Francine Klagsbrun on Golda Meir’s Leadership and the State of Israel

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[00:00:00] Albert: Well, good day to everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the Learning Curve podcast. I am one of your co-hosts for this week, Dr. Albert Cheng from the University of Arkansas. And today I have Andrea Silbert co-hosting with me. Andrea, welcome to the show and why don’t you introduce yourself to our listeners.

[00:00:47] Andrea: Oh, I’m so honored to be here. Thank you so much, Albert. my name’s Andrea Silbert and I’m president of the EOS Foundation. We are an endowed charitable foundation that does grantmaking in the areas of anti-hunger and gender and racial justice. And we will be adding soon fighting all sorts of hatred, specifically antisemitism into our racial justice work.

[00:01:13] Albert: Yeah, and you know, speaking of antisemitism you have a news story to share with us on that topic, right?

[00:01:19] Andrea: I do, I do, and I have been following this for several years, and this is the level of antisemitism on college campuses. ADL, the Anti Defamation League, just published a report that found that nearly three quarters of all Jewish students on college campuses nationally have faced antisemitism. Antisemitism is extremely pernicious because it’s coming from the far left. It’s coming from many of the students who are pushing for civil rights, for equal rights for everybody. People from Black Lives Matter movement. Stop Asian hate, LGBTQ rights. And only this hatred and bullying is reserved for Israelis and Jews.

[00:02:11] Andrea: So, it’s very, very difficult. I found out about a year and a half ago that at University of Vermont. If you believe — if you as a student believed in Israel’s right to exist, you would be kicked out as a woman of the Sexual Assault Survivors Club. So UVM, there was a case that was filed with the Department of Ed’s Office of Civil Rights and they had to settle. But I have two students in college. My daughter Mia is a senior at Harvard. My son Benny is a freshman at Tulane. And when Benny was applying, I would not allow him to apply to UVM and similar issues have happened at Tufts University local with, you know, just going out if you believe in Israel’s right to exist.

[00:02:58] Andrea: You are really going to experience incredible antisemitism and I think now we all see and I’m very disappointed with what’s going on at Harvard. There are protests and they’re chanting “Intifada, Intifada,” the battle cry for killing Jews in the state of Israel and killing Jews globally. It is, it is shocking.

[00:03:20] Albert: Yeah, yeah, actually, Jay Green, Ian Kingsbury and I did a study not too long ago documenting how antisemitism surprisingly is more common among the highly educated you know, we kind of think antisemitism is a consequence of ignorance and education as a solution, but we actually found the contrary, that somehow you know, I guess it kind of explains what’s going on in college campuses that we have higher rates of double standards against Jews among the highly educated. So, yeah, it’s a serious topic one we ought to be paying attention to and working to address.

[00:03:53] Andrea: Yeah, one last thing is that it is coming out of what is called decolonization studies, takes a very ideological approach and says that Israel is the oppressor and Palestine is the oppressed and then has false information about Jews not being indigenous to Israel, false information about Jews being white, even though 50 percent of Israeli Jews are of color and et cetera, et cetera. And that is happening on high school campuses as well. This Decolonization studies, Jews as settler colonialist, anti-imperialism, it’s all gone amok.

[00:04:33] Albert: Mm hmm, Yeah, well, you know, speaking of what’s going on in our nation’s high schools, but also, you know, elementary school campuses. Yeah, I’ve got this other news story that came out recently in the Washington Post reporting about how D.C. teachers, teachers in our nation’s capital seem to be leaving the classrooms at, higher rates of late course, I, I don’t know that any of it’s connected to curriculum wars or anything that are going on in, elementary and secondary school campuses, but they reported some statistics close to 70 about 78% of teachers in the traditional public school system in D.C. stayed year over year in the past couple of years and in charter schools. It’s the rates actually a bit lower in terms of staying 62%. And the article goes on to talk about how there’s some low morale, maybe some lingering. Mental health issues from the pandemic controversy over the teacher evaluation system impact as a well-known program that rewarded teachers for improving student learning instituted by Michelle Rhee years ago.

[00:05:35] Albert: And so, yeah, I don’t know, I mean, the article kind of gives a glimpse of what’s going on the ground. I think there’s a lot of other details to think about. I mean, some questions that came to my mind. So actually, here in Arkansas, where I’m at, our teacher retention rates were pretty stable before and even during the pandemic. And there was a slight drop in teacher retention during the third year of the pandemic. But other than that the rate of staying and exiting was, pretty constant. And, you know, I have one or some of that’s going on in D.C. that actually in D.C. in the past couple years, we had this inflated rate of retention because teachers didn’t want to leave their jobs in a period of uncertainty in the pandemic.

