Golda Meir: A Life in Politics – Francine Klagsbrun (3/19/19)

Golda Meir: A Life in Politics – Francine Klagsbrun (3/19/19)


I’m Vicky Wilkins the Dean of the School
of Public Affairs here at American University and I want to welcome you
to this year’s Perlmutter Lecture and be the first to welcome our esteemed guest
Francine Klagsbrun and thank you for being here with us this evening.
This event is special for several reasons. It reinforces the partnership we
have on campus between the School of Public Affairs and our friends in the
Center for Israel Studies. It brings together communities from on and off
campus to discuss critical topics. And it provides us the opportunity to pay
tribute to our beloved former SPA Professor Amos Perlmutter. It used to be
in earlier years I would get up here and speak about Amos and tell you what I
had learned just from the papers that I read about him and from stories that
were shared, but tonight I really wanted you to have a chance to get to know this
exceptional faculty member and so I would like to ask my colleague, Professor
Saul Newman, to come up and share stories of Professor Perlmutter with you. Thank
you again for being here. [Saul Newman:] Thanks Dean Wilkins. My name is Saul
Newman. I’m the Associate Dean of the School of Public Affairs and I was
honored to have been a colleague of Amos for many years.
Amos, for those who didn’t know him, was born in Bialystok, grew up in Israel,
served in Israeli military. He served as an advisor to Shimon Peres and then
became an academic and wrote 15 books in political science, strategic studies,
military studies, comparative politics, and several hundred articles actually.
And he was known for a lot of – he was very eclectic, lots of different
interests. But I think the book that he was most famous for was a book called
“The Military and Politics in Modern Times.” And he published that book in the
1970s and he was a scholar of the Middle East so of course understanding the role
the military in politics was really important. He lived at a time of Hafez
al-Assad and Gamal Abdel Nasser and Saddam Hussein and colonels and generals
who ran Arab countries. But I think he was also fascinated – I know he was, I used to talk to him about it – fascinated about the role, the increasing
role of generals in Israeli politics. You know, the Israeli state when it was first
founded was a state where the politics is all about political parties but by
the end of his life he saw the rise of Yitzhak Rabin of Ehud Barak. And we
live in interesting times now because we are living through the meteoric rise of
one of the most recent Ramatkals, that is chiefs of staff, of Israeli army, and of
course that’s Benny Gantz. And I think he would have been
fascinated and maybe even slightly perplexed about the role of military
generals in Israeli politics. He was a big fan of civilian control of the
military. His two great heroes were, not surprisingly, David Ben-Gurion but also
Winston Churchill for his role as a civilian leader of the military. And I
think talking about Golda Meir tonight would have been absolutely fascinating
for him because Golda Meir, of course, is the quintessential example of the complexity of civilian control of the military. Of
course she was Prime Minister of Israel in 1973 during the Yom Kippur War and
her actions prior to the Yom Kippur War during the Yom Kippur War and after the
Yom Kippur War in terms how she balanced politics and military strategy is an
unparalleled example of the complexity of the role of civilian leadership of
the military. So I’m sure that our speaker tonight is gonna touch on that
issue because that was the critical moment probably in Golda Meir’s career. I
think the other thing that makes Golda Meir really interesting it probably
would have been really interesting to Amos was Golda Meir, as I said, lives at
a time where political parties in Israel were supreme. She was very much the
creature of her political party, the Labour Party. We live in very different
times today. We live in times where political parties are the playthings of
former generals or the playthings of TV personalities rather than the opposite,
where political parties really sort of define political leadership. So I think
he would be fascinated tonight as well to hear our speaker speak
about how the party system works and what political leaders used to be like
compared to what they’re like today. And we’re very very fortunate tonight that
the person who’ll be moderating that conversation is our own professor Pam
Nadell. Pam Nadell is the Patrick Clendenen Chair in Women’s and Gender History, chairs AU’s Critical Race, Gender and Culture Studies collaborative and is our
longtime Director of the Jewish Studies Program. Moreover, Professor Nadell is the
author of a brand new book that just came out called “America’s Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today” published by W. W. Norton. So to introduce
tonight’s speaker I bring you Professor Pam Nadell. [Pamela Nadell:] Hi. Good evening. I am so excited to be introducing Francine Klagsbrun this evening. I have, long before I ever met
Francine, I have admired her, I knew her work and I was in awe of all of her
accomplishments, and that was long before she wrote this astonishing, award-winning
book. Francine Klagsbrun is the author of more than a dozen books, including “The
Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day” and “Married People Staying Together
in the Age of Divorce.” “Lioness,” which we’re going to hear a little bit of
tonight because it’s a very large book, received the 2017 National Jewish Book
Award Everett Family Foundation Book of the
Year. If you know anything about the National Jewish Book Award – there are
lots of awards but the big award, the big book award is the Everett Family
Foundation Book of the Year. You may, maybe except the younger people in the
audience, might remember a best-selling book called “Free To Be You and Me” and
she edited that and she’s a regular columnist for the Jewish Week, a
contributing editor to the Lilith magazine. She’s also on the editorial
board of Hadassah magazine. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, The
Boston Globe, Newsweek, and Miss Magazine and she has joined us today from New
York City. Please extend a warm welcome to Francine Klagsbrun. [Francine Klagsbrun:] Thank you so much, Pam. Pam’s new book is
terrific. I don’t write blurbs unless I really mean it and I wrote a blurb for
this because I really meant it so I hope… are we okay here? Can everybody hear me? is that what the
problem… okay. I am recovering from a cold so I hope you’ll forgive me if I
drink more water than ordinarily. I wouldn’t stop so often. But okay before I
begin I want you to see a little piece of an interview with Golda Meir. Look at the screens around wherever. The former Prime Minister of Israel
Golda Meir is currently visiting this country on behalf of Israel Bonds and
the UJA on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the launching of Israel
Bonds. And by the way this is Mrs. Meir’s only network television
interview. And we welcome you to our country and to our program. [Meir:] Thank you very much.
