A new movie glorifying the legacy of Zionist leader and Israel’s fourth Prime Minister, Golda Meir, has been released in selected cinemas in the US and Europe. Golda is typical Israeli propaganda. The Israeli director, Guy Nattiv, has tried to whitewash Meir’s legacy of violence and open anti-Arab racism through portraying her as the “Iron Lady” of Israel, a “lioness” who triumphed as a politician and persisted as a military leader.
The narrative in the movie gets more complicated when Ukraine is thrown into the mix. “When I was a little girl in Ukraine, people were beating Jews with clubs,” says actor Helen Mirren as the eponymous main character. “I am not that little girl any more.”
Placing the movie’s geographical and historical context around Ukraine is critical to Golda. The director taps shrewdly into the media-infused imagery of Ukrainian heroics against advancing Russian armies, thus rewriting the legacy not only of Meir, but also of Zionism. The message gleaned is that, although at times the morality of the choices of Zionism is not always perfect, neither Meir nor the founders of Zionism had a choice; existential wars in a world filled with enemies, pogroms and anti-Semites require difficult choices.
The movie is centred around these supposedly difficult choices during the 1973 war, when Meir was prime minister of Israel. She served in that role between 1969 and 1974.
Like most Zionist Israeli leaders, she is presented as someone in constant conflict between multiple loyalties to ethnic, cultural, religious and national identities. For Meir, the conflict was resolved through the prioritising of Jewish identity exclusively. This was demonstrated in the famous exchange that she had with then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
In a letter to Meir, Kissinger said that he considered himself “an American first, secretary of state second, and a Jew third.” In response, she accentuated her own priorities, and how she wanted to perceive Kissinger’s relationship to Israel. “In Israel,” she pointed out, “we read from right to left.”
Propaganda aside, when Golda Meir arrived in Palestine in 1921 at the age of 23, she did not come directly from Kyiv, which was then within the Russian empire, but from the United States. It was mostly in the city of Milwaukee that she developed her ideas about Zionism, and the supposedly innate right of all Zionist Jews to “return” to Palestine, no matter where they were born.
Neither Palestinians nor Arabs victimised Jewish communities in Russia or anywhere else in Europe
Meir’s hatred for Palestinians and Arabs was, therefore, formulated long before she met a single Palestinian. Neither Palestinians nor Arabs played any role in the victimisation of Jewish communities in the Russian empire or anywhere else in Europe. This indicates that anti-Arab racism — a staple in Meir’s political discourse throughout her life — is an outcome of largely historical Western dynamics.
Arabs viewed Zionists as colonialists and imperialists. They did not oppose them because Arabs were anti-Semitic. They viewed the Zionists in Palestine through the same lens and logic that led them to oppose French colonialism in Syria, the British in Egypt and the Italians in Libya. Zionist and pro-Israel historians, however, have laboured to create a clear distinction between Western colonialism in the Middle East and Zionist colonialism in Palestine.
Such misinterpretation of history hardly examines the issue in a truthful manner. Worse, at times, Zionist colonialism is presented not as a British implant in Palestine through the Balfour Declaration, but as an opposing political force to British colonialism and “mandate” in Palestine.
Much of Meir’s political life is based on the same legacy, which is shared by all founders of Zionism: she wanted to be part of constructing a Zionist state in Palestine, today’s Israel, while simultaneously denying the very existence of the Palestinians who have lived for numerous generations on that same land.
“Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us,” she once said, sowing the seed of the racist notion that Arabs and Palestinians hate their children. This played a major role in the portrayal of Palestinians in US media during the Second Intifada (2000-2005).
In an interview with the Sunday Times in June 1969, Meir denied the very existence of Palestinians. “It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country from them. They did not exist.” She maintained that line until her death in 1978. In an interview with the New York Times in 1972, she insisted: “I said there never was a Palestinian nation.”
Meir, however, could hardly be credited for originating that racist notion, which has been functional in dehumanising the Palestinians throughout recent history. Indeed, such language was fundamental to the early Zionists who saw in Palestine “a land without a people for a people without a land”, and it remains useful to modern Zionists. Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s extreme far-right minister of finance, declared recently that “there is no such thing as a Palestinian people” during a visit to France.
The intellectual orientation of the Golda movie can be seen in two different ways: one, as creative Israeli hasbara aimed at taking advantage of a growing worldwide movement that celebrates women and their roles and contributions in society; and, two, as an act of desperation.
The Israeli brand has lost much of its former appeal as a liberal, democratic and even “socialist” project. Such labels are hardly marketable when many Israelis are themselves questioning if their “democratic state” is even a democracy at all.
When images of Israeli military brutality and racism are viewed daily by millions of people across the world, it is difficult for Israel to portray itself as a “beacon of light” and democracy in an otherwise backward, undemocratic and violent Middle East. This is why Golda is a functional piece of propaganda, albeit its impact is, at best, limited in both time and scope. At best, it is a belated attempt to reinvent Zionism.
Palestinians living under Israel’s brutal military occupation — in fact, the whole war-torn region — are in urgent need of a future that is founded on justice, freedom, equality and lasting peace. Glorifying war and lionising racist individuals like Golda Meir cannot be the way to achieve this.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.