[00:06:18] Albert: So, you know, that was one of the issues that kind of got touched upon. You know, and the other thought that I had about this new story was, you know, I was wondering which teachers are leaving. You know, years ago there’s some studies of the impact merit pay program, and I found that induced teachers who were less effective to leave the profession. And I can say here in Arkansas it turns out that teachers that had higher value added scores were more likely to stay. And so, you know, I’d like to see maybe some of these numbers broken out by teacher quality. But anyway, I don’t know. There’s stuff going on in D.C. with teacher turnover. And certainly teacher turnover can be disruptive. But I wonder if there’s some silver lining if we unpack the numbers a bit more. Anyway, I don’t know if you have thoughts on that, but that’s what I’d like to share this week.

[00:07:04] Andrea: I just think, again, as a mother who’s raised three children going through public schools, it is absolutely critical to retain teachers who have a lot of experience and who are committed to, teaching history. What I’m seeing more among some of the newer generation of teachers is some sense that we need to teach ideology there’s no place for that in the classroom. We need to teach facts on all sides. Yeah. That’s been my observation. My children had a very — they did not, they were not taught ideology at the school where they went. I live on Cape Cod and our schools are more socioeconomically diverse and rural. So, I think that they didn’t stray too far from “let’s stick with facts and history.”

[00:07:59] Albert: Yeah, and certainly another important aspect of good teaching. That’s it for the news this week. Stay with us on the other side of the break. We have Francine Klagsbrnn who’s going to talk to us about one of her books on Golda Meir. So, stay tuned.

Francine Klagsbrun is the author of more than a dozen books, including The Fourth Commandment, Remember the Sabbath Day, Jewish Days: A Book of Jewish Life and Culture Around the Year, and Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel, which received the 2017 National Jewish Book Award Everett Family Foundation Book of the Year. Klagsbrun was a regular columnist for the Jewish Week, a contributing author to Lilith, and on the editorial board of Hadassah Magazine. Her writing has also appeared in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Newsweek, and Miss Magazine. She lives in New York City. Francine, welcome to the show. Great to have you on.

[00:09:21] Francine: Thank you. I’m very happy to be here.

[00:09:24] Albert: Great. And actually, you know, we also want to take the time to just express our condolences for the passing of your husband as well. So, we’re really sorry to hear that.

[00:09:33] Francine: Thank you. I appreciate that. This is a difficult time for me. And he was a wonderful, wonderful psychiatrist.

[00:09:39] Albert: Hmm. You’re in our thoughts and prayers. So, let’s talk Golda Meir. You have a book about her and so, you’re an accomplished author on Judaism and definitive biographer of Golda Meir, Israel’s fourth prime minister. Why don’t you start by sharing with us your experience of researching and writing about this remarkable 20th-century female political leader?

[00:10:03] Francine: Well, it’s an interesting thing. I was asked to write the book by an editor at Schocken Books, which is part of Random House, and a good friend of mine is Robert Caro, the historian who writes about Lyndon Johnson, and he took me to lunch, and he said, the first thing you have to do, and he’s very well known for his biographies, he said, the first thing you have to do is you have to interview people, because they die. And if you don’t interview them right away, you’re not going to get their stories. So, I took that very seriously, and before I really knew, I know Israel history, but before I really knew anything in depth, I went to Israel and I began interviewing people. And over the course of my years of research, I did interview people, all of whom have passed away.

[00:10:49] Francine: Shimon Peres, who became the president of Israel, Amos Manor, who had been head of the Shin Bet, the CIA of Israel, Zvi Zamir, who was head of another secret [00:11:00] agency in Israel, Golda’s two children, her son and her daughter, whom I got to know quite well, who are both passed away now. Her grandchildren, who are still alive. And many other, I interviewed maybe a hundred or more people, many of whom are gone now. So that was wonderful advice to begin with. Then I also, I hired an Israeli researcher, a historian, who was just wonderful, who could, I must have gone back and forth about 20 times to Israel to do research. But he also could go, when I wasn’t there, could go to the archives and get material for me. And then we would discuss things for hours on the phone. We would discuss things that he found, things that I wanted to write, I would check it for this man, his name was Boaz, who lived in Israel, and that was very helpful. And then, in addition to that, I made a point of visiting all the places where Golda had lived in Israel, it was a very modest home in Ramat Aviv, which is outside of Tel Aviv. But I — she grew up in America — so, I went to the places she lived in in America. She grew up in much of her life in Milwaukee, there are museums, not exactly museums, but exhibitions set up where I could see some of what her life was like, and also traveled around Milwaukee to see what it was like. In Denver, where she lived some of the time, there was a reproduction of the home that she lived in, so I went there also. So, what I tried to do. And then I read dozens and dozens of books in English and in Hebrew. I read Hebrew. And, you know, absorbed what everybody had written. And what I tried to do was just get an overall holistic, as it were, picture of who this woman was.

