A review by By ETHAN BRONNER
Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel
By Francine Klagsbrun
Illustrated. 824 pp. Schocken. $40.
In late September 1973, Israel’s Labor Party made its final campaign pitch for the upcoming elections. It placed ads in all the newspapers with a picture of its leader, the admired and beloved prime minister, Golda Meir, surrounded by reassuring words: “Quiet reigns on the banks of the Suez. The lines are secure; the bridges are open; Jerusalem is united.”
Days later, on Yom Kippur, Syria and Egypt launched a massive pincer attack from north and south, their advancing tanks crushing the illusions of a complacent nation and forever shifting public opinion away from Meir. Despite hard-fought victories in both the war and the postponed vote, she resigned four months after re-election, condemned as a woman out of her depth (emphasis on “woman”). She died in 1978. And while American Jews remember her with pride and fondness (she spent her girlhood in Milwaukee and spoke a disarming Midwestern English of pinched nasal vowels), Meir has remained an object of some scorn in Israel. Her miscalculation contributed to the deaths of thousands. Her dismissal of the Palestinian nation (“no such thing as Palestinians,” she notoriously said) has won her few admirers on the left.
But perspectives have begun to shift with the passage of time. As 2018 approaches — the 120th anniversary of Meir’s birth — we are in the midst of a re-evaluation of her legacy that places the 1973 disaster into a broader context of a life of rich accomplishment. In that emerging view, her failure to anticipate the attack must be understood as a reflection of the thinking of her security establishment; her leadership during the war was forceful. Last year, the Israeli state archives published a 700-page volume of her notes and documents with scholarly comment that reflects such revisionism. A grandson of Meir’s has recently started a foundation in her name to spread the word and to mark the anniversary. Events are planned both in Israel and the United States.