You say racism was equated with Zionism. Then you must also say that Zionism is equated with Jews and what they did at the UN was to give a legal
stamp to anti-semitism. Let’s call it by its right name. And that’s serious. There
are anti-semites in the world and now it’s been legalized. And of course if you
say that Zionists are racists, that Israel is a
racist state, then it’s almost necessary to destroy that state. I mean that has
given legal sanction, one, for anti-semitism which affects every Jew
in the world and, two, for anything that the Arab countries may want to do
against Israel. [Klagsbrun:] The reason I began with that, that was an interview in 1976 about
some month after the UN passed that Zionism is racism resolution, and the
reason I begin with that is that in some ways Golda’s issues are so much still
our issues today. We’re still dealing with people speaking of Zionism as
racism or speaking of Israel as a racist country, of anti-Zionists in our own
Congress. So these issues are very much with us today. Not only that but
today women power is in resurgence again. We have so many women now
in the Senate and the Congress. Golda in her own day was perhaps the most
powerful, if not the most one of the most powerful women in the world so she’s
very contemporary in many ways at the same time she’s part
of another generation. In May we celebrated 120 years since her birth. In
December was about 40 years since her death, and March 17th was the 50th anniversary of Golda becoming
Prime Minister of Israel. So it’s this combination of then and now I found so
intriguing and stunning about Golda I spent almost 10 years studying, writing,
researching about Golda Meir. And what did I find? Well, one thing is she was a
very very complex person much more complicated than that image that you saw
on the screen or that you may have remembered from television or your own
memories. She was in many ways a bundle of contradictions.She was the ultimate
establishment person, the ultimate insider. She had been Labour Minister, Foreign Minister, Prime Minister, in authority in the Histadrut
before there was a state. You couldn’t get more in than that and yet in some
ways in many ways really she was also an outsider, she was a woman in a world that
was dominated and very much of a man’s world. She was also a woman who came from
the United States she was born in Kiev of course but she came to the United
States when she was 8 years old and lived here until she was 23. She was
the only one of the founders of the State of Israel who did not leave a
country because the Jews were being persecuted, she left the country of
opportunity a land where my grandparents and many of yours came because they
could succeed here they could get ahead. She left it because of her own ideals
but the fact that she came from America and was a woman made her not quite part
of that insider group of the founders of Israel. Another contradiction, in many
ways go the led what we would call modern life, a feminist life, she was
married she had an illegal abortion in the early years of her marriage. She then was
separated from her husband they didn’t ever get a divorce but they were
separated legally for many years and that since she became a single mother
raising her two children. She worked throughout her marriage, she had romances
she was a very modern woman in many ways a very feminist woman and yet she
rejected the feminist movement of the 1970s that I was involved in many of you
as well. Now that doesn’t mean she didn’t care about women she cared very much
about women. When she was Labour Minister she literally pushed through against
male opposition to laws that protected working women that gave working mothers
maternity pay maternity leave which is something most states don’t even have
today here in the United States and then there was a story that she loved to tell
she told it over and over again so I will tell it to you. In the early years
of the state there had been a spate a series of rapes of sexual assaults in
the large cities and the legislature to protect women wanted to pass a law that
would give that would give women curfew so they would not go out at night, you
got it. Angada said it’s the men who are doing
the raping let them have the curfew. So she cared very much about women and yet
as I say she rejected the women’s movement from the 1970s and I would say
that I’ve come to think that there were two reasons why she rejected
it. One was she was a very ambitious woman she would never admit to that, she would never say she you know actually consciously tried to get ahead
but she did and she did was not satisfied to stay within the woman’s
world. There were women who were really feminist and did very important
things as feminists, probably very few of you know their names. Chana
Chizik, Ada Maimon, Rachel Yanait, they were women who
worked very hard on developing women’s agricultural farms in pre state Israel
and today there are women in Israel who are writing biographies of these women.
But you all heard of Golda Meir, she got where she wanted to go in that wider
world, beyond that Golda Meir was a socialist she could not really talk
theory that wasn’t a thing she wasn’t that well educated but she truly
believed that the gap in incomes should be closed that they
should be equality that all people should be equal and she really felt that
there should be no need for a separate movement for women
because when socialism really reigned women would be equal with everybody else
they didn’t need a separate movement and this she was very contrasted with Shulamit Aloni, which is a name some of you may know. Shulamit Aloni was about 20
years younger than Golda, very active as a feminist and a civil rights worker in
Israel. One would have thought that these two very strong women would be good
friends but they were adversaries they hated each other, basically.
Shulamit thought, who I interviewed a great length, thought Golda
because Shulamit was very well educated, she was a lawyer,
she’s thought Golda was a bore, Golda did not have much education. Golda
thought Shulamit was bourgeois, Shulamit would say and she
always told this to everybody, when Shulamit would speak “I” this… Golda would say
“we don’t say ‘I’ we say ‘we'” because she believed that society needed
to be “we”, a socialist society and that was a good part of her opposition to the
feminist movement. Another contradiction, Golda presented herself politically as
this mother of all the Jewish people and in many ways as a very maternal or as a
Jewish mother, a Yiddish mama in many ways and whenever she was
interviewed by newspapers she would speak about a chicken soup recipe and
thousands of people would write in to get that recipe and her office had it
all written up ready to mail out to anybody who wrote in for it. It’s before
Passover now so I will tell you that I put that recipe in my book but don’t
bother looking for it it’s really lousy, it’s nothing much. So she
she presented herself in this way and liked that image of herself but she could
be so tough, she could be cruel to people that she didn’t like, she could hold a
grudge forever, she could be intimidating. I interviewed Yossi Sarid. who had become
important in the Meritz party and he told me that as a young man he had worked
for Golda and whenever he had to go see her, particularly if he didn’t
agree with her on something, he would stand in front of the mirror and look
himself in the eye and say “You can do it Yossi, you can do it.” And even then, he
was intimidated to go see her, she could be intimidating. But perhaps the
greatest contradiction in her life and a tragedy of her life is that here in the
United States and in many lands around the world Golda Meir is a revered figure
and looked up to and admired particularly in this day of women
accomplishing so much in her own country, in Israel she became a controversial
figure and she became controversial for a number of reasons but very largely, but
not completely, but largely and Saul mentioned the Yom Kippur War, I’m going
to speak about that a little bit later, but I would just say she became
controversial because in large measure because of the Yom Kippur
War because that war in 1973 Golda was Prime Minister, buck stops here as it
were. But because Israel won that war but in lost 2,600 soldiers, a very large
number for Israel. It was taken by surprise by the combined forces of Egypt
and Syria unprepared and the country was left with a sense of vulnerability, that it didn’t have before. As head of the state Golda was held
responsible and as I said we’ll come back to that but in the large measure
those feelings continue today I think unfairly but they do continue
today and that’s one of the reasons why she is so respected here but not that
respected there. Golda’s life itself reads almost like fiction, she was
born in Kiev as I said, in 1898 she had an older sister Shana who was nine years
older than she. Between Shana’s birth and Golda’s birth
her parents gave birth to 4 babies all of them boys all of whom died in
childhood so when Golda came she was very much
welcomed by her parents until her younger sister kind of pushed her aside.
But Shana her older sister became her mentor her ideal sort of a second mother
and Golda followed in Shana’s steps and even later when Golda became Golda Meir, the famous Golda Meir, and Shana was still Shana, Golda always said that
the approval, the feelings, the attitude of Shana mattered more to her than
anything and to get Shana’s approval, and Shana was even tougher than Golda,
to get Shana’s approval meant the world to her. In 1906 the
family, Golda’s mother and Golda and her two sisters came to the United States
and settled in Milwaukee where her father had come before her. This was
something I gave quite a bit of thought to and particularly in terms of politics
what did it mean that the family settled in the Midwest in Milwaukee and not in
New York or Chicago or other big cities where so many of our parents and
grandparents settled and came and lived in. Those cities had dark
tenements, very little open space. In Milwaukee, Golda’s family was very poor, they lived in the ghetto, the Jewish ghetto of
Milwaukee. Nevertheless Milwaukee was a socialist
city. They had a socialist mayor and a socialist administration. Golda had
joined the Po’alei Zion, which was a socialist Zionist party that her sister
Shana had been active in, so she was inclined
that way and actually Milwaukee had a strong social Zionist party; but the
socialism of Milwaukee reinforced her own
socialist attitude and she never got beyond that. She really loved what she
learned in Milwaukee and and really absorbed that. And even more along with
that Milwaukee was in a sense in those days on the frontier, on the American
frontier, there was that sense of hard work, you work really hard and you get
what you work for. And Golda always had that attitude.