[00:12:44] Albert: Sounds like a fascinating and enriching process. let’s talk about her life. So, Golda and her family were originally from Ukraine. and at that time it was part of Czarist Russia. And in her autobiography, she revealed that her earliest memories were of her father boarding up the front door in response to an imminent pogrom against the Jews. Yeah, could you talk about her families and other Jewish families is experienced in Ukraine and Eastern Europe living in shtetls and experiencing antisemitism, pogroms, you know, and the like.

[00:13:18] Francine: Yes, in those days, most of the Jews in the Russian Empire, which the Russian Empire then included Poland and Lithuania, most of the Jews lived in what was called the Pale of Settlement. They were shtetls, little towns, very poor, most of them and always fearing pogroms. and antisemitism. Now, Golda was not born in a shtetl. She was born in Kiev, a big city, which allowed Jews in and then expelled the Jews over the centuries, would allow them in and then expel them, and allow them in again and then expel them. When she grew up, her father was allowed to live there because he was an artisan, he was a carpenter, and they allowed Jewish carpenters, Jewish artisans to live there. But there was always the threat of antisemitism, and when her father made some furniture for the government, the government had issued commissions to carpenters to make furniture for them. Her father made beautiful furniture, and then when his name was attached to it, a Jewish name, the government rejected it.

[00:14:19] Francine: And so, they knew that this was not a good situation, and then there were always the threat of pogroms. Golda wrote about it, remembering her home being brought up instead. She never personally experienced a pogrom, but that threat hung over them all the time. And particularly, in 1905, there was a terrible pogrom in Kishinev [now Chisinau, Moldova), in which Jews were brutally murdered.

[00:14:42] Francine: And the whole pogrom mentality, as it were, spread to the cities all around, and so the Jews were under great, great pressure and, great threat and fear, constant fear that they were going to be murdered, and that was what Golda grew up with. So, her father left Kiev after his work was rejected, and with this incredible pogrom all hanging over their heads, and went to America, as did millions of Jews from the Russian Empire at that time.

[00:15:12] Francine: But the family, she and her family, went to Pinsk, which was now a city within that palace settlement. And it was a Jewish city, but again, the fear of pogroms hung over them. There was a big revolutionary movement at the time against the Tsar. Many Jews were taking part in it, including her older sister, and so her mother really feared for their lives. I mean, the Jews are now under great pressure, and finally decided they had to join her father in the United States, and that’s what they did.

[00:15:44] Albert: Yeah, so it was in, 1906 that Golda and her family immigrated to the United States and then they settled in Milwaukee you mentioned, where she attended public schools there. The second chapter of your book you’ve titled An American Girl. Could you talk about that? What were her experiences growing up, being educated in Milwaukee? assume she came across some American democratic principles and ideals that probably shaped her worldview?

[00:16:09] Francine: Yes, very much so. For one thing, Milwaukee was, it was very lucky for Golda, in a way, that her father settled in Milwaukee. Most of the Jews who came in those days settled in the big cities like New York or Chicago. And they lived in these, you know, terrible tenements and the dark. Now, Milwaukee, the family lived in great poverty, great poverty at first, but it was open. There were open fields. There were ferries. There was a sense of democracy, there was a sense of the pioneer spirit, conquering the West. Milwaukee still had that old sense of conquering the West, and Golda picked up, that pioneer spirit. In classroom, they studied civics, I looked at the civics books, and the history books that Golda would have used at that time, and they were all, today, you know, we don’t even use the word patriotic, people use it cynically, but nobody was cynical about patriotism in those days.

[00:17:06] Francine: And they spoke of the great benefits of American democracy, as opposed to what was going on in other parts of Europe. And Golda picked that up, loved it, and absorbed it. It really became part of her outlook. Beyond that, Milwaukee was also a socialist city. There was a socialist mayor there were others, socialism, not communism but socialism. People would get on soap boxes on Friday afternoon and spout their ideas, and she picked that up also, this sense of openness of being able to say what you think in a country that allowed you to say what you think, and you would not be persecuted for that. And that became very much part of her thinking.

