What can readers expect from Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel, a revealing new biography of Israel’s fourth prime minister?
The publisher calls it “the definitive biography on Golda Meir … a beautiful portrait of the iron-willed leader, chain-smoking political operative and tea-and-cake serving grandmother who became the fourth prime minister of Israel and one of the most notable women of our time.” Author Francine Klagsbrun says that she wanted to create a “comprehensive narrative based on original Hebrew, as well as English, sources that would present an in-depth view of this multifaceted woman.”
And that she has done in this well written and well researched book. She has presented what she set out to do: “To present a balanced portrait of Golda Meir and her life as it unfolded within the context of her own times.”
At close to 700 pages, there’s a lot of material in the book that’s never been published before.
Klagsbrun studied more than 1,000 documents, telephone transcripts, minutes of American, Israeli, British and Russian government meetings, political party records, magazine and newspaper reports, films, personal papers, oral histories, diaries, cables and private family letters. She read hundreds of books and articles, and interviewed dozens of people, including Meir’s son, daughter-in-law, assistant, grandsons, former neighbours and bodyguards.
Klagsbrun describes Meir growing up in Russia and moving with her family to Milwaukee. Meir met Morris Meyerson and married him in 1917, when she was 19 and Meyerson was 24. They moved to New York and gathered together their group of 24 to move to Palestine in 1921. After receiving a few rejections, they were finally accepted to a kibbutz on a trial basis, but that life was not for either of them.
Meir began taking a seemingly endless stream of trips abroad, leaving Meyerson behind in Tel Aviv to take care of the children.
She soon met the man who became her lover, David Remez, and she and Meyerson eventually separated.
“Without a doubt, Remez helped her as she climbed up the political hierarchy. A dozen years her senior as secretary general, he had become one of the most powerful men in the Histadrut, second only to Ben-Gurion,” writes Klagsbrun. “She had deep intensive ties to Remez. Her letters brimmed with tender and shared secrets.”
The book includes many things the average person probably did not know, such as Meir’s heart attacks, meeting King Abdullah of Jordan, her shopping trips to Macy’s and running her staff like a kibbutz when she was an Israeli diplomat in the Soviet Union.
“She never wanted to be treated differently because she was a woman,” writes Klagsbrun. “She built her self-image around the work she did, her loyalty to her party and her devotion to Israel and the Jewish people.”
She was 70 when it was suggested that she become prime minister, which became a reality in March 1969, when she was 71.
After the Yom Kippur War, “she opposed the concept of a sovereign Palestinian state between Israel and Jordan but she envisioned a union of Palestinian Arabs with the kingdom of Jordan.”
She died in December 1978 at the age of 80.
Lioness was selected as the 2017 Jewish book of the year by the Jewish Book Council. If you enjoy history, and especially reading about women who make history, then Lioness is a wonderful read.