She was the hardest working of anybody in the Israeli government, took on any
job there was to take on. And even beyond that, there was that sense of the
frontier moving outward, there’s a sense of optimism in Milwaukee, in the country
as a whole at that time. And Golda always spoke of herself as an optimist. A Jew,
she would say, does not have the luxury of not being an optimist. In Milwaukee, Golda left for a while, her sister contracted tuberculosis, Shana.
She went to live in Denver Colorado which had two big Jewish tubercular
hospitals. And Golda came to live with her sister for a little while. At her
sisters table, at her home, there was a gathering of the intellectual Jews of
the consumptive hospitals, the same Jews who would gather on the Lower East Side
in New York arguing about everything, any issue that was going on in the world. And
Golda, the young girl that absorbed much of that, it was her opening, her opening to
understanding politics, to understanding world events. In Denver also, Golda met
the man she would marry. His name was Morris Meyerson and he was a sign painter. He was not any more educated than Golda but, Golda was
very taken with him because he loved music. He was very cultured, he loved
music, he loved reading, he loved books. I mean, he opened up that world to Golda that she had had nothing of. Her family was good enough, but there was no there were
no books in her home, no books at all in her home. And music was something they
didn’t have the luxury of listening to. So she was very taken with Morris
Meyerson. All of her life, Golda would be attracted to men who were very cultured, who
were very intellectual. I’m looking at your faces and I’m seeing that you’re
thinking Golda Meir was attracted to men, Golda Meir had affairs. Well, she
did. So first of all I will tell you that the men themselves were not so gorgeous
either and second of all she was very attractive as a young woman, very
good-looking and had tremendous charisma. So men were always very attracted to her.
But at this point, she and Morris were in love and married and her name
became now from Golda Mabovitch, her birth name, she became Golda
Meyerson. In all the documents, I read thousands of documents in Hebrew and in English, and in
the documents, so many of them, refer to Mrs. Meyerson because that’s you know
she was for a very long time. She did not become Golda Meir until 1956 when
David Ben-Gurion made her change her name – Hebraicize her name – but at
this point she was Golda Meyerson. Well, Golda and Morris decided to go live in
the Land of Israel. I’m gonna have a little drink now. Morris was not a Zionist. Golda
was a very committed Zionist, and he if he wanted to have her as his wife he
knew he had to go to live with her in pre state Israel and British mandated
Palestine. And this was something else that I gave quite a bit of thought to.
What did these young people know about this land that they were going to. They
knew that it would be very difficult to live there, that it would be very
harsh. But they had no idea of how difficult. They had spoken to “shlichim” –
emissaries – who came, they read some books, but they had no idea what it was meant
to build cities on sand dunes for example. They knew there was another
people living in that land. There were Arabs, there had been Arab rebellions,
had an Arab protests. They knew that but they believed, as did for example, Theodor
Herzl, that with time the Arabs would come to accept them.
After all, they were bringing with them Western ways. You know there are new
ways of agriculture, new ways of farming, why would that not be accepted. Well as
we know, the Arabs had their own culture and they were not accepting that. Another
mistake they made, there was at that time a big Yiddishist movement in the United
States. There was this idea that all the Jews in the world were going to be
speaking Yiddish. Golda and her friends, although they spoke
Yiddish at home, spoke English to each other. They were American kids. They began
speaking Yiddish and writing to each other in Yiddish, learning Yiddish
as well as they could. And of course, when they came to Palestine, and some
of her friends went with her and Shana with her, they discovered that Hebrew was
the language of the land. There was a renaissance of people there. New
words were being created, it was such excitement about Hebrew. And Gold was at
a great disadvantage. She was sent at one point early on to speak at a
conference. She showed leadership abilities quite early. And she was sent
to speak at a conference in Tel-Aviv and she spoke in Yiddish. And after that she
was sent to a conference in Degania, which was the first
Labour Party’s kibbutz – agricultural settlement – and she began to speak in
Yiddish and one of the kibbutzniks got up and shouted at her, “No, it was bad
enough you spoke Yiddish in Tel Aviv and Degania, no”. And Golda was humiliated
but she had to go on in Yiddish. Well of course over the years she learned Hebrew because she lived in Palestine and then Israel of course. But she never became
proficient in Hebrew the way she was in Yiddish or English. She just never
quite mastered the language. And for me it was very good because when I was
reading documents in Hebrew, and if it was something Golda said I can always
understand it very easily. It was like my American Hebrew. But she really struggled
with that. In fact, you know Abba Eban, who, Abba Eban “the great intellectual”, said
about Golda jokingly, “it’s bad enough that she has a limited vocabulary of
2,000 words but why doesn’t she at least use those 2,000 words”.
Golda got back at him a little later when she was told that he speaks
five languages and she shrugged and she said “well so does the waiter at the King
David Hotel”. But Golda struggled and learned Hebrew. Morris and Golda
settled at first in Merhavia, kibbutz. Golda loved kibbutz life, Morris
hated it. And they left because at this point the marriage is beginning to fray, Golda wanted to keep it together. And they left and they went to live in
Jerusalem, both of them working for the Histadrut in very low level positions
in the Public Works Department. And then Golda gave birth to their two children
Menachem and Sarah and stayed home. And now they became so poor, so abjectly
poor, that Golda took in laundry from the local nursery school scrubbing diapers,
scrubbing sheets, just to make a few extra lira to feed the children. And then around 1927-28 a man named David Remez, who would later become one
of Golda’s lovers, and I believe the great love of her life.
David Remez who at this point had a high position in the Histadrut –
the labor union, the general labor union that ran everything in the country.
David Remez offered Golda a position working with the Women’s Workers Council
which was the women’s labor union, but it was very closely connected with Histadrut.
And later becoming head of the Pioneer Women which today is called Na’amat, the pioneer women here in the United States. Golda accepted this position took
the children and went to live in Tel- Aviv. And that was the beginning of the
end of her marriage, it ended ten years later. And now began for Golda a real
climbing within the Histadrut, climbing the ladder, taking on one more positions.
