Meir was elected Prime Minister of Israel on 17 March 1969, after serving as Minister of Labour and Foreign Minister. Israel's first and the world's third woman to hold such an office, she was described as the "Iron Lady" of Israeli politics years before the epithet became associated with British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Former prime minister David Ben-Gurion used to call Meir "the best man in the government"; she was often portrayed as the "strong-willed, straight-talking, grey-bunned grandmother of the Jewish people".
Meir was born Golda Mabovitch (Ukrainian: Ґольда Мабович) in Kiev in the Russian Empire (today Ukraine) to Blume Neiditch and Moshe Mabovitch, a carpenter. Meir wrote in her autobiography that her earliest memories were of her father boarding up the front door in response to rumors of an imminent pogrom. She had two sisters, Sheyna and Tzipke, as well as five other siblings who died in childhood. She was especially close to Sheyna. Moshe Mabovitch left to find work in New York City in 1903. In his absence, the rest of the family moved to Pinsk to join her mother's family. In 1905, Moshe moved to Milwaukee in search of higher-paying work and found employment in the workshops of the local railroad yard. The following year, he had saved up enough money to bring his family to the United States.
Blume ran a grocery store on Milwaukee's north side, where by age eight Golda had been put in charge of watching the store when her mother went to the market for supplies. Golda attended the Fourth Street Grade School (now Golda Meir School) from 1906 to 1912. A leader early on, she organized a fundraiser to pay for her classmates' textbooks. After forming the American Young Sisters Society, she rented a hall and scheduled a public meeting for the event. She went on to graduate valedictorian of her class, despite not knowing English at the beginning of her schooling.
At 14, she went to North Division High School and worked part-time. Her mother wanted her to leave school and marry, but she rebelled. She bought a train ticket to Denver, Colorado, and went to live with her married sister, Sheyna Korngold. The Korngolds held intellectual evenings at their home, where Meir was exposed to debates on Zionism, literature, women's suffrage, trade unionism, and more. In her autobiography, she wrote: "To the extent that my own future convictions were shaped and given form... those talk-filled nights in Denver played a considerable role." In Denver, she also met Morris Meyerson, a sign painter, whom she later married at the age of 19.
She attended the Milwaukee Normal School (now University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee) in 1916, and probably part of 1917. The same year, she took a position at a Yiddish-speaking Folks Schule. While at the Folks Schule, she came more closely into contact with the ideals of Labor Zionism. In 1913, she began dating Morris Meyerson, and they married on 24 December 1917. She was a committed Labor Zionist and he was a dedicated socialist. Together, they left their jobs to join a kibbutz in Palestine in 1921.
She gradually became more involved with the Zionist movement. At the end of World War II, she took part in the negotiations with the British that resulted in the creation of the state of Israel. In 1948, she became Israel's first ambassador to the Soviet Union. That position lasted seven months, and she returned to Israel in 1949 to become Minister of Labor. In 1956, she became Foreign Minister, and served in this capacity until her retirement in 1965. She changed her name from "Meyerson" to "Meir" in 1956, due to the advice given to her by David Ben Gurion saying that she should have a Hebrew name.
On 26 February 1969, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol died of a heart attack, at which time many members of the Knesset asked Meir to return to politics. She became prime minister of Israel with the Labor Party's support. Meir's greatest crisis came during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. While prime minister, she spent much of her time developing support for Israel by meeting with western leaders. In 1974, the labor coalition broke up and Meir left office. She died four years later.
In 1913, she returned to North Division High School in Milwaukee, graduating in 1915. While there, she became an active member of Young Poale Zion, which later became Habonim, the Labor Zionist youth movement. She spoke at public meetings, embraced Socialist Zionism and hosted visitors from Palestine.
After graduating from the Milwaukee State Normal School (a predecessor of the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee), she taught in Milwaukee public schools. She formally joined Poale Zion in 1915.
Golda and Morris married in 1917. Settling in Palestine was her precondition for the marriage. Golda had intended to make Aliyah straight away but her plans were disrupted due to all transatlantic passenger services being canceled due to the first world war. Instead she threw her energies into Poale Zion activities. A short time after their wedding, she embarked on a fundraising campaign for Poale Zion that took her across the United States. Finding herself pregnant, she underwent an abortion because she felt "her Zionist obligations simply did not leave room for a child." The couple moved to Palestine in 1921 together with her sister Sheyna.
