Golda Meir was born in Kiev in 1898. Economic hardship forced her family to emigrate to the United States in 1906, where they settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
In high school she joined the Zionist group, “Poalei Zion” (Workers of Zion). She immigrated to British Mandate Palestine in 1921 with her husband, Morris Myerson, and settled in Kibbutz Merhavya.
Moving to Jerusalem in 1924, she became an official of the Histadrut Trade Union and served in a managerial post with the union’s construction corporation, Solel Boneh. Between 1932 and 1934 she worked as an emissary in the United States, serving as secretary of the Hechalutz women’s organization; she also became secretary of the Histadrut’s Action Committee, and later of its policy section.
When the prestate 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, the chief Jewish liaison with the British. Elected to the Executive of the Jewish Agency, she was active in fundraising in the United States to help cover the costs of the Israeli War of Independence, and became one of the State’s most effective spokesmen.
In 1948, David Ben-Gurion appointed Golda Meir to be a member of the Provisional Government. A few days before the Declaration of Independence, Ben-Gurion sent her disguised as an Arab on a hazardous mission to persuade King Abdullah of Jordan not to attack Israel. But the King had already decided his army would invade the Jewish state following the British departure.
In June 1948, Meir was appointed Israel’s Ambassador to the Soviet Union. Elected to the Knesset as a Mapai member in 1949, she served as Minister of Labor and National Insurance until 1956. In June 1956, she became Foreign Minister, a post she held until January 1966. As Foreign Minister, Meir was the architect of Israel’s attempt to create bridges to the emerging independent countries of Africa via an assistance program based on practical Israeli experience in nation building. She also endeavored to cement relations with the United States and was successful in creating extensive bilateral relations with Latin American countries.
Between 1966 and 1968, she served as Secretary General of Mapai, and then as the first Secretary General of the newly formed Labor Party. When Prime Minister Levi Eshkol died suddenly in early 1969, the 71-year-old Meir assumed the post of Premier, becoming the world’s third female Prime Minister (after Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka and Indira Gandhi of India).
As Prime Minister she inherited Eshkol’s second National Unity Government administration, but this broke up over the question of continuing the cease-fire with Egypt in the absence of a peace treaty. She then continued in office with the Alignment (Labor & Mapam), the National Religious Party and the Independent Liberals.
The major event of her administration was the Yom Kippur War, which broke out with massive coordinated Egyptian and Syrian assaults against Israel on October 6, 1973. As the postwar Agranat Inquiry Commission established, the IDF and the government had erred seriously in their assessment of Arab intentions, leading to serious Israeli setbacks in the first weeks of the war.
Although she and the Labor Party won the elections (postponed due to the war until December 31, 1973), she resigned in 1974 in favor of Yitzhak Rabin. She passed away in December 1978 and was buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
Copyright American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, Reprinted with permission.