Growing up in the Betar youth movement of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Golda Meir, the socialist Mapai party member, wasn’t someone whose ideology we studied often. And while Meir’s political legacy is a mixed bag, the first woman prime minister of Israel should be remembered – particularly in a Middle East where few women are permitted to vote among Israel’s neighbors. It’s interesting to remember that Meir was the prime minister of Israel well before there were world leaders like Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton or Angela Merkel on the world scene. She was the first female head of state in the Western world.
While for a Jabotinsky-ite Meir was far from perfect, her words had so much clarity on so many vital issues, and they are indeed are worth revisiting today. In response to questions about the occupied territories, Meir said “We are not so fortunate that the quarrel between us and the Arab countries…is a question of territory…The Arab countries are in lack of a little more sand?…” Would any of us on the political right put it any different today? And why can’t the left accept that Golda’s words were right then – and are still right now.
She felt Israel’s safety was more important that the public relations brand of Israel: “If we have to have a choice between being dead and pitied and being alive with a bad image, we’d rather be alive and have a bad image.” Even as she was supremely tough, she was clear – one of the most popular songs during her tenure? The chorus ran: “The whole world is against us… If the whole world is against us, we don’t give a damn. If the whole world is against us, let the whole world go to hell.”
Unlike today’s left, which apologizes as regularly as it can, Meir was clear as Israel was condemned by Argentina for kidnapping Adolph Eichmann. “This is not a matter of revenge. As the Hebrew poet Bialik says, ‘Revenge for a small child – the devil has not yet devised.’ Didn’t the threat to peace lie in the fact that Eichmann enjoyed freedom?” Could one imagine today’s Mapai saying these sorts of things? One never hears words of praise for Israel’s military from the left.
On the territories, revisiting some of her words today, I find that she was so clear in ways I wish today’s left was clear –“Now they say we should go back to the ’67 borders, but that’s where we were so why was there a war? And we had ’47 borders… we didn’t like them very much but we said yes to them. But there was still a war. And after the ’48 war they said we should go back to the ’47 borders. But that’s where we were…and that’s where they wanted to get us out from…They still nurture a hope that at some time we’ll disappear.” Can anyone today not say these words are still relevant?
Everybody today tell us there is no such thing in the world today as secure borders. Yet I haven’t seen any people stepping back from their borders and saying “we don’t care what our borders are.” They tell us there will be international guarantees. … does any other people depend on international guarantees? No. But we should. And if we don’t, we’re stubborn or intransigent or not accommodating or we don’t care about public relations.
In 2012, Newt Gingrich and others said the same thing and got condemned and attacked – and it’s an ideology which the far-right today loves: “In Jordan, the majority of the people are Palestinian. What is the difference between someone who lives in Nablus and went to Jordan, and one who remained in Nablus? There is no Palestinian people.” She spoke often of the lack of a Palestinian people – and while the Arabs and world media have won this battle, her words remain fact.
Moral equivalence was something she constantly harangued upon the world: “There are those who threaten with a gun and those who try to defend themselves…to say a plague upon both your houses is an injustice.” Similarly, today one cannot equate Palestinian Arab terrorism with the defense mechanisms of the IDF.
“There can be no greater mistake in assessing the current situation in the Middle East than to assume that the conflict continues because of a specific Arab grievance – the plight of the Arab refugees, the Israeli presence on the West Bank, the reunification of Jerusalem. The heart of the problem is what caused the Six Day War… Simply put the root issue is the Arab attitude to Israel’s very existence…They don’t want us here. That’s what it’s about. It isn’t true that they don’t want us in Nablus or Jenin. They don’t want us, period.” Not the words of Liberman, Arieh Eldad or Netanyahu. The words of a “proud Jewess,” as Menachem Begin called her.
Undoubtedly, Meir’s legacy is rightfully consdidered mixed – and there are many criticisms to be made no matter where one sat on the political map. But in an era when Arab women in most Arab countries of the world still can’t vote in the year 2012 it’s important to remember the legacy of Golda Meir.
The Jewish people – particularly the Jewish left — should read the words of Golda Meir and realize how much she had right that they should remember.