One day I would like to have my two friends in a room and watch them duke it out. One thing the two would agree with is Golda took a strong stance against terrorism. She was a strong advocate of not appeasing terrorists. If her advice was heeded, today’s war against the terrorist tactics of al Qaeda and violent Islamism may not exist.
In September 1973, Meir was invited to speak to the Council of Europe. As Yehuda Avner her speech writer describes it, all eyes of the four hundred member council were upon the aging, chain smoking woman, whose face was deeply scarred from tragedy and worry as she stepped forward to address the crowd:
Generally speaking, Golda Meir preferred to speak extemporaneously, but since this was a formal occasion, protocol required she deliver a pre-prepared address. I, her in-house speechwriter, drafted one. In its preparation I had torn up a dozen or more versions, leaving tooth marks on my pen as I wrote and rewrote page after page, scribbling deranged doodles while mentally struggling for concise, rhythmic, salvationary nouns and alliterative descriptions in my effort to give her words a defining oratory.
To my consternation [at the time] Golda never enunciated a single one of these words. Instead, she scanned the assembly from end to end, jaw jutting, her expression defiant, and after combing back her hair with the fingers of both hands, brandished the written speech, and in a caustic tone said, “I have here my prepared address, a copy of which I believe you have before you. But I have decided at the last minute not to place between you and me the paper on which my speech is written. Instead, you will forgive me if I break with protocol and speak in an impromptu fashion. I say this in light of what has occurred in Austria during the last few days.”
What had happened during those past few days was a train carrying Jews escaping from communist Russia to Israel via Vienna was hijacked by two Arab terrorists at a railway crossing on the Austrian frontier. Seven Jews were taken hostage, among them a 73-year-old man, an ailing woman and a three-year-old child. The terrorists issued an ultimatum that unless the Austrian government instantly closed down Schoenau, the layover near Vienna where the Jews were processed before being flown on to Israel, not only would the hostages be killed, but Austria itself would become the target of violent retaliation. The Austrian cabinet met immediately,(led by the Chancellor Bruno Kreisky) Gave into the terrorists demands.
The entire Arab world could hardly contain its glee, and a fuming Golda Meir instructed her aides to arrange for an early flight from Strasbourg to Vienna where she intended to confront her fellow prime minister, her fellow socialist and her fellow Jew, Bruno Kreisky.
Golda’s speech to the European council was missing any of the traditional diplomatic niceties.
“Since the Arab terrorists have failed in their ghastly efforts to wreak havoc in Israel, they have of late taken their atrocities against Israeli and Jewish targets into Europe, aided and abetted by Arab governments.”
This remark caused a fidgety buzz to drone around the packed chamber, and it seemed to deepen when she spoke bitterly about the 11 Israeli athletes kidnapped and murdered at the Munich Olympics the summer before, an outrage compounded by the German government’s subsequent release of the surviving killers in return for the freeing of a hijacked Lufthansa plane and its passengers.
Then the Israeli Prime Minister let them have it.
“Oh yes, I fully understand your feelings,” said Golda cynically, arms folded as tight as a drawbridge. “I fully understand the feelings of a European prime minister saying, ‘For God’s sake, leave us out of this! Fight your own wars on your own turf. What do your enmities have to do with us? Leave us be!’ And I can even understand” – this in a voice that had gone grimmer than ever – “why some governments might even decide that the only way to rid themselves of this insidious threat is to declare their countries out of bounds, if not to Jews generally then certainly to Israeli Jews, or Jews en route to Israel. It seems to me this is the moral choice which every European government has to make these days.”
And then, chopping the air with balled fists, her face as granite as her eyes, she thundered, “European governments have no alternative but to decide what they are going to do. To every one which upholds the rule of law I suggest there is but only one answer – no deals with terrorists, no truck with terrorism. Any government which strikes a deal with these killers does so at its own peril. What happened in Vienna is that a democratic government, a European government, came to an agreement with terrorists. In so doing it has brought shame upon itself. In so doing it has breached a basic principle of the rule of law, the basic principle of the freedom of the movement of peoples – or should I just say the basic freedom of the movement of Jews fleeing Russia? Oh, what a victory for terrorism this is!”
With that the once skeptical crowd burst into applause.
