Meir Becomes Prime Minister of Israel Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Israel’s fourth prime minister and first woman prime minister, Golda Meir, took the reins of government in Israel.

Summary of Event

Golda Meir was born Golda Mabovitch in 1898 in Kiev, Ukraine. Her parents, Moshe Yitzhak and Blume, had met and married in Pinsk (Belarus), and they returned to that city when Meir was five. As Meir’s father could not find work in Pinsk, he emigrated to the United States, and three years later, in 1908, the remainder of the family joined him in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. When she was sixteen, Meir left her parents’ home to live with her sister in Denver, but she returned to finish her high school education, followed by a course of study at the Milwaukee Teacher’s Seminary. On December 24, 1917, she married Morris Meyerson, and in 1918, she was chosen to serve as one of the delegates to the American Jewish Congress in Philadelphia. The couple had already decided to emigrate to Palestine (as the region including Israel was then known), and after a three-year sojourn on Kibbutz Merhavia, in 1924 Meir and her husband moved to Tel Aviv and then to Jerusalem, where their two children, Menachem and Sarah, were born. Israel;Golda Meir administration[Meir administration] Women;politicians [kw]Meir Becomes Prime Minister of Israel (Mar. 17, 1969) [kw]Prime Minister of Israel, Meir Becomes (Mar. 17, 1969) [kw]Israel, Meir Becomes Prime Minister of (Mar. 17, 1969) Israel;Golda Meir administration[Meir administration] Women;politicians [g]Middle East;Mar. 17, 1969: Meir Becomes Prime Minister of Israel[10230] [g]Israel;Mar. 17, 1969: Meir Becomes Prime Minister of Israel[10230] [c]Government and politics;Mar. 17, 1969: Meir Becomes Prime Minister of Israel[10230] Meir, Golda Eshkol, Levi Ben-Gurion, David Nasser, Gamal Abdel [p]Nasser, Gamal Abdel;and Golda Meir[Meir] Weizmann, Chaim Dayan, Moshe Allon, Yigal

In 1928, Meir took a position as the secretary of the Women’s Labor Council in the Histadrut (General Federation of Jewish Labor). In 1946, she became acting leader of the Jewish Agency’s Political Department when many of her colleagues were arrested by British authorities. In 1947, the United Nations voted for an independent Jewish state, and Meir became the only woman to sign Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

In 1948, she returned once more to the United States, where she raised $75 million in a few weeks for the state of Israel; she was to raise hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of her career. While in the United States, Meir learned that David Ben-Gurion had named her the Israeli ambassador to Russia. In 1956, she became Israel’s foreign minister, a post she held for the next nine years. At this time she also Hebraized her name from Meyerson to Meir.

In 1966, diagnosed with lymphoma, Meir decided to resign as foreign minister, but she continued as the secretary-general of the political party Mapai. The Six-Day War (June 5-10, 1967) factionalized the Mapai Party, and Meir made it her task to reunite it as the Labour Party. Israel emerged victorious from this “lightning war,” and Meir states in her autobiography, “it seemed to most of us that a new day was really about to dawn.” In 1968, she was finally able to retire to her home in Tel Aviv, but her first retirement was short-lived, lasting just over a year.

On February 26, 1969, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol died of a heart attack. Regular elections would not be held until October, 1969. The two strongest candidates were Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon; Labour Party Labour Party, Israeli leaders therefore decided to choose a compromise candidate as an interim prime minister. After days of debate, the Central Committee of the Labour Party chose Meir its leader, selecting her by party caucus rather than through national elections. She was sworn in as prime minister on March 7, 1969. She thus became the first woman prime minister of Israel and the second woman to serve in this role worldwide.

Meir stated that she “had never planned to be prime minister.” She was seventy years old when she assumed the post, and many Israelis considered her only a caretaker leader. She nevertheless faced formidable challenges during her first months in office. A bomb exploded in the cafeteria at Hebrew University, and the confrontation with Egypt at the Suez Canal Suez Canal crisis (1956);Golda Meir and[Meir] escalated. Israel had taken control of the West Bank of the Jordan, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Golan Heights during the Six-Day War Six-Day War (1967)[Six Day War] and was now governing an additional two million hostile people. Meir and her advisers, who often met in the kitchen of her residence in Jerusalem, had made a difficult decision not to return any of the territory until the Arab states agreed to peaceful negotiations. Within a short time, Meir emerged as a powerful leader, combining her skills at negotiation and compromise with the ability to make straightforward, rapid decisions.