[00:17:48] Francine: And much of her reading fed into this. She read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. She was very, very impressed by the anti-slavery feelings of that time. And these all became part of her own psyche and her own outlook. It was very much based on American democracy.

[00:18:05] Albert: So, let’s press into this a bit more, you know, because while she was living in the states in Milwaukee and also you mentioned Denver she and her family were shaped by emerging Zionist thought, women’s suffrage, organized labor. I mean, those are some of the other things going on. Could you talk about the impact of, those formative intellectual, religious, cultural experiences on Golda? And, as well as how they shaped really her desire to make aliyah, and yeah, so could you talk a bit more about that?

[00:18:33] Francine: Well, what happened is that Golda, left for a while, she left Milwaukee, and went to live with her sister, her older sister, Sheyna, whom she always idolized, in Denver. Now she left Milwaukee, just as an aside, because her parents wanted her to go to work and get married after elementary school, and she very much wanted to go to high school. So, as it was, she ran away from home and ran to Denver. And Denver, her sister and her sister’s husband had a kind of a circle of friends, who would meet regularly at their home. Many of these were people, most of them were people who had come from Russia, as had, well, Golda’s family. Many of them were people who were in the TB, tuberculosis hospitals in that area.

[00:19:17] Francine: So, they would meet there, and they would be, just like they had been in Europe and Russia, big discussions about things like women’s suffrage, voting, all sorts of things like that. And one of the discussions that was very central, as it had been in, Russia, was the discussion about Zionism. The early Zionists had gone, and very early Zionists, in the late 1880s, had built, had begun building settlements. Many of them died. They weren’t really equipped. They didn’t know how to dig the land, and so on. But they did build some settlements, and word about what they were doing came back.

[00:19:54] Francine: And there was a sense after all the pogroms and all the persecutions in Europe, and of course Theodor Herzl came in the middle of all this and, and proclaiming the idea of having a Jewish country, a Zionist country where Jews could be safe. I mean, the point was that they would be safe. They would have a land of their own. where they would not be persecuted, where they could fight back themselves, where they could protect themselves. And Golda was very taken with this idea of all the things that were discussed around those tables in Denver. This idea of Zionism really grabbed Golda. And she then became, at a very young age, she joined Zionist organizations when she went back to Milwaukee, what was called Poalei Zion, the labor Zionist organizations that was the most dominant.

[00:20:43] Albert: Well, so let’s, fast forward cause eventually she married and then moved to Palestine, which was then under the British mandate. She and her husband were accepted into a kibbutz where she worked in a variety of jobs and ultimately connected with the Labor Party. Yeah. Could you tell us about her life as a young Zionist at that point, and her hopes and dreams about the future of Israel?

[00:21:06] Francine: Well, she and her husband went to this kibbutz Merhavia. Her husband did not like kibbutz life, he was not happy at all, but she loved it. And she became sort of the center. She had a very vibrant personality. She took part in every discussion that took place there, but she also worked extremely hard, worked. If there was a hard job to do to Golda would volunteer for it.

[00:21:30] Francine: And she was smart, she developed for the kibbutz a new way of raising chickens that would give more eggs than they ever had before. She insisted that laborers clean their hands when they’re eating their herring. I mean, people live in this very sloppy kind of a way, very primitive way. And she brought up American ideas and insisted on those, but they also brought attention to her as somebody who was just sort of a natural leader. And so she did all that in the kibbutz when she and her husband left the kibbutz she had already made contact with some of the leaders of the Zionist labor movement, which was the main Zionist movement in the Mandate Palestine, as it had been in Russia and in the United States.

[00:22:19] Francine: And she had made contact with so many people. After her marriage fell apart she became involved with a man named David Remez, who was very powerful in that movement, and helped her get ahead, although it was her own abilities and wisdom that really helped her to move ahead. And she became the person who went to conferences, who spoke out, who put American ideas — people were very impressed with her, the fact that she could speak English so well. And she knew what people in America were thinking, and that was extremely helpful to them also. And so, gradually she moved up. Moved up, moved up [00:23:00] became involved in the Histadrut, which was the major labor movement in Palestine and got important positions in that, so that she began to get power.

[00:23:10] Francine: Now, Golda always said she never cared about power, but she did care about power, and she became as time went on, quite a powerful leader and somebody that others looked up to. And as the party moved along, Golda moved along, and really became one of the top people in the whole Zionist movement in Palestine.

