Jewish Studies Golda Meir
by
Meron Medzini
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0184

Introduction

Golda Meir (b. 1898–d. 1978), Israel’s fourth prime minister, was a major figure in Israeli politics and society from 1928 until her death fifty years later. Born in Kiev, then part of tsarist Russia, she was raised in a poor family that often moved from one house to another. At age five she experienced preparations for a pogrom, and that left its mark on her for life. The family immigrated to the United States in 1906 and settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where her father worked as a carpenter. From an early age she came under the influence of her elder sister, Sheyna, who introduced her to Zionism and socialism. When her family refused to let her attend high school, she rebelled and escaped to her sister, then living in Denver. There she met Morris Myerson, who would become her husband. Two years later, back in Milwaukee, she became active in Poale Zion, a Zionist-Socialist movement, and decided to immigrate to Palestine and become part of the effort to rebuild a Jewish state. She was married in December 1917 and left for Palestine in 1921, settling in Kibbutz Merhavia, and began to make her name in Labor Zionist circles. She soon caught the eyes of the movement’s leaders, David Ben-Gurion, Berl Katznelson, David Remez, and Zalman Shazar. The latter two would become her mentors and later her lovers. She advanced slowly in the ranks of Mapai, since 1930 the leading socialist party in Palestine. In the 1930s and early 1940s she held various senior positions in the executive of the Histadrut trade union movement. During Israel’s War of Independence she raised huge sums of money from American Jews that helped pay for weapons. She was a signer of Israel’s Declaration of Independence and was appointed Israel’s first Minister Plenipotentiary to the Soviet Union, a position she held for less than a year. This was followed by a ministerial career that included minister of labor (1949–1956), foreign minister (1956–1966), party secretary (1966–1968) and finally prime minister (1969–1974). Her career came to an abrupt end shortly after the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which caught Israel by surprise. Although exonerated by a commission of inquiry that praised her actions on the eve of the war, popular demand led to her resignation in 1974. For many years she was seen as the incarnation of inflexibility in her foreign policy, while she was praised for her social legislation, including the establishment of Israel’s Social Security system in 1952. In recent years there has been a reevaluation of her foreign policy and she is now considered as one of Israel’s more noted national leaders.

Correspondence and Speeches

Unlike many of her peers, Golda Meir did not keep a diary, and she was not a prolific letter writer, preferring postcards to lengthy letters. She rarely prepared her speeches, but for formal occasions she relied on staff members to write her speeches, her articles, and even personal correspondence. Yet, in a career spanning over half a century, she amassed a huge amount of correspondence, which is kept in various archives in Israel.

  • Archives of Kibbutz Merhavia.

    E-mail Citation »

    These archives contain reports and internal kibbutz correspondence relating to the Myerson couple and the activities of Golda Meir between 1922 and 1924.

  • Ben-Gurion Archives in Sde Boker.

    E-mail Citation »

    The main source in these archives is Ben-Gurion’s personal diaries, and much of the material has already been published. Golda Meir figures prominently in his diaries from 1922 until he stopped writing in 1972.

  • Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem..

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    These archives contain documents of the World Zionist Organization, the World Zionist Congresses, the National Council, and the Jewish Agency. They include protocols of various meetings of the Executive of the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency Executive, and Zionist Congresses, and are an important source for tracing speeches and comments made in them by Golda Meir from 1928 until 1978.

  • Christman, Henry, ed. This Is Our Strength: Selected Papers of Golda Meir. New York: Macmillan, 1962.

    E-mail Citation »

    A collection of speeches and statements made by Golda Meir over the years. Most of them exist in other sources as well.

  • Fallaci, Oriana. Interview with History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977.

    E-mail Citation »

    In late 1972 Golda Meir granted the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci an often ignored interview in which she announced her intention to retire from politics even before the 1973 Knesset elections. She cited old age and fatigue as her main reasons. Under party pressure she relented and decided to withdraw her intended resignation, a decision she rued for the rest of her life.

  • Histadrut Archives, Tel Aviv.

    E-mail Citation »

    For two decades (1928–1948) Golda Meir was a major figure in the Histadrut Trade Union Federation. These archives include protocols of the Women’s Workers Council, Va’ad Hapoel Plenary, Va’ad Hapoel Secretariat, and Histadrut Conventions, and they contain minutes, protocols, decisions, and statements made by Meir in those twenty years.

  • Jewish Agency Executive: Protocols of Meetings 1946–1948. Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem.

    E-mail Citation »

    For two years, between July 1946 and May 1948, Golda Meir was first acting head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency Executive in Jerusalem, and from December 1946 to May 1948 she was co-head of that department. These protocols are an important source for understanding the struggle of the Jewish community in Palestine against the British Mandatory government and planning for the arrival of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine in June 1947.

  • Korngold, Sheyna. Memoirs. Tel Aviv: Ferlag Idpress, 1968.

    E-mail Citation »

    Sheyna Mabovich-Korngold was Golda Meir’s older sister, and she exercised vast influence on the development of her younger sister. In her final years she wrote her memoirs, which are an important source for the early years of Golda Meir in Russia and later in Milwaukee and Denver. In Yiddish.

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