The 1973 Yom Kippur War was on, and things were not good. History tells us that Egyptian troops would cross the Suez Canal, into the Sinai Peninsula, part of a coordinated attack on the High Holy Day.
As Israeli leaders reeled in the face of a surprise attack, Golda Meir told Meron Medzini that she didn’t want to talk to journalists, despite his pile of requests from them.
The prime minister was afraid reporters would ask how the war was going, and besides, Medzini now says, “she was busy with a war.” Medzini, her press representative at the time, now jokes: “I was totally unemployed during the war.”
This tale and more came to Milwaukee Aug. 30, when Medzini spoke at a screening of “Golda,” the 2023 film by director Israeli Guy Nattiv. The film stars Helen Mirren as the Milwaukee-raised prime minister of Israel. The screening with Medzini’s talkback represented a collaboration between Milwaukee Jewish Federation and the Harry & Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center. The film was shown at the Marcus North Shore Cinema in Mequon.
Mark Shapiro, president and chief executive officer of JCC, and Miryam Rosenzweig, president and CEO of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, hosted the conversation on stage with Medzini, before and after the film, respectively. The theater was packed with people from the local community.
Rehabilitating Golda’s reputation
Medzini was an adviser for Nattiv, the director of the movie, spending 10 hours or more on Zoom with him, he said. Medzini, in an interview with the Chronicle, said the movie hewed to history, “far better than I feared.”
He added that there were many factors that led to Israel been caught flatfooted at the start of the Yom Kippur war, but that faulty military intelligence may have been the main culprit. This is reflected in the movie, when an Israeli spy system is offering false assurances that there will be no attack.
There is much to applaud Meir for, Medzini said, including the $100 million she raised in America for the birth of Israel; labor laws, including Social Security, enacted in Israel; the opening of the African continent to Israel; forming a better relationship with American administrations; and for conducting the war.
But for Medzini, Meir was not a perfect person. Yes, she could be gracious, feminine, pleasant, nice, and grandmotherly, he said, but she could also be mean. He recalled that when someone — who she didn’t care for — said he wanted to be the next prime minister, she asked: “Of what country?”
On stage at the theater in Mequon, before the showing of the film, Medzini acknowledged that Meir has been negatively linked with the Yom Kippur war – a war that at first went very badly. The film is part of a larger effort to rehabilitate her reputation, he said. It’s an endeavor he indicated he supports, though he also added, with some mirth: “I have a personal stake in it because 15 or 20 minutes into the film, Golda will say, ‘Get me Medzini to write the speech.’ I’m Medzini ….”
Medzini does not see the Yom Kippur War as a historic, existential threat to 1973 Israel. “I would strongly urge all of you to remove from your dictionary, vocabulary, the term of the ‘destruction of Israel,’ the ‘elimination of Israel,’ the ‘extinction of Israel,’” he said.
This is because in 1973, Israel already had nuclear weapons.
Along those lines, one question from the movie theater seats, as Medzini sat just in front of the screen before and after the show, was on those weapons of mass destruction. The question was on whether Meir had ordered that 13 nuclear weapons be made ready for use, as has been reported.
“She didn’t,” Medzini said. “The story is as they were breaking up (a) meeting, (Defense Minister Moshe Dayan) leaned on the door and said to Golda, ‘maybe we should consider the use of special means of special measures.’ And she looked him in the eye and said in Hebrew … ‘forget it.’ And that was the end of the story. No, no one considered the use of non-conventional weapons.”
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For a local review of the 2023 movie, “Golda” starring Helen Mirren, click here.