabovitch in Kiev, Ukraine, on May 3, 1898. She emigrated in 1906 with her family to Milwaukee, Wis. After she attended grammar and high school, she went to the Teachers' Training College in Milwaukee in 1917. In the same year she married Morris Myerson (later she modified her name to Meir). For several years she taught in the local schools and was active in the Labor Zionist party. In 1921 she left for Palestine and joined Kibbutz Merchavia, where after some training she was put in charge of the chicken farm. Because of illness in her family, she moved to Tel Aviv and started to work as treasurer of the Histadruth's Office of Public Works.

From 1928 Golda Meir was the secretary of the Working Women's Council in Palestine, and as such, she was its representative on the executive of the Histadruth. She also represented the council at a number of international labor congresses and was a delegate to its sister organization, the Pioneer Women, in the United States. After 1929 she was elected a delegate to most congresses of the World Zionist Organization. This was the beginning of her Zionist political activity. She was a member of the executive of the Jewish National Council in Palestine and served on the board of directors of a number of the Histadruth mutual aid programs, as well as a number of its industrial affiliates. In 1940 she was appointed head of the political department of the Histadruth. As such, she fought against the British White Paper of 1939 and organized illegal Jewish immigration to Palestine.

When the Palestine Administration interned the leaders of the Jewish Agency on June 29, 1946, Golda Meir was appointed acting head of the Jewish Agency's political department to replace the detained Moshe Shertok-Sharett. She continued in this position until the proclamation of the independence of Israel on May 14, 1948, since, after his release by the British, Shertok-Sharett spent most of his time in the United States. Early in 1948 she visited the United States to organize an emergency fund campaign for Palestine, with very successful results. On May 14 she was, as a member of Israel's Provisional Council of State, among the signers of its declaration of independence.

Golda Meir started her political career in Israel as its minister plenipotentiary to Moscow. During her 6 months' tenure Russian Jewry expressed its pro-Israeli leanings in every possible way and especially during the Jewish high holidays, in spite of the restrictions of 40 years of Russian communism. With her election to the first Israeli Parliament, she returned to Israel and was appointed minister of labor and social insurance. While in this office, she worked to solve the most important internal problems of Israel: housing and employment for the new mass immigration. Still known by her married name, she engineered what became known as the "Myerson Plan," which allowed for the construction of more than 30,000 units of one-room housing. She also oversaw the construction of some 200,000 low-income apartments to house Israel's newly immigrated families.

In 1956, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Meir "the best man" in his cabinet and named her to replace Shertok-Sharett as foreign minister, among the most important government jobs in the nation. It was now, under Ben-Gurion's prodding to have all Israelis bear Hebrew names, that she reluctantly altered her name while keeping it as close as possible to Myerson. In 10 years in this office she established political and economic relations with the majority of the African states. Golda Meir, tired and ill, stepped down as minister of foreign affairs in 1966, but soon after, under pressure of her political party, she agreed to take over the leadership of Israel's Labor party. She succeeded in the next 2 years in reuniting the three main Labor elements: Mapai, Achdut Ha'Avodah, and Rafi. The merger took place on Jan. 2, 1968, and in August she retired from political activity. After the death of Levi Eshkol, to avoid a confrontation between the main rival candidates, Moshe Dayan and Yigal Allon, Golda Meir again came out of retirement to assume the post of Israel's prime minister on March 17, 1969.

Though elderly and in faltering health, Meir proved her abilities to the country during her initial nine-month term such that her Labor Party won the 1969 elections. Meir thus gained her own four-year term as prime minister. This period was marked by Meir's efforts to gain United States aid in the form of military and economy assistance. The assurances she won from President Richard Nixon on this helped her and Dayan persuade the Israeli cabinet to agree to a United States proposition for a cease-fire and the opening of peace talks with the United Arab Republic. She sided with Dayan's more radical position that the occupied territories captured during the 1967 war be settled by Israelis, yet she retained the support of moderates who favored trading land for peace. However, in 1973 and 1974, Israel's unpreparedness for the Yom Kippur War brought demands for new leadership. After the 1973 elections, Meir was still able to form a new government, but divisions only increased and on April 10, 1974, she resigned as prime minister.

