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Golda Meir

the fourth Prime Minister of Israel

Golda Meir

Golda Mabovitz was born in Kiev, Ukraine, on May 3, 1898. When she was eight years old, her family emigrated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she attended North Division High School and joined a Zionist group that supported the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. She received a teaching certificate from Milwaukee Normal School (now the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) in 1917, and married Morris Myerson on Christmas Eve of that year.

In 1921, the Myersons emigrated to Palestine and joined a kibbutz (communal farm). In 1924, they moved to Jerusalem, where their two children (Menachem and Sara) were born. Golda's increasing involvement in the Zionist cause caused a strain in her marriage, and the couple eventually separated; they were never formally divorced, however.

Myerson changed her surname to Meir (the Hebrew spelling of Myerson) in 1956.

Early Career

Meir's "career" began soon after she and her husband arrived in Palestine, when she became the kibbutz's representative to the Histadrut (General Federation of Labor). She subsequently served as the secretary of that organization’s Women’s Labor Council (1928–32), and a member of its executive committee (1934 until World War II). Between 1932 and 1934 she worked as an emissary in the United States, serving as secretary of the HeHalutz women's organization; she also became secretary of the Histadrut's Action Committee, and later of its policy section.

During World War II, Meir emerged as a forceful spokesman for the Zionist cause in negotiating with the British mandatory authorities for increased Jewish immigration in light of the persecution by the Nazis. When the British Mandatory Authorities imprisoned most of the Jewish community's senior leadership in 1946, she replaced Moshe Sharett as head of the Jewish Agency's Political Department, in which capacity she worked for the release of her comrades and the many Jewish war refugees who had violated British immigration regulations by settling in Palestine. She was also active in fundraising in the United States to help cover the costs of Israel's fight for independence. In 1948, Israel declared its independence, and Golda Meir was one of the signers of Israel’s declaration.

Meir was appointed Minister to Russia upon Israel's Declaration of Independence, but left that post when the Arab-Israeli War broke out. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion sent Meir to Jordan, disguised as an Arab woman, to plead with King Abdullah I not to enter the war. Her plea was denied.

Meir was elected to the Knesset in 1949, and served in that body until 1974. She was also named Labor Minister in 1949, and in that capacity she worked to solve Israel’s housing and employment problems by implementing major residential and infrastructure construction projects.

In 1956, Meir left the Ministry of Labor to become Foreign Minister. That same year Israel, Britain, and France invaded the Sinai Peninsula and reached the western shore of the Suez Canal. Meir was involved in planning and coordination with the French government and military prior to the start of military action. During United Nations debates about the crisis, she took charge of the Israeli delegation. She spent much of her remaining tenure as Foreign Minister leading a very successful program among new African nations that focused on presenting them with "friends" instead of "experts" and "shared goods" instead of "aid."

Meir resigned as Foreign Minister to become Secretary-General of the Mapai (Labor Party) in 1966. She resigned from the latter position for health reasons in 1968.

Prime Minister

The death of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol in February 1969 led to a power struggle between Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Deputy Premier Yigal Allon. To avoid a split in the party, the Labor Party nominated Golda Meir as his interim successor on March 7, and she was sworn in ten days later. Later that same year the Labor Party won the elections, giving her a full four-year term as Prime Minister.

During the relative period of peace between the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars, Golda 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 Yom Kippur War on October 6, 1973. After three weeks, Israel was victorious and had gained more Arab land.

The Labor Party won a narrow victory in the 1973 elections, giving Meir another four-year term as Prime Minister. She chose to resign on April 10, 1974, however, saying "Five years are sufficient ... It is beyond my strength to continue carrying this burden." She was succeeded by Yitzhak Rabin. She died in Jerusalem on December 8, 1978.


Jewish Virtual Library
Jewish Women's Archives

See Also

World War II
Moshe Sharett
David Ben-Gurion
Suez Canal
Levi Eshkol

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This page was last updated on September 12, 2018.