At one point she she must have had five jobs at one time, six jobs at one
time. Anything that needed to be done Golda took on. And she also began
traveling to raise money in the United States and then to have the Pioneer
Women to teach them about women in in Palestine and to help raise
money there. And she went back and forth back and forth leaving her children
sometimes for nine months at a time. The children resented it tremendously when
they were young. By the time I met them I got to know them very well. They accept it,
they thought you know look what she had accomplished and they were not
complaining and they were defending her also because of negative things being
said about her. But that’s what she did back and forth and gradually rose
within Histadrut and within then Mapai party, the Labour Party. She was
always connected with the Labour Party. The Mapai was an earlier name, Po’alei Zion was the name outside of Israel, always at the Labor Party. Later it
became the Labour Party. And so she rose in this. In 1938 Golda was sent, and she
spoke about this as a turning point in her life, she was sent to a conference on
Avion on the shores of Lake Geneva. It was a conference that Franklin Roosevelt had
convened. There was no state yet so she was not an official delegate, she was a
representative. And this was a conference to decide what to do about the refugees -these were Jewish refugees- what to do about the refugees that were now
wandering around Europe that were being, at this point the Final Solution
have not yet been worked out. But these were refugees that were thrown out of
their countries. Austria had already been invaded or they knew enough to get
out, but where were they to go? And he convened a conference of 32 Nations. 31 of
them had all sorts of excuses why they couldn’t take the Jews: we have enough
Jews, we don’t want a Jewish problem, oh they were all professional to it what we
do with all those professionals, or we just don’t want Jews. The 32nd nation, the
Dominican Republic offered to take in a hundred thousand Jews to work land that
was very very difficult to work. A few Jews did go there and if any of you ever go to the Dominican Republic there was a synagogue that celebrates
those Jews. But all of the others refused to take any more. And Golda listened with
tears running down her eyes and held a news conference afterwards. And she said
to the people interviewing, her, the people talking to her, she said “I only hope
to live long enough to see the time when the world will not feel sorry for my
people.” In looking back years later, she spoke of this as a turning point in her
life. She spoke to a young journalist and she said, ” you know, it was not as if those
people were anti-semites. They knew how bad Hitler was. They knew that this was
very difficult, and yet they couldn’t find it in their hearts or their homes
to take in the Jews”. And she said “from that that I learned a lesson that I always
carried with me. It’s true that we will need to have friends in the world but
bottom line in the end we need to depend only on ourselves.” In 1939, as you know, was when the second world war broke out. And now Golda and others within Mapai – Mapai was the
party that controlled everything in pre-state Israel- the decision was what
to do with the limited resources they had. How could they help in this terrible
event that was going on in Europe, how could they help? What could they do? One
of the things they did, at that very time as you also know, England passed its
white paper which was limiting, restricting the number of Jews that be
coming to the Land of Israel. So one of the things they did was they created
what was called the Mossad L’aliyah Bet, an alternative aliyah, an alternative
way of getting Jews in which was to sneak them in. To get run down ships that
they rehabilitated and to sneak them in in the evenings. The British, of course,
called it illegal immigration. And what interested me was that Golda was at the
center of this. It’s something I never knew before,
but her home in Tel Aviv became a center where messages were sent out to these
boats that were sneaking in at night. Codes and messages and shortwave radios,
in her little home in Tel Aviv. But beyond that, Golda was a very strong
advocate to use whatever resources there were to help the Jews of
Europe. And this became now, I don’t know if I’d say philosophical, but a question
within the issue this free state Israel at this point. And the question was what
to do with these resources. So David Ben-Gurion and Eliezer Kaplan who was
the treasurer of the Jewish Agency, and another man named Grunbaum, felt very
strongly that there wasn’t that much they could do to really help the Jews
and so all the resources should be used to build up the land and of Israel, to build
up this what will be a pre-state Israel and then would be a state, they hope. To
use the resources for that to keep building settlements.
And Golda and David Memmis and other, but Golda in particular, felt so strongly
that whatever resources they had should be used to help save Jews. “There is no
Zionism now,” she said, “except for saving Jews, except for the rescue of Jews, that
is Zionism.” And the sad thing is that they were both right and they were both
wrong. Because they were just a small group of people they had limited
resources, there were helpless basically. They did what they could, they send some
people behind the lines- behind the enemy lines- but it was a terrible terrible
time, well you know everybody, all Jews. But it was a terrible time for them
because where Golda spoke up is that cursed helplessness that they felt.
And that cursed helplessness became a motive in a way for their determination
to create a state of their own. They were building the infrastructure for state. But it was never clear would they remain a part of
a mandate, would they become part of a federation? But this cursed
helplessness was a driving force and their knowledge that they had to build a
state of their own. In 1947 as you know, then UN pasted this partition, a plan, a resolution and the Arabs rejected it, the Jews accepted it. David Ben-Gurion
knew that as soon as the state would be declared the Arabs were going to invade,
they were going to attack. And the Jews were desperate for money, desperate to have money to buy arms. At this point the Soviet Union was still a
friend of Israel, of pre-state Israel. Soviet satellites were willing to
sell arms to them but they needed money, they desperately needed money.
And so David Ben-Gurion sent Golda to the United States to raise money to buy arms.
A man who knew her very well, who had heard about her, had
heard about her as a “schnorrer”. That’s what he said, he’s heard about her as a “schnorrer” before
that. But looked back and thought about how Golda came to the United States on a
freezing cold day, freezing cold day in December. She had not a dime in her
pocket. She walked from the bus station to whichever she had to go. And she said
“I want to be on this program that’s being taken place in Chicago, of
well-heeled Jews who are having a luncheon, a UJA Federation luncheon, and I want to be
on that program.” And so she was put on the program. Nobody expected much of her. She described it, she stood in front of these people, her hair back in the bun, as you know her now, but she was a young woman
then. Not a speck of makeup, her knees were trembling, she said. Henry Montor,
who was the head of UJA Federation at that time, described what happened. She
spoke and she looked at the audience and she said, “You American Jews cannot tell
us, can not make the decision for us of whether we will fight or not. We will
fight even if we have to fight with stones. But you, American Jews, can make
the decision whether we will win or the Arabs will win.” And Montor said there
was a dead silence in the room when she finished, and then a standing ovation.
People applauding wildly and people throwing out pledges of money to help
Golda and the Jews. And she then traveled around the country with people from the
UJA. And when she finished, about a year later, she came back with 50 million
dollars, which was a huge amount of money in those
days. And they bought the arms from Czechoslovakia with that money. Later
Ben-Gurion would say, would write, that when history is written it will be said
that there was a Jewish woman who got the money that made made the state of Israel possible, and that was Golda. In 1949 Golda became the Labor
Minister of Israel. And aside from the what she did to pass the legislation for
women, she passed very important legislation,
what’s called the National Insurance Act, that became the basis of Israel Social
Security system to this day. It was very progressive. In 1956 she became the
Foreign Minister of Israel. David Ben-Gurion was not happy with
Moshe Sharett, with the Foreign Minister, he was too moderate for Ben-Gurion.
Ben-Gurion liked all this activism and he
manipulated so that Golda could be placed Moshe Sharett.
Moshe Sharett never forgave her for that. But she became Foreign Minister. And she was the only woman Foreign Minister in the world at that time, the first and only.
