SEPT / OCT: BY RACHEL SEXTON
Even now, in the 21st century, the sight of a woman occupying a nation’s highest political office is rare. The examples of such women throughout history is a low number. Their names (Margaret Thatcher, Indira Ghandi) should be familiar to everyone, and it’s sad the United States has not yet added a name to that list. (Hopefully someday soon!) They all contributed something important to the world, and Golda Meir was one of them. Golda Meir left a legacy in a male-dominated field just as complicated and inspiring as any man’s.
Golda Meir was born Golda Mabovitch in Kiev, Ukraine on May 3, 1898. Her father moved to the United States in 1903 and settled in Milwukee in 1905, saving up enough money to bring his family to the U.S. the next year. During her high school years, Golda briefly lived with her married sister in Denver, Colorado. There, she met Morris Meyerson. She finished school in Milwaukee and married Meyerson in 1917, then worked as a teacher. The couple moved to Palestine in 1921 and joined a kibbutz. In 1924, Golda and Morris moved to Jerusalem and had a son and a daughter. Golda was elected secretary of the Working Women’s Council and spent 1932 through 1934 in the U.S. as an emissary. When she returned to Jerusalem, Golda joined the Histadrut, also known as the General Federation of Labor, and eventually became head of its Political Department.
Golda’s professional life was the Jewish people and the state of Israel. She became acting head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency in 1946 upon the incarceration of Moshe Sharett when the British government cracked down on the Zionist movement in Palestine (which was a British mandate). She stayed in that position until they established the state of Israel in 1948 which Golda helped to raise money for. In 1949, she was elected to Israel’s legislature, Knesset, and became Labor Minister until 1956. That year, she became Foreign Minister and followed her predecessor Sharett’s request that all members of the foreign service Hebraicize their last names by changing Meyerson to Meir. Golda was elected the first (and only) female Prime Minister of Israel in February 1969.
After Israel’s establishment, the neighboring Arab nations fought against the loss of what they perceived as their land. This conflict overshadowed Golda’s entire professional career. One significant illustration of this is the massacre of 11 Israeli Olympic team members at the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics by a Palestinian terrorist group. When it seemed no other action was forthcoming, Meir ordered Mossad (the Israeli Intelligence Agency) to hunt down those responsible. (Though some Jewish people, including actress Natalie Portman, don’t agree with this.)
Golda resigned in June of 1974 due to infighting in her party about how the government handled the Yom Kippur War the year before. Meir conducted herself admirably during the situation but felt her premiership had come to an end. Doctors had diagnosed her with lymphoma in the early 1960’s and she lived with it all that time. Golda died on December 8, 1978.
As a character, Golda has appeared in film and television over the years. The miniseries A Woman Called Golda featured Judy Davis and Ingrid Bergman as the young and older versions of Meir in 1982. The TV film Sword of Gideon in 1986 and Steven Spielberg’s Munich in 2005 dramatized the 1972 Muich Olympics. Colleen Dewhurst played Golda in the first project, and Lynn Cohen (who also appeared as Mags in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) portrayed her in the latter.
Politics is a profession still dominated by men, but Golda Meir attained a nation’s highest office and left behind a mark on history. She had to make tough decisions and was not afraid of them. (Best of all for a short woman like me to see, Golda did it all while not being tall!) As society progresses, it’s possible the U.S. could have a female President soon. Women like Golda Meir laid the foundation.