Strangely, there are no citations for any of the quotes in the book, and while I found these two exact quotes in other books (all published in or after 1970) none of the citations were from original sources. Even more bizarre is that As Good As Golda was compiled and edited by Israel and Mary Shenker – yes, the same Israel Shenker who several years later would write the massive New York Times obituary that contained dozens of Meir quotes but, notably, not her two most famous ones. (We’ll probably never solve that particular puzzle as Mr. and Mrs. Shenker are both deceased.)
In investigating the veracity of a historical occurrence or quote, one also wants to consider whether the event or statement in question is consistent with the personality, habits, or disposition of the public figure connected to it. Just as it would have been out of character for the diligent Lincoln to have hastily written his Gettysburg Address on the train to Gettysburg or to have ad-libbed his speech on the Gettysburg battlefield, the sentimental nature of Meir’s alleged pronouncement about “forgiv[ing] the Arabs for killing our sons” seems inconsistent with her character.
Nasser was an avowed enemy of Israel who desired, along with Egypt’s Arab neighbors, to destroy the country. With so much Jewish blood having been spilled to preserve the nation’s very existence, would the iron-willed and resolute Meir really have said something that has such an abject ring of supplication and liberal political correctness to it?
In the chapter in her autobiography on the Yom Kippur War, Meir wrote: “For years we not only had seen our sons killed but had tolerated a situation so grotesque that it is almost unbelievable: The only time that Arab states were prepared to recognize the State of Israel was when they had attacked it in order to wipe it out.”
In her manifest disgust with the Arab wish to annhilate Israel, she certainly does not sound like she would have said something even remotely like “When peace comes we will perhaps in time be able to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill their sons.”
And yet, despite the lack of verification for either statement and the fact that the “forgive them” quote in particular hardly accords with Meir’s well-known hardheaded persona, they’ve both become entrenched as immutable fact, as truth carved in stone, when apparently they stand on a foundation built of sand.
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Historical truth is ill served when so many people want to believe something even if it may not be true. A reputable scholar contacted by one of the archives I was in touch with for this article insisted on the veracity of the quotes – but at the same time acknowledged he couldn’t offer any evidence for them!
In August 2014, in the wake of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge against Hamas in Gaza, the Anti-Defamation League placed an ad in The Hollywood Reporter that highlighted the two iconic Meir quotes and suggested they were applicable to contemporary events; readers were asked to join the 18 Hollywood executives whose names were listed “in calling upon world leaders and decent people everywhere to ensure that Hamas terrorists cannot be rearmed…”
The ad had both Meir quotes strung together with the singular attribution “Golda Meir (1957).”
The ADL did not respond to repeated requests from The Jewish Press for a statement as to whether the organization possessed any verification of the quotes and why they ran together, as though they were part of the same statement.