Even in retirement, Meir remained an important political presence in Israel. She also achieved folk-hero status as one of the first women to head a nation in the modern era. Her autobiography My Life helped cement her place in the public's imagination as the doting grandmother who had risen to greatness in her nation's hour of need. Meir died in Jerusalem on Dec. 8, 1978.

Further Reading

See Golda Meir's My Life (1975); Menachem Meir's My Mother: Golda Meir (1983); and Ralph Martin's Golda: The Romantic Years (1988). Marie Syrkin, Golda Meir: Israel's Leader (1969), is a sympathetic biography based on the author's experiences with Zionism and contacts with its leaders. Other biographies are Eliyahu Agress, Golda Meir: Portrait of a Prime Minister (trans. 1969), and Israel and Mary Shenker, eds., As Good as Golda: The Warmth and Wisdom of Israel's Prime Minister (1970). □

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Meir, Golda

Meir, Golda 1898-1978

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Golda Meir was born Golda Mabovitz on May 3, 1898, in Kiev, Russia (now Ukraine). Due to terrible hardship, Goldas family immigrated in 1906 to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Golda graduated from a teachers college and worked as a public-school teacher. She joined the Labor Zionist Party in 1915 and married Morris Meyerson in 1917. In 1921 they immigrated to Palestine, where they joined Kibbutz Merhavia. In 1956 she adopted the Hebrew name Meir (to burn brightly).

Believing that Jews should make their Just Society through their own physical labor, Meir was a prominent socialist Zionist figure in the Histadrut (the Israeli Trade Union Congress) and the Jewish Agency, a Zionist organization founded in 1929 to provide services for Jewish immigration and assimilation into Palestine. Being proficient in English, Meir was sent to the United States in the 1930s on a mission to raise funds for building the state of Israel.

After the establishment of Israel on May 14, 1948, Meir played a central role in domestic politics as well as on the diplomatic front. In the same year, she paid a secret, yet unsuccessful, visit to Jordan to persuade its king, Abdullah (18821951), not to attack Israel. David BenGurion (18861973), a leader in the struggle to establish the state of Israel and later the first prime minister of Israel, appointed Meir a member of the Provisional Government and then, in June 1948, ambassador to the Soviet Union. In 1949 she was elected to the first Knesset as a member of Mapai, the Israeli Workers Party. Meir served as minister of labor from 1949 to 1956, a period of high unemployment and social unrest that resulted from mass immigration. She served as foreign minister from 1956 to 1966. While in office, Meir sought to strengthen Israels relationship with the United States, create bilateral relationships with Latin American countries, and provide African countries with Israeli know-how in nation building.

Meir became secretary-general of Mapai in 1966, before taking the helm of the newly formed Labor Party. After the death of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol (18951969), Meir was appointed prime minister; thus becoming the third female prime minister in the world (after Sirimavo Bandaranaike [19162000] of Sri Lanka and Indira Gandhi [19171984] of India). Reelected prime minister in October 1969, Meir proved highly successful in consolidating American political and financial support for Israel.

Meir took a rigid stance toward the Arabs. She also adopted the so-called open-door immigration policy, which encouraged thousands of people to leave the Soviet Union and other places to settle in Israel and the occupied territories. She believed that Israelis could not return the occupied territories because there was nobody to return them to. In a June 15, 1969, interview with the Sunday Times of London, she said, There was no such thing as Palestinians they did not exist, a statement that Arabs often quote to refer to what they think to be bias. Moreover, she wrote in My Life, her 1975 autobiography, that she did not believe that the Jews stole land from Arabs in Palestine, since a lot of good money changed hands, and a lot of Arabs became very rich indeed (p. 63).

The most critical event during her term was the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, when Egypt and Syria attacked Israeli forces in Sinai and the Golan Heights. Although she won the elections once more in December 1973, and despite the fact that the Agranant Inquiry Commission did not hold her responsible for the war, Meirs performance was widely criticized for overestimating Israels preparedness and underestimating Arab power. Meir resigned in mid-1974 and withdrew from public life. She died in Jerusalem in December 1978.

SEE ALSO Rabin, Yitzhak; Zionism

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Agress, Eliyahu. 1969. Golda Meir: Portrait of a Prime Minister. Trans. Israel Taslitt. New York: Sabra.

