Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Meir, Golda (1898–1978)

Israeli diplomat, Labor Party politician, foreign minister (1956–1965), and prime minister (1969–1974). Born Goldie Mabovitch in Kiev, Russia (now Ukraine), on 3 May 1898, she immigrated with her family to the United States in 1906. Intent on becoming a teacher, she enrolled at the Wisconsin State Normal School in 1916 but stayed there just one year, never finishing her degree. That same year she became an active member in the Zionist labor movement. There she met Morris Meyerson, whom she married in 1917. Golda Meyerson and her husband immigrated to Palestine in 1921, where she became active in Hista'drut, the Jewish labor movement. During the 1930s and early 1940s Meyerson busied herself working in the Zionist movement. In 1940 she became head of the political department of Hista'drut.

After helping raise funds for Jewish settlement and before Israel's War of Independence (1948), Meyerson twice met secretly with Jordan's King Abdullah in an unsuccessful effort to prevent war. During the war, she traveled to the United States and there raised $50 million for Israel. Following the war, Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, sent her to Moscow as Israel's ambassador, and at his urging she adopted the Hebrew surname Meir (which means to burn brightly).

Elected to parliament in 1949 on the Labor Party ticket, Ben-Gurion immediately appointed Meir minister of labor. She served in that position until 1956, gaining a reputation as a strong and decisive leader, particularly in resettling the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who immigrated to Israel during these years. Meir went on to serve as foreign minister during 1956–1965, working to strengthen Israel's relationship with the United States and with the new nations of Africa, to which she dispatched a series of aid missions. In part because of her efforts, U.S. arms sales to Israel increased steadily in the 1960s, particularly after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

On 26 February 1969, the ruling Labor Party appointed Meir prime minister. She faced daunting challenges, including Israeli national security imperatives and Middle Eastern instability. Her efforts to trade recently conquered land for peace with Egypt, Syria, and Jordan failed, and terrorist attacks and cross-border raids into Israel increased. Skirmishing with Egypt escalated into the War of Attrition, which lasted through August 1970. The following month, Syria invaded Jordan to support a Palestinian rebellion but withdrew its forces after Meir threatened to attack Syria.

Tensions with Egypt and Syria increased steadily until the morning of 6 October 1973, when Israel's director of intelligence warned of an imminent attack. Concerned about Israel's international reputation, Meir rejected proposals to launch a preemptive attack as Israel had done in 1967. That afternoon Egyptian and Syrian forces invaded Israeli territory, driving back the surprised and outnumbered Israeli Army. Following a series of early defeats, Israeli counter-offensives finally subdued both Arab armies, and a U.S.-imposed cease-fire ended the war on 24 October.

Although the war was won, the early setbacks, heavy casualties, and surprise of the invasion tarnished Meir's administration. She resigned on 3 June 1974 and returned to private life. Meir died on 8 December 1978 in Jerusalem.

Stephen K. Stein


Further Reading
Martin, Ralph G. Golda Meir, the Romantic Years. New York: Scribner, 1988.; Meir, Golda. My Life. New York: Putnam, 1975.
 

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