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The Wit and Wisdom of Golda

Golda Meir was not only an astute political leader but also a person who could make a telling political point by way of epigrams. She was also known for her rapier wit and repartee. What follows is a brief selection:

“If only political leaders would allow themselves to feel, as well as to think, the world might be a happier place.”

“We will build Israel with decency and dignity, and one day our present detractors will come knocking at our door.”

“If hatred is abandoned as a principle of Arab politics, everything becomes possible again.”

Recalling her childhood in Czarist Russia and her memories of marauding Ukrainian peasants and Cossacks riding through Jewish streets in Kiev as they burned down houses and looted and pillaged, she said: “If there is any logical explanation necessary to the direction which my life has taken, maybe this is the explanation: the desire and determination to save Jewish children, four or five years old, from a similar scene, from a similar experience.”

“A strong people does not have to demonstrate the justice of its demands. A weak people, even when it has demonstrated the justice of its demands, has still not done enough.”

“No people in the world knows collective eulogies as well as the Jews do. But we have no intention of going down in order that some may speak well of us.”

“If there is anything that horrified me in the past years, it is not that people criticize us. That is absolutely legitimate, even if we don’t like it and we’d rather hear praise. What does horrify me is that murderers are played up as heroes, and that suddenly the Arabs are waging a ‘war of liberation’–which is fought by hiding a bomb in a student cafeteria.”

“We are not a new people. We have not come back to a new country. We are an old people that has come back to its old home.”

“There should be some place on earth where there is a Jewish majority. As a minority we have quite a history.”

When the Israeli Cabinet was dealing with assaults on women, one Minister proposed that there should be a curfew on women after dark. Golda protested: “Men are attacking the women, not the other way around. If there is going to be a curfew, let the men be locked up, not the women.”

“Zionism and pessimism are not compatible.”

“Our secret weapon: No alternative.”

On her 80th birthday in May of this year, she said: “My birthday is not important. Israel’s anniversary is what counts, for Israel will live many more years than 1.”

Mrs. Meir’s last public appearance in the United States was at the Council of Jewish Federations’ 46th General Assembly in Dallas on Nov. 12, 1977. Following are highlights of her address:

In an obvious allusion to the Carter Administration: “It is easy to fight enemies but difficult to argue with friends….It would never enter my mind to argue with those who want to see a secure Israel, a safe Israel. We are deling with democracies, not anti-Semitic governments, not governments which are hostile to Israel.”

“What risks are Egypt or Syria or Jordan taking? Israel is not out to occupy them and even the Arabs do not claim that we are. During the 1973 war our armies were within 100 kilometers of Cairo and within 50 kilometers of Damascus. We could have kept going, but we asked ourselves: what do we do when we get there?”

Referring to suggestions that Israel accept international guarantees, Mrs. Meir said scornfully, “this means that there is some doubt about peace. Why international guarantees if there is peace? Can anybody guarantee us that we will not be attacked?… There is also talk of an Israel-U.S. security treaty. God forbid that America will be attacked and we have to defend her.”

“But if Israel is attacked, given the feelings in post-Vietnam America, will American soldiers be sent to defend us? We don’t want one drop of blood from anyone but ourselves in the defense of Israel. If the U.S. sends soldiers and helps Israel to win, Israel will become a protectorate and lose its sovereignty. This will be so because we cannot say no to people who saved our lives and who in the process lost the lives of its own soldiers.”

Dealing with the issue of the newly-established Jewish settlements, Mrs. Meir said that this was not a basis for the deadlock in peace talks, but only a new excuse used by the Arabs. “Were the Arabs prepared to talk peace before new settlements were established? Why do fine, decent, peace-loving people, not anti-Semites, not anti-Israel, find it so difficult to understand that the 1967 borders were destroyed by Egypt and Syria with the help of Saudi Arabia? Why was there a war in 1967? There were no settlements then, no occupied territories. Yes, the Arabs saw occupied territories: Tel Aviv, Haifa….”

She concluded by calling upon young Jews to “accept the challenge of going to Israel” and help to create new facets of society and build, strengthen and continue what was begun. She added: “We need Jews badly, one million, two million. Israel will still be a minority (in the Mideast) but it will make a world of difference.”

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