And whenever newspaper reporters would say to her “Mrs”, and they would all the
time, “Mrs. Meir”, and her name became Meir now, “Mrs. Meir, what is it like to be the
only woman Foreign Minister in the world?” She would reply, “I don’t know, I’ve never
been a man.” And then in 1969 she became Prime Minister of Israel. As Prime
Minister of Israel, Levi Eshkol had died
suddenly there was a struggle between two young men -Moshe Dayan and Allon – Yigal Allon – and Golda was in a sense the compromise person to take
over. She was now in her seventies and she was spoken of as an interim Prime
Minister but once she took over it became very clear that this powerhouse
of a woman was running her party and running the government and was not about
to leave. But now we will come back to the Yom Kippur War. As you know in 1967 Israel conquered the territories that is still
controversial today. Anwar Sadat was the Prime Minister, was the President of
Egypt, and he was willing to talk peace to Israel if they would first return
everything that they had conquered, everything, and ensure the rights of
the Palestinian refugees. Nobody, not even the most left-wing
person in the government, was willing at that point to give back everything
without negotiations. And Golda was certainly not willing to do that. I want
to just say, I make this very clear, Golda was not a Messianic Jew, she
was not, she did not believe in a “greater Israel”. She did not believe that Israel needed to keep all the territories. She cared about security more
than about anything. She felt that parts of those territories
needed to be kept for security reasons and only for security reasons. She always
worried about too many Arabs and demography. But they were not going
to give everything back. There was an idea at the time that Sadat kept threatening war if they didn’t give it back. But there was
what they call the conception, an idea, that Egypt would not go to war against
Israel until it got Scud missiles from the Soviet Union, which had now reversed
itself and now was a friend of the Arabs not of the Jews any longer. Until they
got Scud missiles that could hit Israel itself from the Soviet Union. I mean
Syria would not go to war without Egypt. And Golda was reassured time and
again by high General Moshe Dayan and Ari Zaia who was the head of Aman, the
Israel military intelligence forces that there’s no way
there will not be a word it’s a low probability of words a term that was
used and go the question this many times and I think many Israelis don’t realize
first of all how many times she questioned is in second of all
how many times she would now have come out through documents that were not
known and I found much of this how many times she tried to make peace beforehand
she sent messages decide that the Romanian government, to the German
government, through the American government but he would not respond
unless they were going to agree to give back everything and so she was
trying to do that and she was being reassured by her generals that there was
a low probability of war few things before the war actually broke out a
whole bunch of hundreds, thousands of Soviet advisers in Egypt and Syria were
being shipped home very quickly and the Golda was worried about what is this
about not to worry maybe they think we’re
going to miss strike first doesn’t mean that there’s going to be a war in her
life no that was very concerned about this and then they were told they had a
spy who told them that the war would break out that day but it would be at
night the would broke at two o’clock in the afternoon Israel was unprepared they
had just begun to mobilize their soldiers, the machinery was not in place
and Golda said well her life she blamed herself because she said: “all my life I
followed my own intuition and when it really mattered I listened to other
people” and she said I will never again be the person I was before the Yom Kippur War and she was not that person again. Nevertheless, during the Yom Kippur
War Golda held the nation together when
Moshe Dayan who was shocked at how strong Egypt now was when Moshe Dayan
fell apart completely. Well as I say Israel won that war but there was such a
negative feeling in the country about what had happened and such a sense that
of failure that they had failed to be prepared when they should have been such
a sense of vulnerability and one of these people killed that go there was
I’d say I don’t know it’s [not understandable] did but she was someone pushed out of office,
Moshe Dayan resigned at first and then Golda resigned. Before she resigned
she had negotiated with Henry Kissinger who was now Secretary of State of the
United States always doing shuttled among them the promises as many of you
might remember Golda had negotiated with Kissinger to do a separation of
troops between Egypt and Israel. It was the beginning of what would become later
a peace treaty but if this was the being just the separation of troops and then
when she resigned before Itzhak Rabin took over she negotiated with Kissinger
again to do a separation of troops between Syria and Israel because at this
point Israel had actually won the war in many ways. And the negotiations were
very difficult because Kissinger did not want Israel to walk off with great
conquest as they had in ’67. And the negotiations were really difficult and they
were at each other’s throats and at one point Kissinger looked at Golda and he
said: “Madame Prime Minister, some of you may have heard this, “madame Prime Minister
I am an American first, a Secretary of State second and a Jew only last” and
Golda said “well that’s okay Henry and Hebrew we read from right to left.” So they
did do that separation of troops. And that was the beginning of
what would become under Rabin, you know, really a much better armistice that
lasted until very recent times. Then Golda retired but she stayed involved.
As difficult as it was, as much as that young people who had wiped her out in
many ways, she stayed involved, she went back to the United States, she raised
money as she always had, she met with President Ford, she kept involved. And when Sadat came to Israel, 1977, on his historic
visit to Israel, she was at the tarmac to meet him
along with Israeli officials. And when she met him he looked at her and he said
“Mrs. Meir I have wanted to meet you for a very long time” and she said “Well why
didn’t you come earlier?” And he said “The time was not yet ripe.” he needed this
work to equalize things so that the Arabs would not be bargaining from
a humiliating position as they would have been after the ’67 War. Golda
died in 1978 of lymphoma which she had been fighting for 15 years. Nobody knew
about it but it was a very serious disease and she died in 1978. And so who
was this person? Who was she as a political figure, as a leader? She was
very fluid in many ways. She, aside from being talkative as she could be, she
didn’t quite understand the Mizrahim, the Jews who came from Arab lands. She
was an Ashkenazi Jew and when she tried to help them she never quite could get into
their heads and many of them turned to Menachem Begin. They helped defeat the
Labour Party, the Israel Labour Party. She certainly did not understand
Palestinian nationalism nor at that time did most people. The Palestinians were
spoken of as refugees even by the UN and negotiations were done with
Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, you know with the Arab states. Nevertheless she was a
leader. She was a woman of great moral vision, the great moral practice, which is
something we don’t see that much either in Israel, in any country, these days. She
had very strong beliefs and very strong convictions and she acted on that and
she helped people achieve what they wanted because she felt so strongly
about it. She loved Israel and she loved all
of the Jewish people. And those were feelings that guided her and they helped
guide the country. And now we’re going to have a final word
from her and then I would just say, wrap it up with one sentence. Another piece of
an interview: Do you have any words of wisdom for
other people who have retired and find themselves in perhaps the similar
position as yours? [Meir:] I have no words of wisdom. All I can say is that every person should find
the thing in life which is most vital to him outside of his own family life. But
in addition to that there must be something that one wants in the world. You
know, in Hebrew the word holem, the dreamer, and the word lohem, the fighter,
have exactly the same letters, only one one place they change, but the same
letters. And I have interpreted, and I’m not a Hebrew scholar, that only one who
dreams the great dream finds that’s important enough and sometimes essential
to fight for the realization of that dream. I pity people that don’t have
dreams, great dreams of great things to come and that believe in them. I believe
that the fate of my people depends upon sovereignty reestablished. [Walters:] Mrs. Meir, at 78 you still have your dreams and perhaps that’s the secret of your greatness. [Pam Nadell:] There was something called Black Sabbath that Francine has
written about extraordinarily beautifully and the British arrested
essentially the entire Jewish leadership of the Yeshuv but they didn’t arrest Golda.
