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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Golda Meir Nominated For Prime Minister, March 7, 1969

Today in 1969, Golda Meir was nominated by Israel's Labor Party to be Prime Minister of that nation. Her years in the office were the culmination of more than 40 of service to her nation and its people. To this day, she remains the only woman to ever be Prime Minister of Israel.

Golda Meir was born Golda Mabovitz on May 3, 1898 in Kiev, which was then a city in the Russian Empire. As Jews during a time of persecution in their homeland, Golda later wrote that her family lived in constant fear of another pogrom, or organized massacre. Her earliest memory was of her father boarding up the doors and windows of their home to keep the angry mobs out. Of eight children, only Golda, Tzipke and their older sister Sheyna lived to adulthood.

Golda's father emigrated to the United States in 1903; the rest of the family arrived three years later. They settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin where Golda attended grade school. Although she did not know a word of English upon her arrival in the US, she graduated from the eighth grade as the valedictorian of her class. Her mother tried to convince her to quit school at 14 to concentrate on work and finding a husband, but Golda instead ran away to Denver, Colorado where her sister Sheyna lived. She attended high school there and met Morris Meyerson, the man she would eventually marry.

Golda returned to Milwaukee after a year and graduated from both high school and the Milwaukee State Normal School before marrying Meyerson in 1917. The young couple soon decided to emigrate to the Land of Israel, which was then controlled by the Ottoman Empire. By the time of their move in 1921, however, the Empire had dissolved and the area we call Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan today was then called the British Mandate of Palestine. The Meyersons, like other young couples moving to the area from all over the world, wanted to form a Jewish homeland, the first in nearly 2,000 years.

Golda became active in the Zionist movement and the Histadrut, the trade union that acted as a shadow government during the time of British administration. The British tried to break up the Zionist movement over the years, but Golda remained undetected. She eventually took control of the union. She became a deft political and covert operative, negotiating with the British while simultaneously helping the strong underground guerilla force that was forming in the area.

After years of struggle, Israel became a state on May 14, 1948. Golda was one of only two women who signed the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel. The celebrations were cut short, however, for the next day saw Egypt, Syria, Transjordan and Iraq declare war on the new nation. Golda was issued Israel's first passport and used it to fly to the United States to raise funds for her struggling homeland. An armistice was signed in early 1949, leaving Israel with more land than before the fighting began.

Golda was appointed Israel's first ambassador to the Soviet Union, a position she only held for a year. Thousands of Russian Jews swarmed to see her during her time in Moscow. She returned home and was soon a member of the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament. She would hold one position or another in the body until 1974.

Golda was Israel's Minister of Labor for several years ending in 1956, when she became the Foreign Minister at the behest of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. The previous Foreign Minister had ordered all foreign service workers to Hebracize their last names. Golda ignored the order when she while she was an ambassador, but as the new Foreign Minister she believed that she should lead by example. She chose the surname Meir, which means "makes a light."

Meir attempted to retire in 1965 at the age of 67, but her service to Israel was not yet finished. On February 26, 1969, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol died suddenly. The Labor Party chose Meir to fill the office on March 7th; she accepted and assumed power on March 17th.

Meir's term as Prime Minister was racked by external threats. During the 1972 Olympics, 11 Israeli athletes were killed in Munich, West Germany by the Black September group. Meir authorized the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, to hunt down and kill those responsible for the massacre wherever they could be found. This order remains the source of much controversy even today.

1973's Yom Kippur War caught Israeli intelligence and defense forces by surprise. The war, which was fought on October 6-26, saw an Arab coalition led by Syria and Egypt attack Sinai and the Golan Heights, both areas that had been captured by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967. The coalition army met with success during the first two days of their offensive, but after 10 days the Israelis had the upper hand. A UN cease-fire went into effect just as the Israeli Defense Forces pushed the Arabs back to the pre-war borders.

Meir and her government faced harsh criticism for what was seen as a proper lack of planning for the war and for a lack of leadership once hostilities commenced. Meir herself saw the war as a personal tragedy, one from which her political life never recovered. She resigned as Prime Minister on April 11, 1974 and was succeeded by Yitzhak Rabin.

Meir had been diagnosed with lymphoma in the early 1960's but had successfully hidden her condition from the outside world for over a decade. It eventually overcame her and she died of cancer on December 8, 1978 at the age of 80, leaving behind a son and a daughter. She is today buried in Jerusalem.

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