Aliyah to Palestine
In Palestine, the couple joined a kibbutz. Their initial application to kibbutz Merhavia in the Jezreel Valley was rejected, but in the end they were accepted. Her duties included picking almonds, planting trees, working in the chicken coops and running the kitchen. Recognizing her leadership abilities, the kibbutz chose her as its representative to the Histadrut, the General Federation of Labour. In 1924, she and her husband left the kibbutz and resided briefly in Tel Aviv before settling in Jerusalem. There they had two children, a son Menachem (born 1924) and a daughter Sarah (born 1926). In 1928, she was elected secretary of Moetzet HaPoalot (Working Women's Council), which required her to spend two years (1932–34) as an emissary in the United States. The children went with her, but Morris stayed in Jerusalem. Morris and Golda grew apart, but never divorced. Morris died in 1951.
In 1934, when Meir returned from the United States, she joined the Executive Committee of the Histadrut and moved up the ranks to become head of its Political Department. This appointment was important training for her future role in Israeli leadership.
In July 1938, Meir was the Jewish observer from Palestine at the Évian Conference, called by US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to discuss the question of Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. Delegates from the 32 invited countries repeatedly expressed their sorrow for the plight of the European Jews but made excuses as to why their countries could not help by admitting the refugees. The only exception was the Dominican Republic, which pledged to accept 100,000 refugees on generous terms. Meir was disappointed at the outcome and remarked to the press, "There is only one thing I hope to see before I die and that is that my people should not need expressions of sympathy anymore."
In June 1946, the British cracked down on the Zionist movement in Palestine, arresting many leaders of the Yishuv. They had been provoked by paramilitary Zionist activities. Meir took over as acting head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency during the incarceration of Moshe Sharett. Thus she became the principal negotiator between the Jews in Palestine and the British Mandatory authorities. After his release, Sharett went to the United States to attend talks on the UN Partition Plan, leaving Meir to head the Political Department until the establishment of the state in 1948.
In January 1948, the treasurer of the Jewish Agency was convinced that Israel would not be able to raise more than $7–8 million from the American Jewish community. Meir traveled to the United States and managed to raise $50 million, which was used to purchase arms in Europe for the nascent state. Ben-Gurion wrote that Meir's role as the "Jewish woman who got the money which made the state possible" would go down one day in the history books.
On 10 May 1948, four days before the official establishment of the state, Meir traveled to Amman disguised as an Arab woman for a secret meeting with King Abdullah of Transjordan at which she urged him not to join the other Arab countries in attacking the Jews. Abdullah asked her not to hurry to proclaim a state. Golda, known for her acerbic wit, replied: "We've been waiting for 2,000 years. Is that hurrying?"
As head of the Jewish Agency Political Department, Meir called the mass exodus of Arabs before the War of Independence in 1948 as "dreadful" and likened it to what had befallen the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe.
Meir was one of twenty-four signatories (two of them women) of the Israeli declaration of independence on 14 May 1948. She later recalled, "After I signed, I cried. When I studied American history as a schoolgirl and I read about those who signed the Declaration of Independence, I couldn't imagine these were real people doing something real. And there I was sitting down and signing a declaration of establishment." Israel was attacked the next day by the joint armies of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan, and Iraq in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
Ambassador to Moscow
Carrying the first Israeli-issued passport, Meir was appointed Israel's ambassador to the Soviet Union. During her brief stint there, which ended in 1949, she attended high holiday services at the synagogue in Moscow, where she was mobbed by thousands of Russian Jews chanting her name. The Israeli 10,000 shekel banknote issued in November 1984 bore a portrait of Meir on one side and the image of the crowd that turned out to cheer her in Moscow on the other.
In 1949, Meir was elected to the Knesset as a member of Mapai and served continuously until 1974. From 1949 to 1956, she served as Minister of Labour, introducing major housing and road construction projects. In 1955, on Ben Gurion's instructions, she stood for the position of mayor of Tel Aviv. She lost by the two votes of the religious bloc who withheld their support on the grounds that she was a woman.
In 1956, she became Foreign Minister under Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Her predecessor, Moshe Sharett, had asked all members of the foreign service to Hebraicize their last names. Upon her appointment as foreign minister, she shortened "Meyerson" to "Meir", which means "illuminate." As Foreign Minister, Meir promoted ties with the newly established states in Africa in an effort to gain allies in the international community. But she also believed that Israel had experience in nation-building that could be a model for the Africans. In her autobiography, she wrote: "Like them, we had shaken off foreign rule; like them, we had to learn for ourselves how to reclaim the land, how to increase the yields of our crops, how to irrigate, how to raise poultry, how to live together, and how to defend ourselves." Israel could be a role model because it "had been forced to find solutions to the kinds of problems that large, wealthy, powerful states had never encountered."
On 29 October 1957 she was slightly injured in the foot when a 'Mills grenade' was thrown into the debating chamber of the Knesset. David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Carmel were more seriously injured. The attack was carried out by 25 year old Moshe Ben Yaakov Dueg. Born in Aleppo, his motives were attributed to a dispute with the Jewish Agency, though he was also described as 'mentally unbalanced'.
