The New Documentary Featuring Golda Meir’s Off-the-Record Interview

Co-director of this documentary Shani Rozanes says the interview was discovered accidentally in the archives. The 40-year statute of limitations protecting it from public viewing had expired. The black and white footage is the scaffolding of the film – the point of departure to historic footage and interviews with the silver-haired old guard close to her or opposed to her and two women with perspectives on Meir as a woman ruling a 10-man cabinet. After all these years, they are passionate, they are thoughtful, they are honest.

Directed by Sagi Bornstein, Udi Nir and Shani Rozanes, the German-Israeli production in Hebrew with English subtitles weaves together wide-ranging interviews, including with Golda’s longtime nemesis Uri Avneri; journalist and Knesset member; Zvi Zamir, who was Mossad director 1968-74; Meron Medzini, Golda’s spokesman from 1969-74; Reuven Abergel, Israeli Black Panthers co-founder; and devoted grandson Gideon Meir. 

Golda Meir came to power suddenly, following the fatal heart attack of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol in 1969. She fell from power almost as suddenly following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, when Egypt and Syria rolled in on the totally unprepared Israeli armed forces. In between she led a country still largely enraptured with the stunning victory of the 1967 Six-Day War. She dealt with an occupied population in territory tripling the size of Israel; the massacre of the Israeli Olympic team in Munich in 1972; the start of Jewish settlement in the West Bank; and the Israeli Black Panthers’ demands of equality for Israel’s Mizrahi Jews.

In her laced-up oxfords and pocketbook over her arm, she was an old 71 when she became prime minister. (Compare Nancy Pelosi, now 79.) Her socialist Zionist ideology had been molded in her youth, a Ukrainian immigrant from Kiev growing up in Milwaukee. She remembers her father telling her, “Men don’t like smart girls” when she wanted to continue her education. 

She defied her family and left to build the Jewish State. As the world changed, her views remained static. In the Israel Television interview, she laments that Israel has changed. Israeli women take their cues from America’s cultural fads with mini or micro-mini skirts. Money’s an ideal. Golda Meir never deviated from the ideological values of the good old pioneering days when Ashkenazi immigrants built the Jewish dream. 

Feminists have faulted Golda for failing to champion other women. Colette Avital, long-time diplomat and Knesset member, recounts meeting her in Boston for eye surgery in 1977 and being “insulted, berated” when she told the former prime minister that Sadat was coming to Israel. Henriette Dahan Kalev, founder of the Gender Studies Program at Ben Gurion University and a founder of the Mizrahi feminist movement, suggests, “Perhaps she blurred her sexuality and opted for the more masculine look so she’d be taken more seriously.”  Who knows if a cabinet of women could have saved Israel from the Yom Kippur War? Golda Meir spoke of her fears of an attack to general Moshe Dayan, her minister of defense, who assured her Israel had nothing to fear. There was not a single voice of warning in her cabinet.