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Golda Meir (pronounced gol-da meh-ir) (née Mabovitz) (May 3, 1898 – December 8, 1978) was a founder of the State of Israel. She served as the Minister of Labor, Foreign Minister, and as the fourth Prime Minister of Israel from March 17, 1969 to 1974. Golda Meir was the "Iron Lady" of Israeli politics years before the epithet was coined for Margaret Thatcher. David Ben-Gurion once described her as "the only man in the Cabinet." She is the first (and to date only) female Prime Minister of Israel, the second female Prime Minister in the world, as well as the only former American citizen to hold the post (Benjamin Netanyahu is a native-born Israeli whose family moved to Philadelphia when he was a teenager; he moved back to Israel after graduate school and was never a U.S. citizen).
Born in the Russian empire
Was born as Golda Mabovitz in Kiev, Ukraine (then part of the Russian Empire). Her earliest memories were of her father boarding up the front door in response to rumors of a pogrom. Her life there was tough; she and her two sisters were often hungry and cold. Her sisters' names were Shayna and Zipke. Golda looked up to Shayna. Her father left for the United States in 1903, and the rest of the family followed in 1906. They settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Emigration to the United States, 1906
Her father worked as a carpenter in Milwaukee and her mother ran a grocery store. Beginning when she was only eight years old, Golda oversaw the store for a short time each morning as her mother was buying supplies at the market.
When she was 14, her mother suggested that she give up school for work and to marry an older man. Golda rebelled and ran away. She went to Denver, where her older sister, Sheyna, was living. Here she met Morris Myerson, a sign painter, who would later become her husband.
She returned to Milwaukee at the urging of her father when she was 18. She began speaking and advocating. She hosted visitors from Palestine.
She eventually graduated from teachers' college and taught in the public schools. She joined the Labor Zionist Organization in 1915. She married Morris Myerson in 1917 and began planning to emigrate to the Land of Israel, then British Mandate of Palestine. The couple and her sister Sheyna emigrated to Palestine in 1921.
Emigration to Palestine, 1921
Golda and Morris wanted to join a kibbutz. She applied to join Kibbutz Merhavia and was turned down at first, but eventually accepted into the community. Her duties there included picking almonds, planting trees, caring for chickens, and running the kitchen. She also began to emerge as a leader. Her kibbutz chose her to represent them at Histadrut, the General Federation of Labor. By 1924, her husband tired of the kibbutz life and they left.
They lived briefly in Tel Aviv, before settling in Jerusalem. Here they had two children: a son, Menachem; and a daughter, Sarah. In 1928, she was elected secretary of the women's labor council of Histadrut. This required her to move to Tel Aviv, but her husband stayed in Jerusalem. They grew apart, but never divorced. The children stayed with her. Her husband died in 1951, Golda was away traveling at the time.
She grew increasingly more influential in Histadrut, which evolved into a shadow government for the yet to be born nation of Israel. In 1946, the British cracked down on the Zionist movement in Palestine. They arrested many of its leaders. Golda, however, was never arrested. She gradually took charge over the organization. She negotiated with the British, but also kept in contact with the growing guerrilla movement.
Israel established, 1948
Golda Meir along with 24 others, signed the Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. She was one of two women to do this. She later recalled, "After I signed, I cried. When I studied American history as a schoolgirl and I read about those who signed the Declaration of Independence, I couldn't imagine these were real people doing something real. And there I was sitting down and signing a declaration of independence."
The following day, Israel was attacked by joint forces from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan and Iraq. She was issued Israel's first passport and sent to the United States to raise money for the fledging nation.
When she returned, she was assigned to be the first ambassador to the Soviet Union. She served there briefly, leaving in 1949. She then entered the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) where she served continously until 1974.
From 1949 to 1956, she was also the Israeli Minister of Labor. In 1956, she became Foreign Minister. While she was the Foreign Minister, David Ben-Gurion was the Prime Minister. He asked Golda to change her name to a Hebrew name. She chose Meir, meaning "to burn brightly".
In 1965, she resigned from the Cabinet citing illness and exhaustion of her years of service. At first, she returned to her modest life. But she was soon called back into service. She served as Secretary General of the Labor Party for eight months and retired again on August 1, 1968.
After Levi Eshkol died suddenly on February 26, 1969, the party chose her to succeed him as Prime Minister. She came out of retirement to take office on March 17 and served in that role till 1974, with a brief leave in 1972 to become a guest lecturer at the University of Chicago. Her government was clouded by internal squabbles among the governing coalition, and serious questions over strategic misjudgments and general lack of leadership that resulted in the unanticipated Yom Kippur War. In 1974, Golda Meir resigned leadership, to be succeeded by Yitzhak Rabin.
When Golda Meir became prime minister, Israel was brimming with confidence, having humiliated the Arabs in the 1967 war and captured large areas of territory. She saw no need to seek compromise with the Palestinians so long as Israel was secure.
"Any one who speaks in favor of bringing the Arab refugees back must also say how he expects to take the responsibility for it, if he is interested in the state of Israel. It is better that things are stated clearly and plainly: We shall not let this happen."—Golda Meir, in a speech to the Knesset, reported in Ner , October 1961
"I have faced difficult problems in the past but nothing like the one I'm faced with now in leading the country."—Golda Meir, when elected as the first female prime minister of Israel in 1969
"We can forgive you for killing our sons. But we will never forgive you for making us kill yours."—Golda Meir, to Anwar Saddat just before the peace talks.
"It is not only a matter, I believe, of religious observance and practice. To me, being Jewish means and has always meant being proud to be part of a people that has maintained its distinct identity for more than 2,000 years, with all the pain and torment that has been inflicted upon it" -Golda Meir in her autobiography, "My Life"
"Your holiness, do you know what my earliest memory is? It is waiting for a pogrom in Kiev. Let me assure you that my people know all about real 'harshness' and also that we learned all about the real mercy when we were being led to the gas chambers of the nazis." -Golda Meir to Pope Paul IV after he commented that the Jews were behaving very harshly in their country
"Peace will come when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us."-Golda Meir
"You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist"- Golda Meir
"Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against Moses. He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil!"- Golda Meir
- Golda Meir: Peace and Arab Acceptance Were Goals of Her 5 Years as Premier, New York Times, December 9, 1978. 
- Prime Minister Golda Meir (Israeli Prime Minister's Office)
- Israel elects first female leader (BBC News)
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