And she uses it then, right? [Klagsbrun:] Well, actually, she was a little upset that she
wasn’t arrested and David Ben-Gurion’s wife Paula used to call her up and say “Golda,
you’re still home?” But it was it was very good for Golda. And even years later
she made, she would make excuses about why she wasn’t arrested, but it was very
good for her because they arrested all everybody who was in power and she
became the acting political head of the Yeshuv because there was nobody else
and she was of course qualified. So it worked in her favor. But she
did use – you know the thing about Golda is people think, you know, this woman,
whatever, she doesn’t look so feminine, she cried, she cried, she did cry, like, she
loved five hanky movies. But she cried also when it would help to cry. You
know, which was just something that she did. She, I would say also, she used the
language of well, you know, domestic language which we associate with women.
For example her closest advisers were called Golda’s kitchen. Now a kitchen
is a term that is associated, certainly in those days, with women, but she used it
so it was a kitchen where you mix up things but it also was a very powerful
kitchen. It was a power term. So she knew how to use it both ways. But I also want
to say, you know, when I said that the Yom Kippur War was really the main reason
for the negative feelings in Israel today against her, there were also feelings
against her as a woman and a lot of these young men – I mean, when she was in
office everything was okay. It was after she died, some of the young men like Yossi
Savid and others who had worked for her and hated working for a woman and
hated working with this tough woman, they began writing many negative things about
her and there’s, as you well know, the terminology that you might use for
a man. A man is, you know, very authoritative; for the woman she’s
arrogant. You know, a man is sure of himself, confident; the woman is
self-righteous. And a lot of those terms got connected with Golda that, I think
unfairly – she was no doll, she was one tough woman. But I think unfairly. [Nadell:] Yeah I agree. Should we open it up to questions? [Klagsbrun:] Yes, there’s a question right here [Nadell] I think they’ll bring mics around so… [Audience member]: Thank you very much. One fact caught my attention and I wonder if you left it out on purpose. If I’m not mistaken one
of the reasons that Golda held back in 1973 was that Nixon had refused to
support Israel if Israel took the first blow, if Israel attacked first.
So she was obligated to wait. [Klagsbrun:] Yeah it was not Nixon, it was really Kissinger. What you’re talking about is a preemptive strike, and you know, they had spoken about a
preemptive strike and she is sometimes blamed that Israel should have done a
preemptive strike, you know, before they were attacked, attack the
other country. So there were two things involved: one is that had happened in ’67
and Golda did not want the world thinking once again, blame Israel for
striking first. Secondly, that Kissinger, was more Kissinger than Nixon, had said we
will not support you if you strike first. And Golda knew that they would need the
support of the United States in this battle and that was the other
reason. And I would say there was another reason and this is something that’s not connected with that, but the fact is that Egypt and Syria were prepared for a
preemptive strike. I mean they knew that this time Israel could do that. There were
what they call “missile shields” when Israel’s planes, when
the war broke out, went toward Egypt those missile shields destroyed the planes.
So had Israel struck, tried to strike preemptively, it’s very questionable whether
they would have lost more planes, whether they would have lost more – because I
think these countries were really more prepared than anyone expected them to be at that point. [Audience member:] Thank you. There’s a play called “Golda’s Balcony”
and the discussion there was about a nuclear attack. How close did Golda come to releasing Israel’s nuclear capacity? Did you find any papers on it? Did
you have any thoughts about it? Thank you. [Klagsbrun:] Yeah well I hate to knock a play that Tova felt she was wonderful in but the premise of the play was wrong. This
isn’t what happened. Israel was not close to using its nuclear capacity. It had
that capacity. I interviewed Henry Kissinger about this. I actually spent
quite a bit of time with him. Now I’m not saying you can believe anything that
Kissinger tells you but in this point I really did believe him. For one thing he
said, you know, the question was in the play, Dinitz, Golda’s ambassador,
threatens Kissinger that we will use it and the play is based on a book called “The Samson Option.” And I think the premise of the book is wrong as well.
So, Kissinger said, you know, for one thing they never threatened the United
States. If Israel at that point and even today is very cagey about its nuclear
capacity, particularly at that point It’s at what they call the opacity, you
know, it’s opaque. So if they were to threaten the United States they would
have to openly say, you know, “we have the nuclear bomb” and that would
open up a whole kettle of fish. It would have to be discussed not just by
Kissinger or even Nixon alone but by the National Security Committee, by all sorts
of other things and then the world would now know openly something that Israel, you
know, wanted to keep secret. It would put Israel in a very dangerous position. So he said, “Absolutely not. They never ever threatened United States.” And he said, “you can talk to James Schlesinger if you want to.” James Schlesinger was a defense
minister. “Because we didn’t get along so you know he might tell you.
Ask him because even though we didn’t get along he’ll agree with me.”
