Israel’s prime minister Golda Meir, sometimes known as the “Iron Lady,” has been blamed for unnecessary deaths in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, but when her conduct before, during, and after the war are examined in Golda, filmviewers may make a very different assessment. Directed by Guy Nattiv, most of the film traces her decision-making, though her chainsmoking during lymphoma treatments depict someone more delicate.

Before the film begins, titles remind filmviewers of the victory of the Six-Day War of 1967, in which Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon attacked Israel but were quickly defeated. One title editorializes by claiming that victory resulted in Israeli “hubris.” When the film begins, intelligence information clearly indicates that Egypt and Syria intend to attack Israel again in 1973 on the national religious holiday of Yom Kippur (October 6). Surrounded by heads of military branches, Golda Meir (played by a very cosmetologically transformed Helen Mirren) hears two options. One is full mobilization; the second option is partial mobilization. Neither provide full information on the possible costs and benefits of either option. They just provide numbers of troops to be called into battle, a most unprofessional way to advise Golda, whose response is 120,000 troops, about halfway between the two options. As she later says, “I’m a politician.” She also refuses to launch a pre-emptive strike, fearing that Israel will be charged as an aggressor and lose American support—a fact confirmed by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. During the rest of the film, Golda Meir obtains intelligence and makes decisions as the war is ongoing—a tediously repetitive element of the film that may bore some filmviewers but inform them that Golda was on the spot during important decisions.

One of her first demands is to identify the number of prisoners of war that are captured in the first week of the war, a requirement of the Geneva Conventions. She repeatedly expresses dismay on hearing how many Israeli soldiers have died. Twice she consults Henry Kissinger, whom she hopes will deter Russia from providing additional support to Egypt. When Israel prevails, armistice negotiations ensue, but she insists that she will not accept a peace agreement unless Egypt and Syria explicitly acknowledge Israel as a party. She thereby accomplishes what previous prime ministers have failed to do—gain formal recognition of Israel as a sovereign state. The war ends on October 25, 1973.   

At the beginning of the film, Golda appears to be on trial for something, but that scene fades quickly only to reappear at the end. In 1974, the Agranat Commission hears testimony about her possible unsatisfactory role in regard to the war. When she concludes her testimony, she expresses regret for any lives lost due to her conduct—and says “Don’t write that down.” The Commission, nevertheless, absolves her of “direct responsibility.”

Titles at the end indicate that she resigned in 1974, when her party was unable to negotiate a majority of votes in parliament, recalling the line that drew the largest laughter from those attending at a theater is North Hollywood, namely, “All political careers end in failure.”

The Political Film Society nominates Golda for best film exposé and best film on the need for peace of 2023.  MH            

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