[00:23:30] Andrea: Thank you so much, Francine. As a student of Israel myself, this is so fascinating to hear. So, let’s fast forward to 1947, with the British withdrawing from the mandate and the U.N. partition plan, which Israel accepted the Arab countries rejected, and then in May of 1948, Meir became one of the 24 signatories of the Israeli Declaration of Independence. And just a quick quote from her, which is so moving: “After I signed, I cried. When I studied American history as a schoolgirl, and I read about those who signed the U.S. Declaration of Independence. And there I was sitting down and signing a Declaration of Establishment.” Francine, could you talk about her role in the founding of the State of Israel and how she ultimately ascended to become the first and only female prime minister of Israel?

[00:24:27] Francine: Yes, it was a long journey, a very difficult one. One is, as I said about her work in the kibbutz, Golda always took on the most difficult assignments. So she worked harder than anybody. Each step of the way, she would be the person who volunteered to do the hardest work, and that accrued to her power and her importance on the way up.

[00:24:50] Francine: The other thing was, and this is an interesting thing. As a feminist, in some ways, I was critical of this. Feminists are today. Her first work, or the first important position she held, was with women’s organizations. One was the Women’s Workers Council in Palestine, and its counterpart, the Pioneer Women in the United States, which she headed. Later on in life she said, I never worked for women’s organizations because she didn’t want to be seen that way. So, she’s a little bit criticized for that because in fact these women’s organizations gave her her first real steps upward. But the reason she said this, and why it’s very important, is that there were terrific women in Palestine who were doing wonderful things for the women workers there.

[00:25:37] Francine: And now feminists are rediscovering them. Most people would not have heard of them, you know, Ida Meinman having schizophrenic names that you or most people would not know. You know the name Golda Meir. She did not want to be confined to women’s issues. She wanted to be in the broader world, the broader aspects of what people were [00:26:00] aiming for. And that’s what she did. So, as she moved along, she moved away from the women’s organizations, as I say, she had become very important in the Histadrut, the general labor organization. And she also had a great skill in speaking. When Golda spoke to an audience, every person in the audience felt she was speaking only to them, and she also, her other great ability was that she spoke English so well.

[00:26:27] Francine: So, on the way up, she was the person who went back and forth to the United States to raise money. Nobody could raise money the way Golda could raise money because she knew America, and she knew American people, and she knew how to speak English so well, so she was able to do that. So as things got closer to a state being declared, it became clear that a great deal of money was needed, and David Ben-Gurion, who was now heading this whole labor movement, and moved toward creating a state, sent Golda, or he and his cabinet sent Golda to the United States early in 1948 to raise money.

[00:27:07] Francine: They had sent other people who couldn’t get very much money. Golda came to the United States, and she raised, over time, $55 million dollars, which, at that time, was unheard of. An enormous amount of money. And she was considered, in that sense, David Ben-Gurion considered her one of the founders of the state, for that alone, because it was so important to have that money at that time.

[00:27:32] Francine: And after raising that money, after the state was declared, Ben-Gurion wanted Golda,  and he wanted to show that this new country with equal rights for women as well as men, wanted her in the cabinet. She was in the sort of larger cabinet that other positions had been taken, but she was in this sort of larger cabinet. Gradually, again, becoming known, very well known she became the minister to Russia, she became Israel’s first labor minister, she had very important laws passed about insurance and protecting women and children, she then became the foreign minister, the first foreign minister, first woman foreign minister in the world at that time, in fact, people would say to her, how does it feel to be the first woman minister and Golda would say, “I don’t know, I was never a man.” And from there on, she was so well known when it became time when Ben-Gurion had resigned and Levi Eshkol, to pick another prime minister, there was a struggle between two young men, Yigal Allon, who had been a hero of the war, of the Independence War, and Moshe Dayan, who was a big hero in Israel, but she became the candidate, sort of in a senses, a compromised candidate between these two young men, but the candidate most people wanted at that time. And she became prime minister.

[00:28:57] Andrea: Yes, so she becomes prime minister in [00:29:00] 1969, and as prime minister Golda negotiated arms agreements with Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger and had dozens of clandestine meetings with Jordan’s King Hussein in the unsuccessful pursuit of a land for peace agreement with Israel’s neighbors. Would you talk about how Golda managed Israel’s relations with the Palestinians and Arab nations?

