Meir (Myerson, Née Mabovitch), Golda

views updated

MEIR (Myerson, née Mabovitch), GOLDA

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 Milwaukee, where she graduated from high school and enrolled in the Milwaukee Normal School for Teachers. In 1915, as a youth, she joined *Po'alei Zion. In 1921 Meir settled in Palestine with her husband, Morris Myerson, and the two joined kibbutz Merḥavyah, where they remained until 1924. Meir soon became involved in political and social activities within the *Histadrut. In 1928 she became the executive secretary of Mo'etzet ha-Po'alot (Women Workers Council), and was sent as an emissary to the Pioneer Women's Organization in the United States from 1932 to 1934.

Upon her return to Palestine in 1934, she was invited to join the executive committee of the Histadrut, and in 1936 became head of its Political Department. Simultaneously with her work within the Histadrut Meir was active in Mapai. When Moshe *Sharett was arrested by the British on Black Saturday in June 1946, Meir was appointed to serve as acting head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency. After Sharett was released, he was sent to the United States to take charge of the struggle for the partition plan at the un, and Meir remained as the head of the Political Department in Jerusalem, in which capacity she served until the establishment of the State in May 1948.

In January 1948, she went to the United States to enlist the help of American Jewry in the struggle against the Arabs. Four days before the proclamation of Independence, on May 10, 1948, she met secretly with King Abdullah in Transjordan, in an effort to come to an agreement with him on the partition of Palestine between his kingdom and the Jewish state and to keep the Arab Legion out of the approaching military attack on the new state. After the establishment of the state she was appointed Israel's first diplomatic representative to Moscow, a post she held until April 1949. Her presence at the Great Synagogue of Moscow on the High Holidays in September/October 1948 caused great excitement among Soviet Jews.

After the elections to the First Knesset in 1949, to which she was elected on the Mapai list, Meir was appointed minister of labor, in which capacity she was responsible for the initiation of very large-scale public works to offer rudimentary employment to masses of new immigrants. In 1956, after Moshe Sharett resigned from the post of minister for foreign affairs that he had held since 1948, Meir assumed the post, which she held until 1965. As foreign minister she attended the annual opening sessions of the United Nations, and defended Israel's participation in the *Sinai Campaign. She played an active role in establishing friendly relations with the newly independent black African states, extending technical assistance to them and visiting several of them. After the elections to the Sixth Knesset in 1965 Meir was appointed secretary general of Mapai. In this capacity she played an active role in establishing the *Israel Labor Party in 1968 through the union of Mapai, *Rafi, and *Aḥdut ha-Avodah, becoming the first secretary general of the new party. After the death of Levi *Eshkol in February 1969, and despite the fact that she suffered from blood cancer, Meir was chosen as Israel's fourth prime minister. Soon after becoming prime minister Meir visited President Richard Nixon in Washington, and subsequently led the Labor Alignment to an impressive victory in the elections to the Seventh Knesset. Though she once again formed a National Unity Government with Gaḥal, a year later Gaḥal left the coalition owing to its objection to her willingness to consider the Rogers Plan, which proposed a settlement between Egypt and Israel based on an Israeli withdrawal from territories it had occupied in 1967. However, in later years Meir was accused of missing an opportunity to reach a settlement with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and thus of avoiding the *Yom Kippur War. During her premiership, and despite the fact that Israel did not have diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, Meir played an active role in the struggle to get the latter to open its gates to Jewish immigration to Israel – a struggle that was partially successful for several years. At the same time she did not demonstrate any sympathy toward the social protest movement of the Israeli "Black Panthers," who were protesting the discrimination against Israel's citizens of Oriental origin, characterizing their leaders as "not nice." Her failure to take the distress of this part of the Israeli population seriously was to have devastating political consequence for the Labor Party in later years. In 1972 Meir was elected deputy chairman of the Socialist International, in which capacity she served for two years.

The Yom Kippur War, which took the Israeli leadership by surprise, signaled the beginning of the end of Labor hegemony in Israeli politics in general, and of Meir's political career in particular. Though the Labor Party was not defeated in the elections for the Eighth Knesset held on December 31, 1973, and Meir succeeded, after lengthy and difficult negotiations, in forming a new government with the *National Religious Party and the *Independent Liberal Party, one month after the new government was approved by the Knesset, she resigned. The immediate background to her resignation was the Interim Report of the Agranat Commission of Inquiry concerning the causes of the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War. Though the report put the blame for the lack of preparedness on the military leadership, there was growing public dissatisfaction with the political leaders, and Meir submitted her resignation as prime minister on April 11, 1974, and in June resigned her seat in the Knesset. In 1975 Meir was awarded the Israel Prize for special service to the state and society. Though after her resignation she assumed the status of "elder statesman" until her death four years later, her departure, together with the fact that neither Moshe *Dayan nor Abba *Eban were given ministerial positions in the government formed by Yitzhak *Rabin in June, marked the end of an era. However, before Rabin formed his government, Israel with the mediation of u.s. Secretary of State Henry *Kissinger and under Meir's leadership, had signed Interim Agreements with Egypt (January 18, 1974) and Syria (May 31, 1974), both involving Israeli withdrawal from territories in return for new security arrangements – the first implementation of the "territories for peace" principle, that three and a half years later was to lead to the Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt. At a meeting with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on his historic visit to the Knesset on November 20, 1977, Meir joked with him about his having referred to her as "the old lady." Meir passed away on December 8, 1978. In her will she requested that no eulogies be delivered at her funeral and no institutions be named after her. Nevertheless, a year after her death, the city of New York named a square on Broadway after her. A year before she passed away a two-act play called Golda, by William Gibson, appeared on Broadway, and in 2003 a one-woman play, titled Golda's Balcony, by the same playwright, turned into a hit and ran in several cities in the u.s.

Her writings appeared in H. Cristman (ed.), This Is Our Strength: Selected Papers of Golda Meir (1962); Israel Shenker and Mary Shenker (eds.), As Good As Golda: The Warmth and Wisdom of Israel's Prime Minister (1970); Beit Avi (Hebrew, 1972); Marie Syrkin (ed.), Golda Meir Speaks Out (1973); and an autobiography, My Life (1974).


M. Syrkin, Golda Meir: Woman with a Cause (1965); idem, Golda Meir: Israel's Leader (1969); E. Agres, Golda Meir: Portrait of a Prime Minister (1970); P. Mann, Golda: The Life of Israel's Prime Minister (1971); I. Noble, Israel's Golda Meir: Pioneer to Prime Minister (1972); B. Litvinoff, Her Years of Valour: The Span of Golda Meir's Career (1974); A. Dobrin, A Life For Israel: The Story of Golda Meir (1974); M. Davidson, The Golda Meir Story (1976); R. Slater, The Uncrowned Queen of Israel (1981); M. Avallone, A WomanCalled Golda (1982); M. Meir, My Mother Golda Meir: A Son's Evocation of Life with Golda Meir (1983); M. Keller, Golda Meir (1983); D.A. Adler, Our Golda: The Story of Golda Meir (1984); R. Martin, Golda Meir: The Romantic Years (1988); M. Medzini, Ha-Yehudiyya ha-Ge'ah: Golda Meir ve-Ḥazon YisraelBiografyah Politit (1990); R. Amdur, Golda Meir: A Leader in Peace and War (1990); M. Avizohar et al., GoldaẒemiḥatah shel Manhigah 19211956 (1994); A. Claybourne, Golda Meir (2003).

[Susan Hattis Rolef (2nd ed.)]

About this article

Meir (Myerson, Née Mabovitch), Golda

Updated About content Print Article