So I did. I arranged an interview with James Schlesinger and Shlesinger agreed with him. He said, “There was no way. Israel was not
threatening the United States.” He said “However, it was possible to the best of my knowledge…” which makes me think he knew because he was a
defense secretary – “the best of my knowledge Moshe Dayan positioned
missiles that they had, the Jericho missile which could hold nuclear weapons,
in a way that Egypt could recognize that these weapons were there, that
Israel had this capacity. Because at this point there was some evidence that the
Soviet Union was sending nuclear directed – I don’t know the exact
terminology – weapons, beginning to send them to Egypt. And Dayan wanted Egypt to
know, “You think you’re getting these little weapons, you know, from the Soviet
Union. We have the real thing. So he may have done that, but as far as
threatening – that was not done and not only that. After I wrote the book an
interview that I didn’t have in the book because I had already written it came
out – or not an interview but an incident – where apparently Moshe Dayan raised the
issue of using unconventional weapons, nuclear weapons, in this war and Golda
and the cabinet will horrified at the idea and they said absolutely not and
they would not even think of it. Now if Golda really thought – I’ve thought
about this a number of times – if they really thought that they were going to
be destroyed would they have used
their nuclear ability? I don’t know. There was something they knew – bottom line, they knew that America was not gonna let Israel get destroyed. So from that point
also they would not have threatened using the nuclear weapons. [Nadell:] While we’re waiting for the next question, I’m really curious. Were
there – because you you interviewed such extraordinary international figures for
this book – were there interviews that you wanted that you weren’t able to get? [Klagsbrun:] People who had died
[audience laughter] And actually I really was close to getting Ariel Sharon and then he had a stroke. Yeah, I mean, I think that the world
leaders – so many people were gone. Otherwise it was not bad. I mean, you know,
I used pull, as Jews do, to get to Kissinger and to get Schlesinger, you know, to get to those big shots and Shimon
Peres, whom I did interview also. But there were so many people, you know, who had
passed away who I would have liked to speak to. And I have to say so many
of the people I interviewed passed away. It took me forever to write this book, but
nevertheless you know, so many people I interviewed passed away afterwards. Her
children who I did get to know quite well both died. I know the grandchildren but the children have both died. And many others and it’ made me very sad. [Nadell:] Makes the book all the more
valuable to have this material. Another question from the audience. [Audience member:] Hi. I knew her personally and she was
really unpleasant. Tough. I rarely – even when she laughed, it was a, like a cynical
laugh. It wasn’t, you know, somebody happy. I knew her obviously a little bit
later in life in the 60s and 70s, but she also used her womanly thing. She dressed
up as an Arab woman, all-black, and she met King Abdullah, the grandfather of the
current king, after the War of Independence. [Klagsbrun:] It was before the world,
yeah. [Audience member:] ’48. So she I mean she did use it. And the stories about her affairs in
Israel, really…. and I couldn’t understand how such an ugly
woman – unpleasant woman – could have affairs, but… [Klagsbrun:] As I said the men were not
gorgeous either but… As far as the Abdullah story, I mean it’s in very, it’s
a wonderful story. It was, she went to see King Abdullah twice before the
independence war at Ben-Gurion’s request to try to get him and Jordan not to join that
war because Jordan had the best army among the Arab nations. And the first
time she went to see him he was very cordial and very “yes” and he treated her
very nicely and so on and promised that they would not and they would not even
let another nation goes through their land and then just shortly before the
war she had a very worrisome feeling and this time he didn’t want to just meet
her openly as he had before that. She got dressed as an Arab woman and went
with an Arabist in the Israel government who dressed as her husband, an Arab man and went secretly to see Abdullah. And this time Abdullah said, “Well I was alone then. I was
one person then and now I’m one of five” – the other nations. And he feared
for his own life and he was assassinated anyway. But he feared for his own life
that he couldn’t separate himself and do what he had promised to do and he lost a great deal during that war. But I will say this. We talked about you
know being blamed as a woman. Later, he and some others said “Oh had a man come
to see him, this wouldn’t have happened, he would have given him.” The fact was
what he wanted – he wanted a federation. Now Jordan would be at the center of it
and Israel would just wait. They would be part of a larger Arab Federation – have
autonomy but a part of a federation. And he said “Why are you in such a hurry Mrs.
Meir” – or, she was Mrs. Meyerson then – “why are you in such a hurry, Mrs. Myerson?” And
she said “A people who have waited 2,000 years for their homeland again are
not in much of a hurry and we can’t accept this.” But he said “had
a man…” but there was no way. Nobody would have given in to his
request – no man or woman. But again she was blamed as a woman for that. [Audience member:] I have
two questions. I wonder if you can tell us what happened to Golda’s kids,
what sort of lives did they lead? And also my understanding is that during the
war Golda Meir was the strongest or the most becalm – calmest – in the cabinet,
and I wonder if you would comment on that. [Klagsbrun:] First, her children. Her son became a
cellist. They didn’t go into politics at all. Her daughter went to live on a kibbutz
and lived on a kibbutz ’til quite late in life. I met her when she
had left the kibbutz, Revivim was the name of the kibbutz. Golda used to
visit there very frequently and in fact they have a room now – if you ever go
there – they have a room set up to show you the room that Golda stayed in when she
visited this kibbutz Revivim. And the grandchildren also have not gone
into politics – any of them. One of them lives here in the United States.
He’s a math teacher. The others – one is a researcher in Israel, another one is a
harpsichordist. So they kind of followed their father or grandfather’s ways. None
of them – I think when she used to leave them, the children when they
were young, it really made a bad impression and it was – they really had
a very hard life because of that But as I say, they came to really admire her later. By the time I met her you couldn’t say one negative word to them
about her. I mean they would really… You couldn’t even say she never read a book. “What do you mean my mother never read a book?” They were very defensive. But they
really, they really did admire her. The second question was about during the
Yom Kippur War? She, first of all, she made very important military decisions which
is not something you expect – you had mentioned – civilian to be able to make military decisions. And she, you know, they
would come to her for military decisions and, for example, when Israel
had begun winning the war, there was a question whether they should send
troops to the north to the Golan, to where the Syrian forces were.
They were moving toward Damascus. They doing very well. Should they
send reinforcements there or should they send them to the south where they were
fighting Egypt? They knew there was going to be a UN armistice declared very
quickly, very soon. The UN – a ceasefire rather – very quickly and Golda
made the decision to send the troops up north because that way they would be so
close to Damascus they would really have something to show, some really strong
bargaining point. Whereas down south they had nothing specific to show. And she
made that decision and it was a very important decision. So that’s just one
of the kind of decisions that she’d make. She kept her calm. I mean she, the
first two days of the war were horrible and looked like Isreal was really losing
and Moshe Dayan kept saying “the fifth Commonwealth, the fifth temple
is being destroyed,” you know, they saw this is a continuation of the earlier
Commonwealth. And while Golda was just as terrified and she later said then on the
second day she thought about suicide – although I never believed that Golda Meir would seriously consider suicide – it was so bad. But she kept her calm for
the people and she spoke calmly to the nation and that helped the nation as a
whole. [Audience member:] I wanted to ask you about your passion, going back to Golda’s last
remarks about something that you believe. And you’re obviously passionate about
this subject. Are you working on something currently that has grabbed you? [Klagsbrun:] Yeah I’m supposed to be working on something presently. I mean it’s just at the
beginning of it. You know, I am talking to you instead of home working, right?
I was asked to, I don’t know if many of you are familiar with the Yale
University series of Jewish Lives, of small books, and I was asked to write a
biography of Henrietta Szold. And that’s going to be what I’m doing
next. [Nadell:] So from one great American Jewish woman to another. [Klagsbrun:] I feel that way, right. [Audience member:] Thanks very much
for this fascinating talk. I liked hearing especially about the
bits where you talk about the emergence of Golda as a leader, this very
unlikely leader, a female leader also. Even as a female leader someone who’s
brusque. I’d like to hear maybe a little bit more about how that emergence
took place. When did she find her own confidence or was it always there? When
did she find her own voice or was it always there? You described her rise in a
poor household so that couldn’t kind of have been there all along. Was it really
that just everyone got arrested and she was the only one left to show her
leadership skills? So I’d love any other anecdotes and when you’re done with that
I also love to hear about the sordid affairs and her great love. [audience laughter]
[Klagsbrun:] We’ll do the first one. You know, it’s very interesting because she often said that any new job she
took on she did it with great trembling and great fear, but I can understand that
because these jobs are so challenging. She was very stubborn from the time she
was a young child. She was really stubborn and wanted her own way and that
was part of it. That was part of the confidence that she had. Somebody
said to me, Amos Manor who was another man who died who I just adored. Amos had been head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal – like the CIA, I guess.
He said, “She wasn’t always right about her convictions but she truly believed her
convictions and in believing her convictions she gave the strength of the
country to believe them as well.” So I think there was an inner sense of
confidence that she could do it. She could do this. She could take on this
job. You know, when she became foreign minister, Moshe Sharett was furious
because Ben-Gurion manipulated things so that Sharett was out and
Golda was in and Sharett never forgave Golda for taking on this job.