[00:29:23] Francine: It’s a very complicated subject because it goes back to 1967 when Golda was no longer a foreign minister. She had resigned. And she was kind of in charge of the party. But in ‘67, in the 1967 war, as you know, Israel won within six days, having been threatened by the Arab nations, feeling that they were going to lose everything, they won many territories, the Golan Heights, the West Bank, Gaza. And so on, and there was a big question about what to do with these lands, and some of the people, Moshe Dayan particularly, felt that Israel should really annex them and should build settlements where there was a great population of Arabs.

[00:30:09] Francine: Golda felt that it would be a big mistake for Israel to take over Arab lands where there were many Arabs, and her position was we needed to do what we have to do for security reasons so we don’t get threatened again, as we did in 1967, but we cannot absorb millions of Arabs, we can’t live that way, and nor can we make them, they will have low-level jobs, we will have higher jobs, it will be an unfair relationship.

[00:30:37] Francine: So, she was very opposed to that. She was not in favor of giving back everything, or going back to the 1967 borders because she felt that, after all, we weren’t safe then, what good would it do us now? But she felt that Israel should keep certain borders for security reasons. She didn’t like to give back as much as they could.

[00:30:56] Francine: So, that was what she tried to negotiate with the Arabs with Arab leaders. She didn’t get very far, because their attitude was they didn’t want to give up anything. They didn’t want to compromise on this. They want all their land back. Now, she did make one very bad mistake. She didn’t recognize Palestinian nationalism. At that time there was very little nothing nationalism as such, people saw the Palestinians as refugees from the War of Independence. It was just the beginning of a nationalist movement. But Golda made the mistake of saying there’s no such thing as Palestinians. And she never lived that down, although she didn’t mean it.

[00:31:34] Francine: She understood that there were Palestinians. She lived among Palestinians. But she felt that there was no real nationalism movement. She doesn’t understand that it was beginning. So that was, that was a blind spot for her. But other than that, she was, I would say, on the more liberal side of making peace with the Arab countries.

[00:31:53] Andrea: Yeah. And I remember as a young girl and the world watched during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, we watched the Palestinian terrorist group, Black September, murder members of the Israeli Olympic team. Would you talk about this episode and how as prime minister Golda addressed and responded to the massacre in Munich and other acts of terrorism against Israelis?

[00:32:18] Francine: It was a terrible, terrible situation in Munich. It was this group called Black September. They kidnapped Israeli athletes and eventually they murdered them. They were trying to get out of the country. There was some mix-up, and they murdered them all. Golda was horrified, of course, as was all of Israel and all of the world.

[00:32:38] Francine: And she was told afterwards by Zvi Zamir, this man whom I interviewed, who was in charge of much of the Secret Service, that the way to stop terrorism — Golda’s attitude, by the way, was, you don’t negotiate with terrorists. You know, they will kidnap somebody and try to get somebody else out of jail, as we see what’s going on today.

[00:32:59] Francine: But her attitude was, you don’t give in to that, and you don’t negotiate with that. The attitude after Munich was, we have to stop this terrorism. And the way her advisors thought to stop it was, to kill everybody involved in this terrible, terrible incident in Munich. And at first, she was opposed to that. She felt you can’t kill people without a fair trial what if we make a mistake and our boys are going to be in trouble, our young men who are in the army are going to be in trouble for killing the wrong person. But she finally gave in. And so, one by one, many of these Black September terrorists over some years, were killed. They would pick up a phone, and the phone would explode, or a car would crash into them. And each time they chose a person, that’s where the first, the term targeted assassinations really began. And each time they chose someone to do that, they would bring the name to Golda. She would either approve by nodding her head, or say put it off, or disapprove. Finally, they stopped, because in fact, they did kill the wrong person. But Zvi Zamir and the others felt that this stopped the kind of terrorism that had been going on at that time.

[00:34:13] Andrea: Yeah. And then, of course, not long after, Israel is hit with the Yom Kippur War, unaware — or less aware — beginning on October 6, with a coalition of Arab states led by Egypt and Syria. Could you briefly discuss this dramatic chapter of the Arab Israeli conflict and how Golda dealt with the crisis?

[00:34:34] Francine: This has come under great discussion today because of what happened on October 7 here, this year. Anwar Sadat, who was the president of Egypt, kept threatening, he wanted all his lands back, not only his lands, but the lands that had been taken in the 1967 war. All the areas, the West Bank, all of Sinai. Golda tried to negotiate, she had many, many secret meetings with King Hussein of Jordan. She tried to reach Sadat to have secret meetings with him through the Romanian prime minister, through the German chancellor, through the United States. But Sadat would never listen to that. But he was determined that everything had to be returned before they can negotiate.

