CLIO TALKS BACK: Clio remembers the contributions of Golda Meir as Israel’s Minister of Labor
Golda Meir's official Knesset portrait
Most people know Golda Meir (1898-1978) as the first women to serve as prime minister of Israel, from 1969 to 1974. She was 70 years old when she agreed to take that high office and a seasoned political figure. She already had a long and distinguished political career as leader of the Histadrut (Israel’s General Federation of Labor), deputy to the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), Israel’s first ambassador to the U.S.S.R., Foreign Minister, and as Minister of Labor. She also had three children.

Golda Meir was less interested in her appearance than in what could be done to ensure success and survival for the State of Israel. She writes eloquently about her commitment to her newly-established country in her autobiography, My Life (1975). We know a great deal about her leadership as well as her ability to raise money and arms for Israel abroad, and especially in the United States, where she had grown up. What is less known is her contributions to building up Israel’s remarkable social support system, especially as it affected women – both Jewish and Arab – who lived in Israel.

Here Golda Meir speaks in her own words about her concerns and actions for social justice:

As I write about that period in my life, I can’t help reflecting on how lucky I was to have been in on the beginnings of so many things – not that I influenced the course of events, but that I was so much a part of what was happening all around me, and sometimes my ministry and I were even able to play a decisive role in the upbuilding of the state. I suppose that if I were to limit myself – as I must – to singling out the two or three developments that were the most rewarding and most meaningful for me during those seven years, I would have to start with the legislation for which the Ministry of Labor was responsible. For me, that, more than anything else, symbolized the kind of social equality and justice without which I couldn’t even imagine the state functioning at all. Old age pensions, widows’ and orphans’ benefits, maternity leave and grants, industrial accident insurance, disability and unemployment insurance were essentials in any self-respecting society, and whatever else we lacked or postponed, these were basic.

Even if we couldn’t afford to cover all of the labor movement’s achievements by law at once, we were at least duty-bound, I felt, to legislate as many as possible as soon as possible, and it meant a great deal to me to be able to present Israel’s first National Insurance Bill – based largely on the voluntary insurance schemes of the Histadrut [the Labor organization] – to the Knesset in January, 1952, thus paving the way for the National Insurance Act that came into effect in the spring of 1954. National insurance wasn’t a magic remedy. It didn’t eliminate poverty in Israel, or close the educational or cultural gap between our citizens, or solve our security problems. But it did mean, as I told the Knesset that day, “that the State of Israel will not tolerate within it poverty that shames human life, the possibility that the happiest hours of a mother’s life will be marred by worry about food or the possibility that men and women who reach old age will curse the day they were born.” A drain on our resources? Of course it was – which was why we had to do it in stages. But it had economic as well as social significance and the merit of accumulating capital and withdrawing money from circulation, which helped us fight inflation. Above all, it equalized the financial burden, made one age group responsible for the other and spread the risk. It also had another by-product that mattered to me: Because the percentage of babies born in hospital rose as a result of the maternity benefits (which included the cost of hospitalization), infant mortality – which was high among the new immigrants and the Arabs – dropped. I went to Nazareth myself to hand the first check to the first Arab woman who had her baby in a hospital there, and I think I was more excited than she was.

Google images
Golda Meir on the cover of Time Magazine

Source; Golda Meir, My Life (New York: G. P. Putnam’s and Sons, 1975), pp. 275-276.

For more information:;