Golda Meir Center for Political Leadership
Selected Quotes from Golda Meir
Golda Meir was not a grand orator in any traditional sense of the term and she was a reluctant writer. Still, her words often contained a direct and simple eloquence. They reflect her no nonsense approach and are straightforward, honest and laced with humor. The following are examples of those words that could capture the moment and an audience.
1) The annual Leadership Award given by the Golda Meir Center contains these words from her told to Marie Syrkin: I can honestly say that I was never affected by the question of the success of an undertaking. If I felt it was the right thing to do, I was for it regardless of the possible outcome.
2) Golda would frequently tell people: Don’t be so humble, you’re not that great.
3) After Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol received criticism for the way he delivered a speech before the 1967 War, Golda said: A leader who doesn’t hesitate before he sends his nation into battle is not fit to be a leader. Similarly, in 1973, she reminded us: A man who does not hate war is not fully human.
4) Also on leaders, Golda stated: If only political leaders would allow themselves to feel, as well as to think, the world might be a happier place.
5) When accused of governing with her heart and not her head, she said in 1973: What if I do? Those who don’t how to weep with whole heart don’t know how to laugh either.
6) The greatest challenge to leaders and educators, she also noted, is to bring idealism into the picture despite the cloud that hangs over humanity.
7) Also on educators, she said: A teacher is one who has a program -- arithmetic, reading, writing, and so on – fulfills it conscientiously, and feels that he has done his job. An educator tries to give children something else in addition: spirit.
8) On peace, she said in 1957, before the National Press Club in Washington: Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us. (She also made a similar statement specifically regarding Nasser.) In a similar vein, she would say, Peace will come when an Arab leader is courageous enough to wish it.
9) At a 1969 press conference in London, she added: When peace comes we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons.
10) I am convinced, she also said, that peace will come to Israel and its neighbors because the tens of millions of Arabs need peace just as much as we do. An Arab mother who loses a son in battle weeps as bitterly as any Israeli mother.
11) When Golda was in Jerusalem in 1977 for Anwar Sadat’s historic visit, she asked him what took him so long. And reminded the Egyptian President and the Israeli nation: Of course, we all must realize that the path to peace may be a little bit difficult, but not as difficult as the path to war.
12) On negotiations, she explained: The only alternative to war is peace. The only road to peace is negotiation.
13) Yet, she would also say at the White House in 1974: To be or not to be is not a question of compromise. Either you be or you don’t be. She also stated it this way: If we are criticized because we do not bow because we cannot compromise on the question ‘To be or not to be,’ it is because we have decided that, come what may, we are and we will be.
14) We don’t want wars, she stated, even when we win.
15) As to Israel’s military successes, she responded: Our secret weapon: No alternative. She would also often use the statement: We have no alternative.
16) Golda was always proud of her efforts, while Foreign Minister, in developing aid programs in Africa. When asked about Israel’s success in this area by Billy Graham, she responded: We go there to teach, not to preach.
17) On Zionism, she said in 1943: There is no Zionism except the rescue of Jews.
18) Zionism and pessimism, she said, are not compatible. She would also say: Pessimism is a luxury that a Jew can never allow himself.
19) In her words: One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present.
20) Don’t become cynical, she said at the White House in 1969. Don’t give up hope. Don’t believe that everything is judged only by expediency. There is idealism in the world. There is human brotherhood. She would also say in 1972: I’m not cynical at all. I’ve lost my illusions, that’s all.
21) She was often asked if she felt limited because she was a woman, not a man in government. She would respond by saying: I don’t know -- I’ve never tried to be a man. In a similar vein, when questioned about how it felt to be named Israel’s first woman Foreign Minister, she replied: I don’t know. I was never a man minister. She also would say: Whether women are better than men I cannot say – but I can say they are certainly no worse.
22) When there was an outbreak in assaults against women at night, a minister in the cabinet suggested a curfew to keep women in after dark. But it’s the men who are attacking the women, Golda responded. If there’s to be a curfew, let the men stay at home, not the women.
23) Golda was 70-years old when she became Prime Minister. As she put it: Being seventy is no sin, but it’s not a joke either. In a 1972 interview, she expressed the view: Old age is like a plane flying through a storm. Once you’re aboard, there’s nothing you can do. You can’t stop the plane, you can’t stop the storm, you can’t stop time. So one might as well accept it calmly, wisely.
24) Also in the 1972 interview with Oriana Fallaci, she could reflect: There’s no difference between killing and making decisions by which you send others to kill. It’s exactly the same thing. And maybe it’s worse.
25) Her relationship with Henry Kissinger produced a number of stories that display Golda’s humor. While he was President, Richard Nixon commented to her that both Israel and the U.S. had Jewish “Foreign Ministers” (Kissinger and Abba Eban). Yes, she responded, but mine speaks English. When told by Kissinger that he was an American first, then the Secretary of State and then a Jew, Golda told him that was fine since, in Hebrew, people read from right-to-left. And, during the 1974 negotiations between Israel and Egypt, Kissinger told Golda “when I reach Cairo, Sadat hugs and kisses me. But when I come here everyone attacks me.” Golda responded: If I were an Egyptian, I would kiss you also.
26) You'll never find a better sparring partner than adversity.
27) You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.
28) Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against Moses. He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil.
29) Internationalism does not mean the end of individual nations. Orchestras don't mean the end of violins.
30) This world of ours was not created to be the testing ground for the perfection of weapons to wipe us out .
31) When David Ben-Gurion described Golda as “the only man” in his cabinet, she was amused that he thought this was the greatest compliment he could pay to a woman. I very much doubt , she would say, that any man would have been flattered if I had said about him that he was the only woman in government.
32) In many ways, it would have been simpler to have Arab workers and Jewish landlords. But if this had been the turn of events, there would have been no room for Jews and no right for us to return to a land reclaimed through the toil of others.
33) As for Jews being a chosen people, she wrote , I never quite accepted that. It seemed, and still seems to me, more reasonable to believe, not that God chose the Jews, but that the Jews were the first people that chose God, the first people in history to have done something truly revolutionary, and it was that choice that made them unique.
34) There is no Palestine people. There are Palestinian refugees . (Meir wrote in “The New York Times” on January 14, 1976 that the often cited and controversial “There are no Palestinians” statement attributed to her is a misquotation, the “London Sunday Times” of June 15, 1969.)
35) How can we return the occupied territories? There is nobody to return them to. We can't send it to Nasser by parcel post . (March 8, 1969.)
These quotes are drawn from the sources noted in the bibliography and from a number of books compiling quotations.