[00:35:19] Francine: And he kept threatening war. But Golda is, you know, after ’67, people were so smug, as it were, the Israelis were so sure of themselves. Well, let them threaten, we can kill them in a minute. We can, we can win any kind of a war. And they didn’t believe the threat. There was something called the Concepcion, the conception, which was that Syria would not go to war against Israel without Egypt, Egypt would not go to war against Israel without certain ammunition from the Soviet Union which it didn’t have.

[00:35:48] Francine: Golda was very nervous about this. Her instinct told her that they had to be prepared for war. But she kept being reassured and, you know, Golda has been blamed for the Yom Kippur War. It’s coming out now more and more that she had been the one who was worried, and her generals kept reassuring her that the term was there’s a low probability of war.

[00:36:10] Francine: And when war broke out, it came as a surprise, a spy had told him it would break out that evening, but it broke out in the afternoon. And Golda was blamed for that and continued to be blamed. She never forgave herself for not listening to her own instinct, which was, there was going to be some war, they better be better prepared than they are. And she said, I will never again be the person I was before the Yom Kippur War, and she never was.

[00:36:37] Andrea: Yeah, how tragic. And as you said just so similar the echoes so similar to the lack of preparation today for that attack looking back, you know Golda Meir was the prime minister of Israel and a major player on the world stage in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. This is well before Britain first elected a female prime minister in 1979, and to this day, the U.S. hasn’t elected a woman president, so I know that you said that Golda didn’t want to be pigeonholed, but regardless, for someone like me growing up, she was the only role model of female democratic leadership of a nation. And what can young people today learn from her life and her legacy?

[00:37:24] Francine: She was always herself. I think that’s one thing to begin with. She didn’t try to be a man. She wanted to be in, you know, in the groups, and she didn’t want to be confined to women’s groups, as it were, but she always dressed nicely, not that she was a fashion plate by any means, but she dressed nicely, she always had her nails done, she cared about how her hair looked, and she did something else that was interesting. She took symbols of women, at that time and still today, the kitchen. Women were in the kitchen and cooking. And she turned them into power symbols. The kitchen became her kitchen cabinet, which really made the decisions. Before her regular cabinet met, of what they were going to do. So, she knew how to use feminine attributes to apply them to problems at hand. But she also worked very hard. She always said, she gave it on a woman thing here, she always said it’s twice as hard for a woman as it is for a man to get ahead. And she lived that way, she worked that hard.

[00:38:27] Francine: Now I wouldn’t say that’s so true today, but there’s still some truth in it. So, I think there’s that. The other thing she did, is that she, at every meeting, it was truly democratic in the sense that she always allowed every other person, every person in the meeting to speak first, to give their ideas, and she listened very, very carefully to these ideas.

[00:38:48] Francine: In the end, she made her decisions, and she could be autocratic, but she always It had this democratic way of running meetings, of running the government. Listen to everybody, hear what they have to say, then make the decisions. And not try to just show off who you are. She lived also very modestly. She didn’t try to, you know, be, oh, look at me, I’m so important, I’m a prime minister. Today, the prime minister lives in an enormous house. She lives in this very modest home that she shared with her son. I was at their home,  and it was very modest. And she would turn off the lights when she left her office to preserve electricity. She lived as real person, and I think in a sense that is a legacy that’s worked very hard. But for a woman today, don’t try to be somebody else. Be who you are, live your life that way.

[00:39:41] Andrea: Well, thank you so much. That is just such great insight. And now my understanding is you’re going to read a collection from your book.

[00:39:49] Francine: Yes, okay. In her farewell talk to the American Jewish Golda told of being asked by a young man why she had left the America she loved to go to the land of Israel. Quote: “I was selfish, she answered him. I heard something was going on over there. Something was being built, and I said, What? And I won’t have a share in it? No, I’m going. She went. She shared in building a state out of her vision, and for nearly 60 years, helped shape every aspect of that state. In spite of faults or failures, she left a legacy for Israel, the Jewish people, and the world at large —of courage, determination, and devotion to a cause in which one believes, however difficult the course.” Nothing in life just happens, she once said. You have to have the stamina to meet obstacles and overcome them. To struggle.

[00:40:47] Andrea: Wow. Thank you so much, Francine.

[00:40:49] Albert: Thank you so much, Francine. It was a fascinating interview. And thanks for sharing all insight into her life.

[00:40:55] Francine: You’re very welcome.

