Gold Meir: 1946-1949 Ben-Gurion's "Best Man in the Cabinet"

Article excerpt

Theodor Herzl in 1895 must be given the credit for galvanizing Jews into the campaign for a return to the Promised Land, but two other men, Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion, are the ones generally recognized as being the prime Zionist leaders in the struggle that led to the foundation of the State of Israel in May 1948. There were many controversies and setbacks before success was achieved. Weizmann's main contribution was on the diplomatic front although there were others critically involved in this work. As for Ben-Gurion, file personification of Israel throughout the world, his efforts mainly lay in Eretz Yisrael itself. He led those who worked hard to build up a modern community there, but like Weizmann, he was not on his own, with many in the Yishuv supporting him. Golda Meyerson nee Mabovitch (and later Meir) was one of his principal lieutenants.

Golda Meir, although born in Russia in 1898, was unique in the Zionist movement in that she was the only world Zionist leader either born or brought up in the United States, and the only woman of major importance in the movement. Ada Fishman, a member of the first two Knessets, and founder and first secretary of Mo'etzet ha-Po'alot (the Women's Workers' Council of the Histadrut and a sister organization of Pioneer Women), Beba Idelson, a member of the first five Knessets as well as being a Deputy Speaker and successor to Fishman as secretary of the Womens' Workers' Council, and Yitzhak Ben Zvi's wife, Rachel Yanait, a founder and prominent member of Achdut ha-Avodah (The Workers' Unity Party) and a Haganah leader in Jerusalem, all played significant roles. Fishman and Yanait both also established children's agricultural farms, but who remembers these three gallant women now?

"The Girl from Milwaukee" who worked in a laundry and a department store, was twenty-three when she went to Palestine during the third Aliyah. Ben-Gurion, when Prime Minister, once referred to her as being the best man in his Cabinet, meaning that she had more strength than her male colleagues to follow through with what was necessary to meet objectives. Her mother complained about her young daughter's stubborness once saying that "there's a dybbuk in her." Anwar Sadat admired her enormously, and said he preferred to talk to her rather than Menachem Begin because he saw her as a "brilliant woman." Even Bruno Kreisky, Austrian chancellor and no friend of Israel, admired her as "a Biblical figure." Her contribution to the State of Israel which she represented as foreign secretary later culminating as prime minister is well-known, but this article will focus on aspects of her work from a period before Independence to one shortly afterwards when the fledgling country was fighting for its life in the face of the Arab invasion. At the same time, her relationships both with Weizmann and Ben-Gurion will be briefly examined.

The 1930s saw Golda Meir rising through the ranks of the leadership in the Labor movement in Eretz Yisrael to become part of the inner circle of the movement within a year of being a member of Va'ad Ha-Poel, the executive committee of Histadrut. She attended a number of Zionist congresses, and occasionally returned to the United States to raise funds for the movement. She became an influential member of Histadrut's Political Department, and on the death of the leader Dov Hos in 1940, she became its leader. At the same time, she was a member of the Mandatory Government's Economic Council. With others she opposed the British Government's restrictive immigration policy, and she took part in the first organized scheme of 'illegal' immigration. Ben-Gurion was, of course, the principal architect of the policy of taking a positive stance against British policy, and he worked vigorously for a British withdrawal from Palestine, but Golda was very much behind him in this. Although fully committed against the use of terrorist methods, she once proclaimed "Ain lanu derech acheret" (We have no other way) when there were those who took a softer line. …