In 1958, she was recorded as having praised the work of Pope Pius XII on behalf of the Jewish people shortly after the pontiff's death. Pope Pius's legacy as a wartime pope remains controversial to this day.
The same year, during the wave of Jewish migration from Poland to Israel, Meir sought to prevent handicapped and sick Polish Jews from immigrating to Israel. In a letter sent to Israel's ambassador in Warsaw, Katriel Katz, she wrote: "A proposal was raised in the coordination committee to inform the Polish government that we want to institute selection in aliyah, because we cannot continue accepting sick and handicapped people. Please give your opinion as to whether this can be explained to the Poles without hurting immigration."
In the early 1960s, Meir was diagnosed with lymphoma. In January 1966, she retired from the Foreign Ministry, citing exhaustion and ill health, but soon returned to public life as secretary general of Mapai, supporting the Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol, in party conflicts.
After Levi Eshkol's sudden death on 26 February 1969, the party elected Meir as his successor. Meir came out of retirement to take office on 17 March 1969, serving as prime minister until 1974. Meir maintained the coalition government formed in 1967, after the Six-Day War, in which Mapai merged with two other parties (Rafi and Ahdut HaAvoda) to form the Israel Labour party.
In 1969 and the early 1970s, Meir met with many world leaders to promote her vision of peace in the Middle East, including Richard Nixon (1969), Nicolae Ceausescu (1972) and Pope Paul VI (1973). In 1973, she hosted the chancellor of West Germany, Willy Brandt in Israel.
In August 1970, Meir accepted a U.S. peace initiative that called for an end to the War of Attrition and an Israeli pledge to withdraw to "secure and recognized boundaries" in the framework of a comprehensive peace settlement. The Gahal party quit the national unity government in protest, but Meir continued to lead the remaining coalition.
In the wake of the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics, Meir appealed to the world to "save our citizens and condemn the unspeakable criminal acts committed." Outraged at the perceived lack of global action, she ordered the Mossad to hunt down and assassinate the Black September and PFLP operatives who took part in the massacre. The 1986 TV film Sword of Gideon, based on the book Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team by George Jonas, and Steven Spielberg's movie Munich (2005) were based on these events.
Yom Kippur War
In the days leading up to the Yom Kippur War, Israeli intelligence was not able to determine conclusively that an attack was imminent. However, on 5 October 1973, Meir received official news that Syrian forces were massing on the Golan Heights. The prime minister was alarmed by the reports, and felt that the situation reminded her of what happened before the Six Day War. Her advisers, however, assured her not to worry, saying that they would have adequate notice before a war broke out. This made sense at the time, since after the Six Day War, most Israelis felt it unlikely that Arabs would attack again. Consequently, although a resolution was passed granting her power to demand a full-scale call-up of the military (instead of the typical cabinet decision), Meir did not mobilize Israel's forces early. Soon, though, war became very clear. Six hours before the outbreak of hostilities, Meir met with Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan and general David Elazar. While Dayan continued to argue that war was unlikely and thus was in favor of calling up the air force and only two divisions, Elazar advocated launching a full-scale pre-emptive strike on Syrian forces.
Meir sided with Dayan, citing Israel's need for foreign aid. She believed that Israel could not depend on European countries to supply Israel with military equipment, and the only country that might come to Israel's assistance was the United States. Fearing that the U.S. would be wary of intervening if Israel were perceived as initiating the hostilities, Meir decided against a pre-emptive strike. She made it a priority to inform Washington of her decision. Then-U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger later confirmed Meir's assessment by stating that if Israel had launched a pre-emptive strike, Israel would not have received "so much as a nail."
Following the Yom Kippur War, Meir's government was plagued by in-fighting and questions over Israel's lack of preparedness for the war. The Agranat Commission appointed to investigate the war cleared her of "direct responsibility", and related to her actions on Yom Kippur morning;
“ she decided wisely, with common sense and speedily, in favour of the full mobilization of the reserves, as recommended by the chief-of-staff, despite weighty political considerations, thereby performing a most important service for the defence of the state. ”
Her party won the elections in December 1973, but she resigned on 11 April 1974, bowing to what she felt was the "will of the people." and what she felt was a sufficient premiership as well as the pending pressures of forming a coalition; "Five years are sufficient...It is beyond my strength to continue carrying this burden." Yitzhak Rabin succeeded her on 3 June 1974.
In 1975, she published her autobiography, My Life.
On 8 December 1978, Meir died of lymphatic cancer in Jerusalem at the age of 80. She was buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on 12 December 1978.
In 1975, Meir was awarded the Israel Prize for her special contribution to society and the State of Israel. (source)