Bibi & Golda: Similar Legacies of Israel’s Most Controversial Prime Ministers

The Israel Journal at NYU
4 min readDec 12, 2023

By Aaron Baron

Prime Ministers Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: Alissia Clark) and Golda Meir (Photo: Rachel Windyk)

I was freshly bar mitzvahed prior to the summer of 2015 and the inception of the Iran Nuclear Deal that July. As you could imagine, the reaching of the agreement in Vienna was all the buzz in my Israeli-Persian household. Despite I24NEWS coverage ringing in my ear 24/7, most of the details circulating the deal flew over my thirteen year old head. I do, however, remember the backlash Prime Minister Netanyahu received that month. Yair Lapid, the Yesh Atid chairman who would go on to serve as the 14th Prime Minister of Israel years later, said it best when he boldly claimed that “Netanyahu is no [Winston] Churchill after World War II, he’s Golda Meir after the Yom Kippur War.” Over eight years later, amidst the most heart wrenching war the Jewish state has ever endured, Lapid’s comparison holds truer each day. This article aims to parallel various aspects of the tarnished legacies of Prime Ministers Golda Meir and Benjamin Netanyahu — leaders synonymous with Israel who live in infamy.

You are likely skeptical of my comparison. You were taught that Golda Meir was an icon. There’s no way that Meir — Israel’s first female prime minister, a founding-mother of the state, and a cigarette-smoking “Badass Bubbee” — can be compared to Netanyahu. How can Meir, who honorably resigned after five years as prime minister and the tragic Yom Kippur War, even be mentioned in the same breath as Netanyahu — Israel’s longest-tenured prime minister?

Prime Minister Netanyahu speaks during a memorial ceremony for Prime Minister Meir. (Photo: Jerusalem Post)

You are not alone in your belief, but there is not much of a leg to stand on today. In one of the most poorly timed articles ever, The Chicago Tribune published an op-ed a handful of hours before Hamas’ deadly massacre on October 7th where they detailed why comparisons between Netanyahu and Meir are faulty. One cannot help but cringe at the article’s assertions in a post-October 7th-reality.

A main point made to debunk the parallels between Meir and Netanyahu in the aforementioned op-ed was to discuss the two leader’s differences in defense strategies. In 1973, the Arab coalition launched a surprise attack on Israel on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. The Chicago Tribune piece spelled it out bluntly: Meir relied on her generals entirely for national security issues and had never worn an army uniform. Netanyahu, on the other hand, “takes pride in knowing.” Though critical of the prime minister, the op-ed asserts that Netanyahu understands security “better than most, if not all, other members of the Knesset.” As we still digest the harrowing aftermath of the October 7th attack, the deadliest surprise attack on Israel since the Yom Kippur War 50 years earlier, we know that the facade of Netanyahu as “Mr. Security” and “the protector of Israel” has come crashing down.

Prime Minister Meir speaks at a press conference during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. (Photo: Times of Israel)

Since the state’s impressive triumph in the Six Day War, Israeli leaders have been plagued with a delusional feeling of invulnerability. The Yom Kippur War was just as unthinkable as the ongoing Israel-Hamas War. Nearly two months after the tragic massacres on October 7th, Israelis and pro-Israel allies around the world find themselves asking how such an unthinkable attack could come to fruition. How could Israel’s intelligence elite let this fly under their noses? Similar questions were asked 50 years earlier when Israel seemed like the untouchable powerhouse of the Middle East.

Prime Minister Meir and Prime Minister Netanyahu both meet with Israeli soldiers fighting on the frontlines of the Yom Kippur and Israel-Hamas Wars, respectively. (Photo: NPR, NBC)

In 1973, Meir ignored all signs that the Yom Kippur War would break out. When it was obvious that Egypt and Syria were preparing for war, Meir was unaffected by the warnings. While it is unclear if Netanyahu had obtained Hamas’s battle plan from intelligence officials, The New York Times has published a report claiming that Israeli officials received a blueprint of Hamas’s plan to attack Israel over a year ago, but dismissed them as “aspirational.”

In Israel, the nation is only as strong as its prime minister. In both Meir’s and Netanyahu’s case, the government’s arrogance and shortsightedness “forced thousands of Israelis to heed their country’s emergency call and fight for its survival” and the biggest intelligence failure the country has seen. Time will tell if Netanyahu will follow further in Meir’s steps and resign once the current war is behind Israel. Regardless, the links between the two prime ministers are undeniable.

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The Israel Journal at NYU

The Israel Journal at NYU is an explanatory journal dedicated to clearing up the conversation around Israel.