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Golda Meir Takes the Helm

March 16, 2018

Golda Meir (Meyerson) became prime minister of Israel on this date in 1969, after a lifetime in the Labor Zionist movement. Born in Kiev, she spent most of her childhood and teen years in Milwaukee — which helped equip her, in 1948, to raise $50 million, six times more than expected, from American Jews for weapons purchases. Meir, who came to British Mandate Palestine in 1921, was one of two women out of 24 people who signed the 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence. Her six-month stint in Moscow as ambassador to the USSR (1948-49) helped catalyze the revival of Soviet Jewish identity at a time of severe repression. From 1956 to 1966, Meir served as Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and actively built ties with newly independent, decolonized African states. She was sometimes lauded for her “iron will,” but her tenure as prime minster (1969-1974) has been criticized due to her insensitivity to the discrimination faced by second-generation Mizrachi immigrants; her dismissal of Palestinian national ambitions; her denigrating characterizations of Arab society; and her rejection of peace overtures from Jordan and Egypt in the years preceding the October 1973 war. Meir was succeeded in office by Yitzhak Rabin. She died in 1978 at age 80.

“[F]rom the time I came to Palestine . . ., we have been forced to choose between what is more dangerous and what is less dangerous for us. At times we have all been tempted to give in to various pressures and to accept proposals that might guarantee us a little quiet for a few months, or maybe even for a few years, but that could only lead us eventually into even greater peril.” —Golda Meir