What Golda Meir Really Thought of Big Mizrahi Families

The prime minister's candid remarks were made public when the Israel State Archives released transcripts to mark 50 years since the launch of the Campaign to Eradicate Illiteracy.

Moshe Milner / GPO

Prime Minister Golda Meir was shocked by her visits in 1971 to two Mizrahi families in Jerusalem and the parents’ apparent willingness to have more.

Meir made the remarks at a session of the Prime Minister’s Committee for Children and Youth in Distress that she had set up. The transcript of the meeting was among the documents that were released Wednesday by the Israel State Archives to mark 50 years since the launch of the Campaign to Eradicate Illiteracy. The program focused on teaching Hebrew to adult immigrants.

“There’s another truth that’s not pleasant to mention,” Meir told the panel, describing a family with 10 children that had only recently moved from a one-and-a-half-room apartment to a four-room apartment on a doctor’s recommendation, in part because the father of the family has asthma. Both he and his wife sold produce in the city’s Mahane Yehuda market, Meir related.

“And though I didn’t ask them, I’d bet my head they can’t read or write. They’re at an age where they could have another 10 children,” Meir said.

“The man said to me, ‘You see, we love giving many children to the State of Israel.’

“Had I the courage and the honesty,” Meir continued, I would have said, ‘Leave that to others, you’ve done your part for the state, on behalf of the state I thank you, and now, for the sake of the state, focus on educating the children you already have.’ I think the oldest child was 12 or 13.

“But I didn’t say that, because I knew it would spark a firestorm, from a religious perspective, and also because they’d say, ‘She’s afraid the Mizrahi population will grow … only Ashkenazim should be allowed to have 10 children.’”

Meir also said she thought children from such families should be removed from their homes.

The anti-illiteracy program was launched after a survey showed there were some 250,000 adults in Israel who could neither read nor write.

The campaign, as part of which soldiers were dispatched to disadvantaged communities as teachers, continued to operate through the mid-1970s.