Avallone, Michael. 1982. A Woman Called Golda. New York: Leisure Books.

Gelvin, James L. 2005. The Israel-Palestine Conflict: One Hundred Years of War. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Mann, Peggy. 1971. Golda: The Life of Israels Prime Minister. New York: Coward, McCann, and Geoghegan.

Meir, Golda. 1962. This Is Our Strength: Selected Papers of Golda Meir. Ed. Henry Cristman. New York: Macmillan.

Meir, Golda. 1969. Interviewed by the Sunday Times, London, June 15.

Meir, Golda. 1973. A Land of Our Own: An Oral Autobiography of Golda Meir. Ed. Marie Syrkin. New York: Putnam.

Meir, Golda. 1975. My Life. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Meir, Menahem. 1983. My Mother Golda Meir: A Sons Evocation of Life with Golda Meir. New York: Arbor House.

Opfell, Olga. 1993. Golda Meir. In Women Prime Ministers and Presidents, ed. Olga S. Opfell, 3349. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Pogrebin, Letty Cottin. 1991. Deborah, Golda, and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America. New York: Crown.

Pogrebin, Letty Cottin. 1997. Golda Meir. In Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, ed. Paula Hyman and Deborah Dash Moore. New York: Routledge.

Segev, Tom. 1986. 1949, The First Israelis. New York: Free Press; London: Collier Macmillan.

Slater, Robert. 1981. Golda: The Uncrowned Queen of Israel. Middle Village, NY: Jonathan David.

Syrkin, Marie. 1969. Golda Meir: Israels Leader. New York: Putnam.

Syrkin, Marie, ed. 1973. Golda Meir Speaks Out. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

Thompson, Seth. 1993. Golda Meir: A Very Public Life. In Women as National Leaders, ed. Michael Genovese, 135160. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Abdel-Fattah Mady

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Meir, Golda

Golda Meir (māēr´), 1898–1978, Israeli political leader, b. Kiev, Russia, originally named Golda Mabovitch. Her family emigrated to the United States in 1906, settling in Milwaukee. She became a school teacher and early involved herself in the Zionist labor movement. In 1921 she and her husband, Morris Meyerson (the name was hebraized to Meir in 1956), emigrated to Palestine. She joined the Palestine labor movement and became (1936) head of the political department of the Histadrut (General Federation of Jewish Labor). After Israeli independence was achieved (1948), she served as minister to Moscow, minister of labor (1949–56), and foreign minister (1956–66). She became secretary-general of the Mapai party (later the Labor party) in 1966. On the death (1969) of Levi Eshkol, Meir became interim prime minister pending elections, but she retained her post after the elections were held (Oct., 1969). As prime minister she maintained a difficult coalition at home, while negotiating abroad with the hostile Arab nations and with the United States. In 1971 she managed to defeat a "no-confidence" vote in parliament engineered by opposition members on the grounds that she had made excessive concessions to Egypt in peace negotiations. Despite criticism, however, she retained tremendous personal popularity. In Oct., 1973, she rallied Israeli forces following a surprise combined Egyptian-Syrian offensive (see Arab-Israeli Wars). After the hostilities ceased, her government, particularly defense minister Moshe Dayan, was criticized for its unpreparedness. After two unsuccessful attempts to form a new coalition government, she resigned in Apr., 1974, and left office in May.

See her This Is Our Strength: Selected Papers, ed. by H. M. Christman (1962), and A Land of Our Own: An Oral Autobiography, ed. by M. Syrkin (1973); biographies by E. Agres (1969), P. Mann (1971), and R. Slater (1981).

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Meir, Golda

Meir, Golda (1898–1978) Israeli stateswoman, prime minister (1969–74), b. Ukraine as Golda Mabovitch. Her family emigrated to the USA in 1906, and Meir became active in Zionism. In 1921 she emigrated to Palestine. In 1936 she became head of the Jewish labour movement. After Israeli independence, Meir became minister of labour (1949–56) and foreign minister (1956–66). She succeeded Levi Eshkol as prime minister. She was forced to resign following criticism of the government's lack of preparedness for the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

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