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Biography of Golda Meir (Meyerson)

Biography of Golda Meir (Meyerson)

Golda Meir (1898-1978) was fourth Prime Minister of Israel from 1969-1974 and served as Foreign minister from 1956-1966. She was born Golda Mabovitch in Kiev (Ukraine) in 1898. When she was eight years old, her family immigrated to the United States. Raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she joined a Zionist youth movement, married Morris Myerson, and, in 1921, immigrated to Palestine, joining Kibbutz Merhavia.

Picture of Golda Meir

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In 1924 the Meyersons moved to Jerusalem, and Golda began a series of positions as an official of the Histadrut - General Federation of Labor, and became a member of its "inner circle." Over the next three decades, Golda Meir was active in the Histadrut, first in trade union and welfare programs, then in Zionist labor organization and fund-raising abroad, and later still in political roles. She was appointed chief of the Histadrut's political section - designed to use the Histadrut's growing power to advance Zionist aims such as unrestricted Jewish immigration. When, in 1946, most of the Jewish community's senior leaders were interned by the British authorities, Golda Meir replaced Moshe Sharett as acting head of the political department of the Jewish Agency until the establishment of the state in 1948. From then on she played a part both in internal labor Zionist politics and in diplomatic efforts - including her ultimately unsuccessful secret meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah on the eve of the Arab invasion of Israel in 1948, in an attempt to reach agreement and avoid war.

In June 1948 Golda Meir was appointed Israel's first ambassador to the Soviet Union, a position she filled for less than a year. She was elected as a Member of Knesset in the 1949 elections, and served as Minister of Labor and National Insurance from 1949 to 1956 - years of social unrest and a high rate of unemployment, caused by mass immigration. She enacted enlightened social welfare policies, provided subsidized housing for immigrants and orchestrated their integration into the workforce.

During the following decade (1956-66), Golda Meir served as Minister of Foreign Affairs. She initiated Israel's policy of cooperation with the newly independent nations of Africa, introducing a cooperation program based on Israel's development experience, which continues to this day. At the same time, she endeavored to cement relations with the United States and established extensive bilateral ties with Latin American countries. Between 1966 and 1968 she served as Secretary-General first of Mapai and then of the newly formed "Alignment" (made up of three Labor factions).

Upon the death of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol in 1969, Golda Meir - the "consensus candidate" - was chosen to succeed him. In the October 1969 elections, she led her party to victory.

As Prime Minister, Golda Meir concentrated much of her energies on the diplomatic front - artfully mixing personal diplomacy with skillful use of the mass media. Armed with an iron will, a warm personality and grandmotherly image, simple but highly-effective rhetoric and a "shopping list," Golda Meir successfully solicited financial and military aid in unprecedented measure. She kept order in the Labor party between rival partisans of Shimon Peres and Itzhak Rabin. Golda was outspoken and blunt and ignored pressing domestic and international issues. She dismissed minority social activists saying "These are not nice" (Eyleh Hem Lo Yafim) and famously angered Arabs by saying "There are no Palestinians."

Shortly after she took office, the War of Attrition - sporadic military actions along the Suez Canal which escalated into full-scale war - ended in a cease-fire agreement with Egypt. Meir ignored repeated peace overtures from Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and her administration ignored intelligence warnings of an imminent Egyptian attack.  The country was thus caught off guard in October 1973 by the Yom Kippur War. Egyptian and Syrian troops made significant advances into into Israeli territory, while the IDF was revealed to be unprepared and disorganized.

Nonetheless, Golda Meir did not lose her nerve. She showed strong leadership during the surprise attack of the Yom Kippur War, securing an American airlift of arms while standing firm on the terms of disengagement-of-forces negotiations and rapid return of POWs. Although the Agranat Commission of Inquiry had exonerated her from direct responsibility for Israel's unpreparedness for the war, and she had led her party to victory in the December 1973 elections, Golda Meir bowed to what she felt was the "will of the people" and resigned in mid-1974. She withdrew from public life and began to write her memoirs, but was present in the Knesset to greet Egyptian President Anwar Sadat on his historic visit to Jerusalem in November 1977.

Golda Meir died in December 1978, at the age of 80.

Ami Isseroff

(adapted from Israel Foreign Ministry )

More Israeli and Zionist Biographies The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel

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