One day I would like to have my two friends in a room and watch them duke it out about the Yom Kippur War, but the two would agree on one thing, that 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 terrorism might not exist.
It was Meir who when the world refusing to track down and arrest the terrorists who committed the Munich massacre authorized Operation “Wrath of God.” The operation was covert program directed by the Mossad to assassinate individuals involved in planning, financing, and carrying out the 1972 Munich massacre. The targets were members of the Palestinian armed terrorist groups Black September and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
Forty-five years ago, in late September 1973, the year after the Munich Massacre, 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:
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 fleeing the USSR 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 Chancellor Bruno Kreisky) and gave in to 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.
Per her usual style, 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 chain-smoking old lady from Milwaukee really 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 went to Vienna to confront Austrian Chancellor Kreisky. 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 is the same argument we heard from liberals in Britain and the US when discussing the war on radical Muslim terrorism and ISIS.
The discussion continued with Kriesky offering other unworkable solutions to help him in his “it’s 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.”
Golda snapped back:
“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 Chancellor.
“Austria is a small country, and unlike major powers, small countries have few options in dealing with the blackmail of terrorists,” he said.
“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 emigres.”
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 pocketbook 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 grumbled 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.
Arriving back in Israel, Golda Meir said to the 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.”
Austrians, who despite initial dismay eventually rallied to the support of their socialist Chancellor, protested that his action was not a response to terrorism. Rather, they claimed, it was an administrative decision in which the government actually “suggested” to the kidnapers that it would alter its policy in exchange for the lives of the hostages. It was made because Austria, as one government official explained it, “was gradually becoming a battleground” in the continuing Israeli-Arab conflict. Jerusalem’s Vienna-born Mayor Teddy Kollek protested in a telegram to Kreisky: “Anyone who applies different standards to Jews than those he applies to others stands accused of anti-Semitism, whatever his origin.”
Privately, Austrian leaders eventually realized that Kreisky’s decision, however, rationalized regarding Austria’s own self-interest, was appallingly inept. Because Golda Meir’s criticism triggered such an international whirl of protest that the Austrian chancellor had no choice but to offer alternative arrangements. Thankfully, the Chancellor never took any steps to interrupt the flow of Soviet Jews to Austria.
Sadly, the world never took Golda’s advice, appeasement of terrorism became the norm. And the horrible practice grew in horror fed by the appeasement of a western world refusing to “insult” radical Islam, or what we hear today “that is what the terrorists want.” Yassir Arafat, who practiced terrorism till the day he died was welcomed into the world community. Mahmoud Abbas who arraigned the financing for Munich, never reformed but is seen as a peacemaker today. And thanks to continuing world appeasement, radical Islamists have learned that terrorism was a legitimate form of political expression.
The leadership of the far left Democratic Party in this country does not believe jihad is a threat to the country. The former president supported the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, made a deal allowing the Iranian terrorist government to build nuclear weapons, and pulled out of Afghanistan and Iraq earlier than the advice of our generals leading to the creation of ISIS. Obama covered-up then neglected to go after the terrorists who attacked our mission in Benghazi Libya, and when ISIS carried out an attack in San Bernardino, he blamed it on the lack of “sensible gun laws.” Thankfully there is a new sheriff in town.
Golda Meir is no longer with us, and that is too bad. If she were, like she did when she was the Israeli premier, Meir could teach the world a thing or two about dealing with terrorism. The strong-willed, straight-talking, chain-smoking, grey-haired former teacher who grew up in Milwaukee would have put terrorist appeasers leading European Governments in their places. Because when it came to dealing with terrorists, she had bigger “Brass Balls” than those leaders will ever have.