[00:40:57] Albert: [00:41:00] Okay, and the Tweet of the Week comes from Education Next this week. And it’s a Tweet about an article written by Rick Hess. the Tweet says Increasingly impressive transcripts and rising grades have yielded less actual student learning. How can that be? It’s because course titles and grades are cheap. And I think that’s a really compelling short post by Rick has about great inflation and, transcript packing. I don’t even know if that’s a, a word. But essentially Rick has, sites plenty of data showing about how GPAs have [00:42:00] risen over time transcripts have become more impressive over time and yet scores on standardized assessments have remained flat or even fallen. And so what explains that? And his argument there is it’s a lot of grade inflation, a lot of actually he cites a lot of other data points surveys of teachers that feel pressure to give kids good grades when they demand it.

[00:42:25] Albert: You know, referencing this, unspoken pact where look, if, grades are good, students are happy, classrooms are more harmonious because of that, less contention and everyone’s happy. So, certainly there’s some perverse incentives, if you will, that that’s going on. So anyway, check out that article. Yeah, Andrea, I don’t know if you have thoughts about that.

[00:42:44] Andrea: I actually do. So, I have three children. My older two are very, we’re very strong students and my youngest has a learning disability and is as smart as my older two, but had difficulty reading. And so, testing has been very important for me. And I always told my kids that Massachusetts, the MCAS was a test of their teachers. It wasn’t about them. I needed to know how their teachers were doing. So it was very important to me. My middle daughter was getting A-pluses in fourth grade in her classes around writing and she then took the standardized test and did very, very poorly.

[00:43:19] Andrea: And I went to the school and they told me she had an A-plus. So that wasn’t accurate and it just needs to be accurate. We need to know as parents what our kids are doing. And I felt like, at the high school level, our high school was very strong. I did move. My children and we have school choice by town where I moved them to a different district because I wasn’t happy with her getting an A-plus when I thought she didn’t know how to write.

[00:43:45] Andrea: So, at the high school level, you know, I knew that they were doing well because they were getting good grades on their AP tests, so that meant that they were learning the material, but it’s, really important. It’s really important to have measures to know if kids are learning and not just to have this great inflation. Yeah, happening. Also at the college level.

[00:44:07] Albert: Yeah. Yeah. We, I personally think we do a disservice to our students. I don’t know. I mean, I might go as far as say, we’re helping them live a lie really about their quality and where they might improve. So, yeah, certainly a tough issue and that maybe deserves lot more attention. Well, Andrea been a pleasure guest co-hosting this week’s show with you. Thanks for being on.

[00:44:28] Andrea: Oh, thank you so much for having me. I mean, this topic is so important. Miss Klagsbrun’s work is fascinating to me. So, I am honored to have been asked.

[00:44:40] Albert: Hopefully we’ll see you on again. And before we sign off for this week, I just want to make sure we plug next week’s episode, we’re going to have Emily Hanford, who’s a senior correspondent with American Public Media and the producer of Sold A Story. This is a podcast about the science of reading and literacy, and, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing her give a talk and listening to some parts of her podcast. Go check it out it’s fascinating stuff on reading instruction, phonics instruction. But join us next week as we interview her. And so, until then be well and I’ll see you next week. ?

This week on The Learning Curve, guest co-hosts Prof. Albert Cheng of the University of Arkansas and Andrea Silbert, president of the Eos Foundation, interview Francine Klagsbrun, the author of Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel. They discuss the story of the woman who left Kiev as a child, grew up in Milwaukee, emigrated to Mandatory Palestine, was a signatory to the declaration of independence for the state of Israel, and rose to become that nation’s fourth prime minister. Klagsbrun discusses Meir’s role in peace and war, her model of democratic leadership, and what young people today can learn from her remarkable life and legacy. She closes the interview with a reading from her biography of Golda Meir.

Stories of the Week: Andrea discussed a story from NBC News about the rise in antisemitism on American college campuses this fall, with 73 percent of Jewish students reporting having experienced or witnessed antisemitism. Albert discussed a Washington Post story about teacher turnover in the Washington, D.C. public schools.


Francine Klagsbrun is the author of more than a dozen books, including The Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath Day; Jewish Days: A Book of Jewish Life and Culture Around the Year; and Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel, which received the 2017 National Jewish Book Award/Everett Family Foundation Book of the Year. Klagsbrun was a regular columnist for The Jewish Week, a contributing editor to Lilith, and on the editorial board of Hadassah magazine. Her writing has also appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Newsweek, and Ms. Magazine. She lives in New York City.

Tweet of the Week: