Golda Meir

  • Issue: Februari 1981
  • Designer: M. Krup

Golda Meir (1898-1978), pioneer, labour leader, Minister of Labour, Foreign Minister, and Prime Minister of the State of Israel, was a central figure in the country's life for almost sixty years. One of the very few women in the world to reach the highest position in government she was internationally famous and widely admired for her idealism and strength and for her incisive, humane approach to problems and people.

Born in the Ukrainian city of Kiev where her father was a carpenter, Golda early experienced a pogrom, and the memory was seared into her mind. In 1906 the family immigrated to the United States, settling in Milwaukee where they struggled to make a poor living. Golda studied at the Milwaukee Normal School for Teachers, at which time her talents were recognized by the leaders of Poale Zion, the Labour Zionist movement, which she had joined in her teens.

Never one for talk without deeds, Golda, with her husband, Morris Meyerson, sailed for Palestine in 1 921. They worked for two years in kibbutz Merhavia until Morris fell ill and they were compelled to leave. In 1928 Golda became the secretary of Moetzet HaPoalot, the women's section of the Labour Federation - Histadrut - at its Tel Aviv headquarters. In 1934 she was elected to the Histadrut Executive and headed its Political Department. The international experience she acquired there and her many missions to Jewish and non-Jewish groups abroad, were admirable preparation for the leadership of the Jewish Agency's Political Department. She assumed that post when the head of the department, Moshe Sharett, was imprisoned by the British Mandatory authorities in 1946, and she thus found herself at the centre of the difficult negotiations with the British in the period immediately preceding the establishment of the State of Israel. In David Ben-Gurion's judgement, one of her greatest contributions to the State was her successful journey in January 1948 to enlist American Jewish financial aid for the armed struggle against Arab attack.

Golda Meir's first official post in the government of Israel was that of ambassador to Russia. Her appearance at the Moscow Synagogue on Yom Kippur in 1948 aroused passionate excitement in masses of Jews who crowded around her. Seeds of the great change to come in Soviet Jewry were surely sown that day. As for Golda, she never ceased to be concerned with the fate of Russian Jews.

Elected to the First Knesset in 1949, Golda returned to Israel to become the country's first Minister of Labour. In those days of mass immigration, this was a post of prime importance, involving large-scale public work projects. The human implications of the Ministry's work were deeply gratifying to Golda. In 1956 she left the Ministry of Labour to become Foreign Minister, and for nine years she was the architect of Israel's relations with the world, laying special emphasis on technical aid to the new nations of Africa and the development of friendly relations with them.

After her retirement from the Foreign Ministry in 1965, Golda devoted herself to the internal problems of the Israel Labour movement, but she was not to remain outside the Government for long. She became the fourth Prime Minister of Israel in February 1969 after the death of Levi Eshkol. She led the nation firmly and wisely through the problem-laden years of the War of Attrition, the American peace initiative and the traumatic Yom Kippur War. Resigning in 1974, she continued to be a revered figure during the last four years of her life. She fought illness with characteristic courage and when she died on December 8, 1978, she was mourned with an aching sense of personal loss not only by her family, but by the people of Israel and millions elsewhere.

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Golda Meir