New Golda Meir movie sells war crimes as empowerment

New Golda Meir movie sells war crimes as empowerment

Helen Mirren as Golda Meir in a scene from the film “Golda” (AP)
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A new movie glorifying the legacy of Zionist leader and fourth Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir was released in selected theaters in the US and Europe in August. The movie is typical Israeli propaganda. In “Golda,” director Guy Nattiv has tried to whitewash Meir’s legacy of violence and outright anti-Arab racism by 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,” she is quoted as saying, asserting that “I am not that little girl anymore.” Centering the movie’s geographical and historical context on Ukraine is critical to “Golda.” Nattiv shrewdly taps 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 to be gleaned is that, although at times the morality of the choices of Zionism are not always perfect, neither Meir nor the founders of Zionism had a choice — existential wars in a world filled with enemies, pogroms and antisemites require difficult choices.

The movie is centered on the supposedly difficult choices during the 1973 war. Meir, like most Israeli Zionist leaders, is presented as someone in constant conflict between multiple loyalties to ethnicity, cultural background and religious and national identities. For Meir, the conflict was resolved through the prioritization of Jewish identity exclusively.

Meir’s utter hatred for Palestinians and Arabs generally was formulated long before she had met a single Palestinian

Ramzy Baroud

This was demonstrated in a famous exchange Meir had with then-US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. In a letter he wrote to Meir, Kissinger said that he considered himself “an American first, secretary of state second, and a Jew third.” Her reply, accentuating her own priorities and how she wanted to perceive Kissinger’s relationship with Israel, was: “In Israel, we read from right to left.”

Propaganda aside, when Meir arrived in Palestine in 1921 at the age of 23, she was not coming directly from Kyiv, then part of Soviet Russia, but from the US. It was mostly in the city of Milwaukee that Meir developed her ideas about Zionism and the supposedly innate rights of all Zionist Jews to “return” to Palestine.

Meir’s utter hatred for Palestinians and Arabs generally was, therefore, formulated long before she had met a single Palestinian. No Arabs played any role in the victimization of Jewish communities in Russia or anywhere else in Europe. This indicates that Meir’s anti-Arab racism — a staple of her political discourse throughout her life — was an outcome of largely Western historical dynamics.

Arabs viewed Zionists as colonialists and imperialists not because Arabs were antisemitic; rather, Arab nations viewed the Zionists in Palestine through the same lens as they viewed the French colonialism in Syria, the British in Egypt and the Italian in Libya.

Zionist and pro-Israel historians have labored to create a separation between Western colonialism in the Middle East and Zionist colonialism in Palestine. Such a misinterpretation of history hardly examines the issue in a truthful manner. Even worse, at times, Zionist colonialism is presented not as a British implant in Palestine as a result of the Balfour Declaration, but as an opposing political force to British colonialism and the country’s “mandate” in Palestine.

Much of Meir’s political life is based on the same legacy that 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.

The Israeli brand has lost much of its former appeal as a liberal, democratic and even socialist project

Ramzy Baroud

“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, which played a major role in the portrayal of Palestinians in the US media during the Second Intifada of 2000 to 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 said. She maintained that line until her death in 1978.

Meir, however, could hardly be credited for originating that racist notion, which has been functional in dehumanizing the Palestinians throughout history. Such language was fundamental to the early Zionists, who wanted to see in Palestine “a land without a people for a people without a land,” which remains useful to modern Zionists. Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s current far-right minister of finance, in March declared 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: either as creative Israeli hasbara aimed at taking advantage of a growing worldwide movement that celebrates women and their contributions or as an act of desperation.

Indeed, the Israeli brand has lost much of its former appeal as a liberal, democratic and even socialist project. Such terminology is hardly marketable when many Israelis are themselves questioning if their version of democracy 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 continue 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 limited in both time and scope. At best, it is a belated attempt at reinventing Zionism.

Oppressed Palestinians — 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 lionizing war-hungry individuals like Meir cannot be the way to achieve this coveted end.

  • Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for more than 20 years. He is an internationally syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books, and the founder of X: @RamzyBaroud
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