Golda Meir was the fourth prime minister of Israel and one of its founders, serving in various public and political positions from the pre-state era through the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
Meir was born Golda Mabovitz in Kiev, Ukraine (part of the Soviet Union at the time); she immigrated to the United States with her family at the age of 8. Influenced by her older sister’s Zionist activities, Meir joined a Zionist youth movement and later became active in several other Zionist social circles. Meir immigrated to Palestine in 1921, joining Kibbutz Merhavia. After two years in the Kibbutz she left to Tel-Aviv and later to Jerusalem.
In 1924, Meir became an official of the Histadrut Trade Union. In 1928, she was elected secretary of the Women’s Labor Council of the Histadrut. During the years 1932–1934 she worked as an envoy in the United States, serving as secretary of the Halutz (a Zionist women’s organization); she also became secretary of the Histadrut’s Action Committee, and later of its policy section. In 1946, Meir replaced Moshe Sharett as head of the Jewish Agency’s Political Department. Later in this office 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, Meir was appointed member of the provisional government, and later Israel’s ambassador to the Soviet Union. Elected to the Knesset in 1949, Meir became minister of Labor and National Insurance until 1956. In June 1956, she was appointed foreign minister, a post she held for nearly a decade. As foreign minister, Meir was in charge of Israel’s attempt to create diplomatic ties with the emerging independent countries of Africa. She also managed to strengthen relations with the United States and was successful in creating extensive bilateral relations with Latin American countries.
In 1965, Golda Meir retired from the government, but was asked to serve as party secretary, which she did for 8 months. On August 1, 1968, she retired once again, not for the last time. In February 1969, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol passed away, and Golda Meir was elected as his successor. She held this position for 5 years.
Under her leadership, Israel declared its willingness to accept the Rogers Peace Initiative, which included returning territory occupied by Israel. In reaction to the Munich Massacre during the 1972 Olympic Games, Meir authorized the Mossad to hunt and kill all the operatives involved. As prime minister during the controversial 1973 Yom Kippur War, Meir was facing a growing wave of public and political disapproval.
During most of her years as a public figure, Golda Meir enjoyed a mostly institutionalized, cooperative Israeli news media (of which hiding her long battle with cancer was only one indication). It wasn’t until the post–Yom Kippur War era that Meir had to face an unprecedented opposition of hard-line journalists and commentators questioning her performance during the war. A popular and effective speaker; an appreciated interviewee (according to some of her most famous interviewers like Oriana Fallaci); and a symbol of women’s success in a manly world, Golda Meir had managed to maintain a supportive coverage among most non-Israeli media as well, albeit her occasionally questioned performance.
Following the general elections at the end of 1973, Golda Meir was reelected as prime minister. However, due to the postwar public atmosphere and her failing health, she decided to resign as prime minister and retire from political life. Golda Meir died of cancer on December 8, 1978.
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