Golda Meir was a Prime Minister of Israel from 1969 to 1973 and played a central part in recent Middle East history. Golda Meir was born in 1898 in Kiev (in what was then Russia under Nicholas II). Meir’s maiden name was Mabovich. In 1907, her family emigrated to America and she received an education in Milwaukee. Meir married in 1917. Her husband was called Morris Mayerson.
In 1921 the couple moved to Palestine and adopted a Hebrew version of their surname and became the Meir’s. They worked in a kibbutz in Lower Galilee and Golda Meir got involved in Jewish socialist politics. She gained a reputation as a good organiser and someone who got things done. When Israel got its independence in May 1948, Golda Meir was appointed Israeli ambassador to the Soviet Union. In 1949, she was appointed Minister of Labour – a post she held until 1956. In 1956, she was promoted to Foreign Minister. In the mid-1950’s, it was very unusual for a woman anywhere in the world to advance very far in the male-dominated arena of politics. To be appointed to one of the most important posts in the Knesset was a testimony to how high Golda Meir was held in Israeli politics.
In 1966, Golda Meir left the government to concentrate her energies on re-energising the socialist Mapai Party. This took her the best part of three years. By 1969, the Mapai Party was suitably well structured to successfully campaign in the general election. It was in this year that Golda Meir became Israel’s Prime Minister. Meir was a socialist at heart and she spent much time as Prime Minister trying to stem the desire of some in her cabinet for Israel to adopt a more forceful policy towards those Arab nations that surrounded Israel. Meir was frequently at odds with her popular Defence Minister, General Moshe Dayan on this very issue. However, such was Dayan’s stature in Israel that he remained in her cabinet until after the Yom Kippur War of 1973.
Meir and Dayan were odd members of the same cabinet. Why was Meir put in such a position whereby she had to both stand up to Dayan and to have him in her cabinet? Israeli elections are based on proportional representation and almost invariably any party that wins an election will not win an outright victory. The victorious party will have to engage in a bout of diplomacy to get sufficient support in the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) and this will almost certainly include having people in your cabinet who are not in your party. This is what happened to Meir. She governed using coalitions, and to remain in office, she had to ensure that she was publicly seen to have on board Israel’s most famous military leader – Moshe Dayan.
Meir won the 1973 election but again needed to form a coalition government. This proved to be a very difficult task. However, by March 1974, she appeared to have formed a new government. In April 1974, Meir unexpectedly resigned from office and effectively from mainstream political life in Israel. It is possible that the stress of trying to form a new government was too much for her. In May 1974, General Rabin succeeded Meir as Prime Minister.
Golda Meir died in 1978.