Klagsbrun, Francine. “Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel”, Schocken, 2017.
Mother, Grandmother, Prime Minister
I knew Golda Meir. When I lived in Tel Aviv her official residence was three doors down from me and I would see her shopping and walking down Ben Yehudah Street every once in a while. She always said hello as if we had known each other for years but my knowing Golda was just that— a hello and a smile.
Golda was a chain-smoking political operative, and a tea-and-cake kind of grandmother who became the fourth prime minister of Israel. She was unlike any other world figure unlike any other. She immigrated to America in 1906 from tsarist Russia and grew up in Milwaukee, where even in her early years she had a political consciousness and organizational skills that would eventually land her into the inner circles of Israel’s founders. She moved to mandatory Palestine in 1921 with her husband, joined a kibbutz but soon left and was hired at a public works office. A series of public service jobs brought her to the attention of David Ben-Gurion, and her political career took off very quickly. She went fund-raising in America in 1948, secretly met with King Abdullah in Amman. She was mobbed by thousands of Jews in a Moscow synagogue in 1948 as Israel’s first representative to the USSR, when she was Israel’s minister of labor and foreign minister in the 1950s and 1960s. Golda spoke with fire, made plainspoken appeals and she was a shrewd deal-maker. She dedicated her life to the welfare and security of the State of Israel and its inhabitants.
As prime minister, Golda negotiated arms agreements with Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger and had had many clandestine meetings with Jordan’s King Hussein in the unsuccessful pursuit of a land-for-peace agreement with Israel’s neighbors. Her time in office ended tragically when Israel was caught off guard by Egypt and Syria’s surprise attack on Yom Kippur in 1973.
Through the use of newly available documents from Israeli government archives, writer Francine Klagsbrun looks at whether Golda could have prevented that war. She contemplated using nuclear force and resigned after the war spending her final years watching national affairs. We see Golda as compassionate, realistic, and capable of compromise. She was an immigrant (twice), a Zionist, a feminist, and a prime minister who had much more than just a woman’s share of history. Her story is of a tough, complicated and remarkable woman. We see her personal life against the backdrop Israel’s emergence of Israel on the world stage. Like everyone else, Golda had her failings and we read of those as well. She was tenacious and dedicated and even with those failings she remains relevant to history.