Who Was Golda Meir?
Israeli politician Golda Meir and her family immigrated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she became an active Zionist. From the 1940s through the 1960s, Meir worked for the Israeli government in various roles including as Minister of Labor and Foreign Minister. In 1969, party factions appointed her as the country’s fourth Prime Minister, thereby also becoming the world’s third woman with that title. She died in Jerusalem on December 8, 1978.
Golda Meir was born Goldie Mabovitch in Kiev, Ukraine on May 3, 1898, the daughter of Moshe and Bluma Mabovitch. Her autobiography tells of her father boarding up the house during the 1905 Kiev pogrom where mobs killed over 100 Jews. That year, the family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where Golda attended North Division High School and joined a Zionist group that supported the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
In 1916-17, Golda Mabovitch attended Milwaukee Normal School (now the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) over the objections of her parents, who wanted her to get married rather than pursue a profession. She did both, attaining a teaching certificate and marrying Morris Meyerson.
Becoming a Political Operative
In 1921, Golda and Morris Meyerson (she officially Hebraized her name from Meyerson to Meir in 1956) immigrated to Palestine and joined the Merhavia kibbutz, a communal settlement. In 1924, the couple moved to Jerusalem and soon had a son, Menachem, and a daughter, Sarah. Golda intensified her political activity by representing the Histadrut Trade Union and serving as a delegate to the World Zionist Organization.
Before World War II, much of the Middle East was under the control of France and Great Britain, as prescribed by the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 (officially termed the 1916 Asia Minor Agreement). British officials made promises to establish a Jewish homeland, but this never materialized and the matter was left for the next generation. The British White Paper of 1939 only called for a Jewish homeland, not a Jewish state and it allowed Arab officials to determine the rate of Jewish immigration. During the war, Golda Meir emerged as a powerful spokesperson for the Zionist movement and fought hard against the policy, pleading that increased Jewish immigration was crucial in light of the persecution by the German Nazi regime.
The British intensified their enforcement of the White Paper policy by arresting many Jewish activists and illegal immigrants. When Moshe Shertok-Sharett was arrested, Golda Meir replaced him as chief liaison with the British. She worked to free him and many Jewish war refugees who had violated the British immigration policy. Meir later organized fundraising events in the United States for an Israeli independent state.
Working to Legitimize the Jewish State
In 1948, Israel declared its independence and Meir was one of the signers of Israel’s declaration. That same year, she was appointed minister to Moscow, but when hostilities broke out between Arab countries and Israel, she returned and was elected to the Israeli Parliament. Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion sent Meir on a secret mission, disguised as an Arab, to plead with King Abdullah I not to enter in a war against Israel. He declined and the conflict expanded to include the nations of Egypt, Transjordan, Iraq and Syria against Israel.
Hostilities ended with an armistice that preserved Israeli independence and increased its size by 50 percent. Meir served as minister of labor and worked to solve Israel’s housing and employment problems by implementing major residential and infrastructure construction projects. In 1956, she was appointed foreign minister and helped establish relations with emerging African countries and strengthened ties with the United States and Latin America.
Becoming Prime Minister
At age 68, Meir wanted to retire from public life. She was tired and ill but members of the Mapai political party encouraged her to serve as the party’s secretary general. Over the next two years, she helped merge her party and two dissident political parties into the Israel Labor Party. Following the death of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol in 1969, she put off retirement again and agreed to serve out the remainder of his term. That same year, her party won the elections, giving her a four-year term as prime minister. During her tenure, she gained economic and military aid from U.S. President Richard Nixon, which helped her open peace talks with the United Arab Republic in hopes of ending hostilities.
The Yom Kippur War
During the relative period of peace between the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars, Meir straddled the line between radicals who wanted to settle the captured territory of the 1967 war (which she supported) and proposals by moderates who favored giving up land claims in exchange for peace. The debate ended with the outbreak of the Arab-Israeli war on October 6, 1973, which is also known as the Yom Kippur War. Syrian forces had been massing along the Golan Heights. Concerned that a preemptive strike would bring condemnation by international supporters, especially the United States, Meir prepared for a defensive war. Syrian forces attacked from the north and Egypt attacked from the west. After three weeks, Israel was victorious and had gained more Arab land. Meir formed a new coalition government but resigned on April 10, 1974, exhausted and willing to let others lead. She was succeeded by Yitzhak Rabin.
Later Life and Death
Though she remained an important political figure, Meir retired for good and published her autobiography, My Life, in 1975. On December 8, 1978, Meir died in Jerusalem at the age of 80. It was revealed that she suffered from leukemia. She was buried on December 12, 1978 at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
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