“She should have said no” he said. But she had no training. She didn’t
have foreign affairs training, she didn’t have diplomatic training and many of the
people who had gone through that training really resented, you know,
people who even worked for her. But something in her – she knew she could do it. And she
did it in her own way. She didn’t do it as a conventional diplomat. She didn’t
use conventional diplomatic language. She was very straightforward or she said
what was on her mind and in very straightforward terms and this reached
people and it reached world leaders as well who respected her tremendously. So I
think there was some inner strength that she had. She was really – people say how
come and I don’t know the answer how come there has not been another woman
Prime Minister of Israel and how come she was able to do it? She was a
remarkable woman in her own way without the training. Now what was the other part about her affairs? David Remez? Which affair did you want, now? You know what, I really believe you have to document what you say. So I really could document three
affairs. I’m sure there were others as you said. There were a lot of other
rumors. I don’t know. It doesn’t mean that one of those were really
affairs but there were probably other men but David Remez was truly, I believe, the
love of her life and he was the man who first invited her to work for the
Women’s Workers Council and so on. And so look at him, really, he’s nothing much
to look at. But he was a very charming man and he had other women
before Golda. And I will say this. Every one of the male leaders of the
country had another woman. Every one of them, right?
Ben-Gurion, Weizmann, every one of them. So you know, Golda was one of the people.
She was one of them, she felt, why not lead this life? So she did. [Nadell:] Just shows you how modern it was, right? Okay we’ll take
one from over here. [Audience member:] Thank you. What do you think Golda would have
thought of today’s Israel and Netanyahu and what do you think her position would
have been on the whole Palestinian issue and settlements? [Klagsbrun:] I think she would have
hated what – I think she would have hated the power of the right wing and of
the religious parties. Golda as I said was a secular Jew. She was not a Messianic
Jew and she did not believe in a Greater Israel. She was willing to give back a
great deal, negotiate a great deal, give back of the conquered
territories. I think she would have been shocked at the extent of the settlements
today and I don’t think she would have been supportive of that or wanted that.
She really struggled with the right wing herself. One of the reasons she resigned
aside from – there were protests and so on – but after the Yom Kippur War she was
voted into office again and she had to put together a government. At this point
the Gush Emunim, which was the religious right, the young group of
religious right-wingers, had become quite powerful and they influenced the
National Religious Party which had been a party that always partnered, had always
been a coalition with the Labor Party, and she could not, she was struggled,
could not get together, could not put together a government because of the
influence of the Gush Emunim and the right-wing. So I don’t think she would be happy with the situation today. [Audience member:] Thank you. Clearly, going into this
book you had some ideas about Golda Meir and you did extensive research. I
was curious what you found most surprising in your research. Like, what
did you learn that you didn’t expect or that you didn’t know? [Klagsbrun:] Well I have to be
honest I really didn’t know very much. I mean I really didn’t. I went into this book
because an editor asked me. This is the story of my life. An editor as me to do it and I knew, I had this image also – a little bit off the
subject – but this image I had edited as you heard “Free to be You and Me.” Well I
would go to the Miss Office, that’s the feminist magazine and there would be
this big poster of Golda that some of you may remember that poster, was a big
poster of Golda smiling and with the words of the caption under it “But can
she type?” because that was what was expected of women then. So I saw her as,
you know, a groundbreaker in that way but I didn’t know that much, so almost
everything I learned was surprising to me. Much of what I learned as I said
about living in Milwaukee, how that influenced her. But I think the thing that
maybe surprised me the most was how really smart she was. She was a woman who
did not have much education. She had a high school education. That was that most
that she had. She never went beyond that. And she was not a great reader. You know she read a little, but she didn’t have time. But she made these
military decisions. She made other decisions. She was down to earth
in her decisions she could explain complicated things to the nation
that people didn’t understand otherwise. She was extremely smart and I didn’t
know, you know, I thought if I was this nice sort of Jewish mother but tough woman
and so on, I didn’t know how really intelligent she was and I think that was
maybe what surprised me the most. [Nadell:] One of the other things that I
think is so important in her biography that you write about are the American
years which people don’t really know a whole lot about. But her formative years
were in the United States. Do you think that American piece was really critical to her future success? [Klagsbrun] I do. I do think the American piece was – she was ambivalent or spoke
ambivalently – she loved America. She loved the democracy she learned
about. One of the things I did was I looked at the civics books that
she studied in school that in those days nobody was cynical or ironic about
patriotism. It was you know, everybody was patriotic and our country could do this,
and she was very taken with that. She was very taken with the Declaration of
Independence. When she signed Israel’s Declaration she thought about the
signers of the America’s Declaration of Independence and you know
how awed she had been by that and she had tears in her eyes. She was very taken
with American democracy, very, very much and she spent – I also laugh because
every time I’m looking, reading about it she’s in America again. She would go
every year except for the World War II years. She spent time every year,
a good part of every year in the United States raising money she cared very much about
that. She cared about American Jews but the other side of her was she didn’t
want Israelis to want to be Americans. You know, she didn’t want Israeli
kids for example to copy what she saw was negative, like when during
the 60s when we had the druggies and the flower children. She hated that and she
wanted to protect Israeli children, you know, from that she didn’t want them to
be influenced by that. When somebody raised the question of whether the
Beatles you know the Israeli government did not
allow the Beatles to come into the land so somebody raised the question with
Golda about letting the Beatles in and she looked at her assistant like, who
were the Beatles? She didn’t know any of that and she didn’t want any of that. And also when, for example, she was
in the States after the crash of 1929 and the Great
Depression, she came home and spoke to the people about that. She wanted
Israelis to be proud of being Isreali, not to be Americans. But she herself she
was very proud of being an Israeli and she gave up her American citizenship, but
she was very influenced by studies in America, by her growing up
here, and by the democracy, really by the democracy of America. [Nadell:] Yea, I think we really
see that. Another question? Another hand? oh okay over here. [Audience member:] How do you think she would react to the demise of the Labor Party and how do you
think she would explain it and address it? [Klagsbrun:] How would she react to the demise of the Labor Party? She was devastated. Menachem Begin, when they lost to Begin she was devastated. The Labour Party was her
whole life as I say. It began with Poale Zion and then Mapai and then Labor. She was
absolutely dedicated to the Labor Party and she really felt that this is
how the country should be led. She did not get along with Menachem Begin did
not like, really hated Likud, which is another reason why she
would be opposed to Netanyahu and if she knew today that the Labour Party was – let’s hope things change but the Labor Party is gone – she would be absolutely devastated.
I’m finding hard to believe that it was really from Begin’s day on that it really had fallen so low. [Nadell:] So before I invite Michael Brenner up to make a few closing remarks let me say
that Francine Klagsbrun will be signing copies of her book right
afterwards and would you please join me in thanking her for an extraordinary evening.

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