In October, 1969, Meir made a high-profile visit to the United States. Israeli-U.S. relations[Israeli US relations] U.S.-Israeli relations[US Israeli relations] Her ten-day trip included a visit to her high school in Milwaukee, but the real purpose of the trip was to appeal directly to U.S. president Richard Nixon for military aid, including “a specific request for twenty-five Phantoms and eighty Skyhawk jets.” In addition to the military aid, Meir requested and received low-interest loans of $200 million per year for five years. The trip set the stage for Israel’s increasingly close ties with the United States.

Israeli prime minister Golda Meir.

(Library of Congress)

Shortly after her successful visit to the United States, the Labour Party won in Israel’s national elections on October 28, 1969. Meir was to remain as prime minister for the next four years. During her years as prime minister, Israeli agricultural methods improved dramatically and the budget for health services doubled, even though inflation spiraled and the domestic economy did not improve overall. Unfortunately, Israeli-Arab relations deteriorated, as terrorists hijacked planes, blew them up, and held passengers as hostages, sparking a civil war in Jordan. Meanwhile, Egypt had acquired SAM-3 missiles and MIG jets from the Soviet Union. These new weapons and a failed peace initiative added to the tensions in the Middle East.

On October 6, 1973, Yom Kippur War (1973) Egyptians, who had been armed by the Soviet Union, attacked Israeli positions, crossing the Suez Canal and moving up the Sinai Peninsula. Syria launched an attack from the Golan Heights, and Israel once again was at war and in danger of military defeat. Although Meir secured an immediate U.S. airlift of arms, more than twenty-five hundred Israeli soldiers were killed in the conflict, which came to be known as the Yom Kippur War. On November 11, 1973, Egypt and Israel signed a cease-fire and disengagement agreement. Even though she was returned to office in December, Meir blamed herself for not mobilizing the reserves and making a preemptive strike. She stated that she would “never again” be the person she was prior to the Yom Kippur War. On April 10, 1974, Meir announced that she had decided to resign. She retired and began writing her autobiography. She lived for four years after her resignation, dying of cancer in 1978 at the age of eighty.

Significance

Golda Meir participated in the founding and establishment of the state of Israel, and then she spent the remainder of her life in service to that state. Always a consensus builder, she included representatives of 90 percent of the opposition parties in her government and often held informal meetings with her cabinet, meeting in the kitchen of her home, in preparation for the official cabinet meetings. She was a supremely self-confident and capable individual, emphasizing the Israeli goal of gender equality in the face of a struggle for survival.

While she did not believe that being a woman directly affected her political career, much of Meir’s autobiography is concerned with the struggle to raise two children and maintain that career. Her autobiography also avoids any social analysis of Israeli society, focusing instead on the events and challenges of a country besieged by hostile neighbors. She was the second woman to serve as prime minister in the modern world, and a U.S. poll of the early 1970’s determined that she was the most admired woman in America. Like many women leaders, however, she was propelled into office by the untimely death of another leader and therefore had to demonstrate her leadership abilities and her tough-mindedness under fire. There is little doubt that she opened doors for other women heads of state. Israel;Golda Meir administration[Meir administration] Women;politicians

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Brown, Michael. The Israeli-American Connection: Its Roots in the Yishuv, 1914-1945. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1996. Covers Meir’s life on the kibbutz, her activities in the Working Women’s Council and the Histadrut, and her fundraising tours in the United States.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mann, Peggy. Golda: The Life of Israel’s Prime Minister. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1971. Ends before the Yom Kippur War but offers detailed coverage of the first three years of Meir’s administration.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Meir, Golda. A Land of Our Own: An Oral Autobiography. Edited by Marie Syrkin. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1973. Interviews with Syrkin and excerpts from Meir’s speeches provide a preview of her longer autobiography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. My Life. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1975. Details Meir’s life from her childhood to her resignation as prime minister of Israel.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Syrkin, Marie. Golda Meir: Israel’s Leader. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1969. Well-written biography but ends soon after Meir took office as prime minister.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thompson, Seth. “Golda Meir: A Very Public Life.” In Women as National Leaders, edited by Michael A. Genovese. Newbury Park, Calif.: Sage, 1993. A concise overview of Meir’s life with a focus on the impact of gender on her public and political roles.

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