Thank You Golda Meir!
It is said a friend in need is a friend indeed, and over the years most Indians have realised that keeping geo-politics and global power equations aside, Israel has steadfastly supported India’s right to defend itself from it’s enemies. Supporting passively would itself have been a big thing, but Israel supported India actively in several wars, India fought against it’s enemies. The author wouldn’t abnegate the fact that many times in the past, Indian leadership didn’t show a similar alacrity in standing for Israeli interests, because of an anti-Israel lobby in India that though in a minority, had many politicians in post independence India, all ears and in agreement to their biased rhetoric, using twisted anti-colonial narrative to attack Israel and oppose the rebirth of a 3000 year old nation. Majority of Indians over the years got fed up, of this political apathy of their leaders to stand strong with Israel, a consistently supportive friend, and now both at the people to people level and at the state level India is showing open support to Israel. But it is also important for the world in general and Indians in particular to learn more about iconic Israeli leaders who helped India when it needed their support, one of them was “Iron-Lady” Golda Meir. In this article the readers will get to know about Golda Meir and how she helped India.
In a profession dominated by men Golda Meir the “Iron-Lady” proved her mettle, her persona was majestic and her convictions were adamantine, manifested by her able leadership during the Yom Kippur war, which Israel won inspite of Golda’s pain of being a cancer patient. An inspiration for women who came in politics after her, she busted the myth of so called weakness of women of not being able to take tough decisions, her creation of assassination teams to hunt down the perpetrators of Munich massacre under “Operation Wrath of God” depicted in Steven Spielberg’s movie “Munich” shows her willingness to take tough decisions for the safety and security of her people, no compromise on that front was allowed by the “Iron-Lady”. It was on May 18, 1948, that Meir became one of the only two women along with Rachel Kagan another Jew from Eastern Europe to sign the Israeli Declaration of Independence. It was on May 3, 1898 in Eastern European city of Kiev, in Ukraine (then part of Tsarist Empire) Golda was born as a girl named Goldie Mabovitch. She was born to Moshe and Blume Mabovitch also written as Mabowitz.
Anti-Semitic pogroms were organised in Tsarist empire, and in one of his earlier articles the author has mentioned how a Jew Dr. Waldemar Wolff Haffkine who saved many thousands of lives by the prophylactic vaccination against cholera and against the plague that he developed and vaccinated 42,000 Indians in then Calcutta himself, was a member of Odessa League of Self Defence to protect Jews from anti-Semitic pogroms in Tsarist Empire, when he lived there but these anti-Semitic pogroms did not end. It was in the environment of endemic anti-Semitic pogroms in Tsarist empire that Golda Meir lived, she understood that Jews have to struggle to survive, surrounded by so many enemies they have to defend their existence first, then work for the development of Jewish people. Golda Meir said “I have faith in the Jews in the United States. I believe that they will realise the peril of our situation and will do what they have to do. She even paraphrased Churchill when she said we shall fight in the Negev, and will fight in the Galil and will fight on the outskirts of Jerusalem until the very end…The Jewish community of Palestine will raise no white flag… The decision is taken, nobody can change it. You can only decide one thing: whether we shall be victorious in this fight or whether the Mufti will be victorious. That decision American Jews can make. It has to be made quickly, within hours, within days. I beg of you – don’t be too late. Don’t be bitterly sorry three months from now for what you failed to do today. The time is now…”
Struggling her way through the competition that the world put in her way, through her hard work and tenacity, without nepotistic advantage, 70-year-old Golda Meir became the third woman in the 20th Century to emerge as a leader of a nation which still is the only democracy in the Middle-East Israel. She raised 50 million dollars for new born Israel to purchase defence weapons to protect itself and it was she who as a leader of Israel sent weapons to India so that India could protect itself and Bengali Muslims of East Pakistan from Pakistani aggression. David Ben-Gurion remarked one day, history books would extoll Golda as the “Jewish woman who got the money which made the state possible.” Pnina Lahav in her book “The Only Woman in The Room” mentions how later in Golda’s life, senior cabinet members did not think a woman could have a deep comprehension of military matters. During the year of the Yom Kippur war, 1973 her cancer spread and she had an intensive radiation-treatment schedule that she kept secret while she carried on her duties.
Golda Helped India
The year was 1971, Pakistan launched a genocidal campaign against Bengali Muslims and Hindus in East Pakistan, denying the Bengali Muslims the right of self determination, India requested the world to help the victims of the then ongoing genocide by Pakistan but it stood substantially alone. On 22 February 1971, the Pakistani President General Yahya Khan said in a meeting, “Kill three million of them (Bengalis), and the rest will eat out of our hands.” USA had a pro Pakistan tilt in it’s foreign policy, Nixon declared to a Pakistani delegation that, “Yahya is a good friend.” Rather than express concern over the ongoing brutal military repression, Nixon explained that he “understands the anguish of the decisions which [Yahya] had to make.” Not only did the United States publicly pronounce India as the aggressor in the war, but the U.S. sent the nuclear aircraft carrier, U.S.S. Enterprise, to the Bay of Bengal, and authorised the transfer of U.S. military supplies to Pakistan, despite the apparent illegality of doing so.
It was in this war that India’s Lion of Judah Lt. Gen. (retd) Jack Farj Rafael (JFR) Jacob from the Baghdadi Jewish community showed great bravery. Jacob went to order the Pakistanis to surrender he looked General Niazi in the eye and said, “You will (surrender in public). There is no question about it that you will surrender in public. You will also provide a guard of honour to Lt. Gen. Aurora.” Niazi gave excuse that he had no one to command it. Jacob pointed towards Niazi’s ADC and said, “Your ADC is there. He will bloody well command it.” Over 93,000 Pakistani troops surrendered to the Indian forces & Bangladesh Liberation forces, making it the largest surrender since world war II. India had won a spectacular victory in 1971, in which two Jews played a very important role, one was the Indian military hero Lt. Gen. Jacob and other was Prime Minister of Israel Golda Meir.
As per PN Haksar papers maintained at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi India’s ambassador to France DN Chatterjee began the process to get Israeli arms with a note to the external affairs ministry on July 6, 1971, saying assistance from Israel for “propaganda, finance and even procurement of armament and oil” would be “invaluable”. Gandhi immediately accepted the proposal and through the country’s external intelligence agency R&AW began the process to get the arms through the tiny principality of Liechtenstein. India didn’t have diplomatic ties with Israel at that time, having voted against its creation in 1948, and consistently supported the Arabs in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Israel was in middle of an arms shortage but prime minister Golda Meir stepped in to divert arms meant for Iran to India. She sent a note addressed to Gandhi in Hebrew through Shlomo Zabuldowicz, the director of the firm handling the secret transfers, with a request for diplomatic ties in return for arms.
It is surprising for most Indians now that even after consistent support of Israel to India, some Indian leaders felt it ok to ignore Israel’s friendly requests, India established full diplomatic relations with Israel only in 1992, this selfish approach has changed in modern India. Even though Israel offered to recognise newly-founded Bangladesh that was traumatised in the past by Pakistan in 1972, Bangladesh did not reciprocate, it still does not recognise Israel, this needs to change at the earliest. As a grateful Indian who understands the value of Israeli friendship, the author wants says “Thank you Golda Meir Bharuch Hashem you were a great friend of India.”