After the speech, Meir Vienna to confront Chancellor Kreisky. After some political posturing Golda got down to business:
“And I know that, as a Jew, you have never displayed any interest in the Jewish state. Is that not correct?”
“That is correct. I have never made any secret of my belief that Zionism is not the solution to whatever problems the Jewish people might face.”
“Which is all the more reason why we are grateful to your government for all that it has done to enable thousands of Jews to transit through Austria from the Soviet Union via Schoenau to Israel,” said Golda diplomatically.
“But the Schoenau transit camp has been a problem to us for some time,” said Kreisky stonily.
“What sort of a problem?”
“For a start, it has always been an obvious terrorist target…”
Golda cut him off, and with a strong suggestion of reproach, said, “Mr. Kreisky, if you close down Schoenau, it will never end. Wherever Jews assemble in Europe for transit to Israel, they will be held to ransom by the terrorists.”
“But why should Austria have to carry this burden alone?” countered Kreisky with bite. “Why not others?”
That was the same argument Britain and the US made when asked to take in Jews during the Holocaust, the discussion continued with Kriesky offering other unworkable solutions to help him in his “its not my job” strategy. Finally the Chancellor looked Meir directly in the eyes and said.
“Mrs. Meir, it is Austria’s humanitarian duty to aid refugees from whatever country they come, but not when it puts Austria at risk. I shall never be responsible for any bloodshed on the soil of Austria.”
“And is it also not a humanitarian duty not to succumb to terrorist blackmail, Herr Chancellor?”
Golda’s words were purposely delivered in a nasty tone, she was angry now and she had roused the anger of the Chancelor.
“Austria is a small country, and unlike major powers, small countries have few options in dealing with the blackmail of terrorists.”
“I disagree,” seethed Golda. “There can be no deals with terrorism whatever the circumstances. What you have done is certain to encourage more hostage taking. You have betrayed the Jewish émigrés.”
The man’s brows drew together in an affronted frown. “I cannot accept such language, Mrs. Meir. I cannot…”
“You have opened the door to terrorism, Herr Chancellor,” the prime minister spat undeterred. “You have brought renewed shame on Austria. I’ve just come from the Council of Europe. They condemn your act almost to a man. Only the Arab world proclaims you their hero.”
“Well, there is nothing I can do about that,” said the Austrian in an expressionless voice, looking uncomfortably still. And then, with a hint of a shrug, “You and I belong to two different worlds.”
“Indeed we do, Herr Kreisky,” said Golda Meir in a voice cracked with sardonic Jewish weariness. “You and I belong to two very, very different worlds.”
With that Golda stood up grabbed her pocket book and started to leave. Just then an aide to the chancellor entered to say the press was gathered in an adjacent room awaiting a joint press conference. Meir grumbeled in Hebrew to the rest of her delegation “I have no intention of sharing a platform with that man. He can tell them what he wants. I’m going to the airport.” And said to Kreisky “I shall forgo the pleasure of a press conference. I have nothing to say to them. I’m going home,” and she exited through a back stairway.
When she arrived in Israel she said to the Israeli press at Ben-Gurion Airport, “I think the best way of summing up in a nutshell the nature of my meeting with Chancellor Kreisky is to say this: He didn’t even offer me a glass of water.”
Sadly the world never took Golda’s advice, appeasement of terrorism became the norm, at times now, even Israel rewards terror. Yassir Arafat, who practiced terrorism till the day he died was welcomed into the world community and radical Islamists learned that terrorism was a legitimate form of political expression.
After 9/11 until the 2006 mid term elections, the United States stood up to all terror, but after his lost his congressional majority Bush’s anti-terror resolve began to wane especially with regards to Palestinian Terror.
Today our government no longer Identifies our enemy for what they are, Islamist terrorists. We no longer say that jihad is a threat to the country. Our president has done outreach to terrorists and those who support terrorists than he reached out to our traditional allies. He tries to negotiate with the despots in Iran but ignores those who try to overthrow the terrorist supporting regeme. In short, he is appeasing the terrorists to a level that hasn’t been seen since the days of Jimmy Carter.
Golda Meir is no longer with us, and that is too bad because like she did in 1973 she could teach the world a thing or two about dealing with terrorism. Hopefully our leaders will learn a thing or two from Golda, before its too late.