Spirited biography of the Zionist activist and pioneering Israeli leader.
To readers of a certain age, Golda—“the sassy nicotine-stained grandmother who wore baggy suits and orthopedic shoes, spoke with an accent in every language but Yiddish, and led one of the smallest countries in the world”—needs no surname. Yet, particularly in the post-Intifada Middle East, Golda Meir’s contributions to Israeli history have come to be overshadowed. Journalist and longtime Middle East hand Burkett (So Many Enemies, So Little Time: An American Woman in All the Wrong Places, 2004, etc.) brings those contributions to the fore, even as the author considers that the ideals for which the Moldova-born, Milwaukee-educated Meir fought are not the ones that prevailed in Israel, “that despite her hectoring, her egalitarian utopia of idealist pioneers would turn into a dog-eat-dog capitalist society rife with consumerism and greed.” Meir, of course, had other things to worry about. Having survived the surprisingly uncollegial world of state politics and even engineered a modest coup to supplant David Ben-Gurion (who famously called her the only man in his cabinet), Meir spent much of her tenure as Israeli’s prime minister trying to avoid falling into various traps Henry Kissinger laid for her in the service of Nixonian realpolitik. Burkett is at her best in reconstructing these tense moments, explaining, quite reasonably, that “there was little that Golda feared more than a peace imposed by outside powers,” having had plenty of experience with those outside powers during the years of war and protectorate. Meir had plenty of problems at home as well, navigating the rightist shoals of Moshe Dayan, Shimon Peres and company. Burkett capably explains all the political complexities while suggesting that the legendarily tough Meir would have gladly folded back Israel’s post–Six-Day War borders had any of the Arab powers agreed to talk about it at the time—a process that is ongoing more than 40 years later.
Enlightening but sobering, particularly when one wonders where Meir’s utopian ideals went to.