Born Golda Mabovitch on May 3, 1898, in Kiev, present-day Ukraine, Israel’s only woman prime minister has been called many things: a trailblazing Zionist lioness; the only “man” in David Ben-Gurion’s cabinet; but also, a failure for not properly preparing the country for the bloody Yom Kippur War; and a denier of Palestinian national rights.
Call her what you may, Meir was one of a kind – a dogged, imitiable, no-nonsense grandmotherly titan of Jewish history. In memory of what would have been her 117th birthday, here’s Golda, in her own words:
On the struggles – and triumphs – of womanhood:
1. “Not being beautiful was the true blessing. Not being beautiful forced me to develop my inner resources. The pretty girl has a handicap to overcome.”
2. “Fashion is an imposition, a rein on freedom.”
3. “A story once went the rounds of Israel to the effect that Ben-Gurion described me as 'the only man' in his cabinet. What amused me about is that he (or whoever invented the story) thought that this was the greatest compliment that could be paid to a woman. I very much doubt that any man would have been flattered if I had said about him that he was the only woman in the government!”
4. “Women's liberation is just a lot of foolishness. It's men who are discriminated against. They can't bear children.”
Israeli PM Golda Meir gestures at a news conference as she arrived for talks with U.S. President Nixon in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 26, 1973. (AP)
Ironwomen: Margaret Thatcher (L) meets Golda Meir in Tel Aviv, March 1976. (Moshe Milner/GPO)
On plucky little Israel:
5. “We Jews have a secret weapon in our struggle with the Arabs – we have no place to go.”
6. “We do not rejoice in victories. We rejoice when a new kind of cotton is grown and when strawberries bloom in Israel.”
7. “Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against Moses. He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil!”
8. "Above all, this country is our own. Nobody has to get up in the morning and worry what his neighbors think of him. Being a Jew is no problem here."
Golda Meir shakes hands with Moshe Sharett after signing Israel’s Declaration of Independence, in Tel Aviv, on May 14, 1948. (Frank Scherschel/GPO)
PM Golda Meir speaking at the United Nations, Oct. 22, 1970. (AP)
On Palestinians and the bane of war:
9. “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us." [The authenticity of this quote has been disputed.]
10. “There’s no difference between killing and making decisions by which you send others to kill. It’s exactly the same thing. And maybe it’s worse.”
11. “It is true we have won all our wars, but we have paid for them.”
12. “A leader who doesn't hesitate before he sends his nation into battle is not fit to be a leader.”
13. "It was not as if there was a Palestinian people in Palestine and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist."
Wartime leader: Israeli PM Golda Meir, accompanied by Ariel Sharon (L), visiting the IDF's Southern Command in the Sinai during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. (Tzion Yehuda/GPO)
PM Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan meet with Israeli soldiers at a base on the Golan Heights during the Yom Kippur War, Nov. 21 1973. (Reuters)
On Sephardi Israelis:
14. “They’re not nice" – after meeting leaders of Israel’s Sephardi Black Panthers movement in 1971, who were protesting endemic discrimination at the hands of Israel’s Ashkenazi establishment.
15. "We in Israel need immigrants from countries with a high standard, because the future of our social structure is worrying us. We have immigrants from Morocco, Libya, Iran, Egypt and other countries with a 16th century level. Shall we be able to elevate these immigrants to a suitable level of civilization?" – addressing the Zionist Federation of Great Britain in 1964.
An alley in Jerusalem's Musrara neighborhood, named after Golda's 1971 put-down of the Israeli Black Panthers. (Hedva Sanderovitz/Wikimedia Commons)
And on being old:
16. “Being seventy is no sin, but it’s not a joke either” – in response to comments on her relatively advanced age upon assuming the Israeli premiership in 1969.
17. “Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you’re aboard, there’s nothing you can do. You can’t stop the plane, you can’t stop the storm, you can’t stop time. So one might as well accept it calmly, wisely.”
Outgoing Israeli PM Golda Meir toasts her successor, Yitzhak Rabin, before leaving office, Jerusalem, June 1974. (AP)
An Israeli 10,000 shekel banknote from 1984 commemorating Golda Meir. (Dreamstime)
Tel Aviv street art depicting Zionist icons Golda Meir and Theodor Herzl (Yaffa Phillips/Flickr)
Golda Meir's grave in Israel's national cemetery on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem. She passed away at the age of 80 from lymphatic cancer four and a half years after leaving office. (Reuvenk/Wikimedia Commons)