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

As those close to her testify, she could be loving, she could be cruel, and she was tough. She truly believed “ein breira” (“no choice”), saying, “My conscience is clear. Every Arab in the world has a choice. A Jew has no choice.”

She refused to negotiate with any Arab leader without face-to-face talks. Her successor, Menachem Begin, got to meet with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat on Israeli soil and they jointly collected a Nobel Peace Prize, but Sadat paid for the visit with his life. Harking back to when Gamal Abdel Nasser was in power, Golda Meir’s sister, Clara Stern, remembers suggesting Golda try to put herself in Nasser’s shoes. “She looked at me as if I was crazy.” 

That refusal to empathize seems profound, even as Golda said, quite poignantly, “I can never finish a dream.” She meant it literally. As prime minister during the War of Attrition following the Six-Day War, she insisted on being phoned at any hour of the night to be told of an Israeli soldier’s death. Interviewed in “Golda,” the devoted head of Mossad, who did unspeakable deeds to wipe out terrorists worldwide after the Munich massacre, wondered, “How did this woman who was clueless about operational issues make all those decisions with her common sense, with her faith in the Israeli people, in the State of Israel? That’s what she lived for.”

Meir embodied a Zionist ideology that built the Land of Israel blind to the Arabs in that land. She seemed equally blind to the systemic second-rate treatment of Israel’s Mizrahi Jews. Her meeting with five Israeli Black Panthers was painfully dismissive. They had come prepared with statistics but she refused to listen. Her Zionist ideology seemed to prescribe that all Israelis develop into Ashkenazi pioneers. 

Her longtime spokesman blames himself for the failure to prepare Meir for the meeting, saying, “We assumed she’d understand.”  Certainly the inferior status of “Eastern” Jews in Israel was no secret. While I was living in Israel before, during and after the Yom Kippur War, I took a course on “Inequality in Israel” for overseas students at the Hebrew University. It was obvious: Ashkenazi Jews were on top; Mizrahi Jews second class; Arabs on the bottom. Golda Meir embodied that truth. Tragically, Meir didn’t understand how as a champion of socialism she’d become a symbol of the detached racist. In fact, following the Black Panthers meeting with her, and riots in Jerusalem, the film notes that Golda Meir’s 1972 budget had more money for housing, education and welfare than any previous budget.

Seeing her direct gaze in living black and white, hearing her speak, it is hard to escape the power of her personality and convictions. They come through loud and clear in the off-the-record Israel conversation. Slumped in her chair, she still remains intense, charismatic, witty, ready to take on her questioners.

“Golda” closes with her response to what she’d like the title of her chapter in history to be. She answers, “I hope whoever writes about me, I hope he’ll write about me with mercy.”

This film does it.