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Henry Kissenger in Jerusalem
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Ben-Guron University Canada Sells Out a Pre-screening of the Film Golda, starring Helen Mirren Focusing on Golda’s Controversial Handling of 1973 War

by Rhonda Spivak, Aug 22, 2023

Ben-Gurion University Canada held a sold out pre-screening of the film Golda, about the iconic Golda Meir starring the British actress Helen Mirren.  The newly appointed president of the Winnipeg Chapter of Ben-Gurion University Canada Maury Steindel gave opening remarks, explaining how BGU is a hub of innovation and excellence, and noted that incoming CEO of the Jewish Federation Jeff Lieberman was in the audience, as well and also that Larry Vickar, who sits on the international Board of BGU was also in attendance. Vickar Automotive group was also a sponsor of the event as was the Rady JCC.
I thoroughly enjoyed the film, as did my 25 year old daughter. We were both fascinated by the historical intricacies and educational aspects of the film. 
Mirren gave a very compelling performance as the late Israeli prime minister, in a drama that deals with her handling of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which was a most challenging crisis in Golda’s political career. Israel was surprised by the mobilization of Egypt and Syria in that war, as Golda, relied on the advice of her Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, the hero of the 1967 Six Day War, who unfortunately minimized the signs of impending war in 1973 such that Israel suffered extensive casualties in the war, before managing to turn things around. The movie  even shows a badly shaken Dayan on day two of the war when Egypt and Syria were gaining ground suggesting Israel consider using nuclear weapons, with Meir telling him to “forget it.” (This, by the way, appears to be historically accurate). The film also focuses mainly on the southern front of the war with Egypt, as opposed to the Golan. 

The film shows Meir giving testimony before the Agranat Commission which was formed after the war to assess whether Meir, Dayan , and other top military officials ought to be censured, for the handling of the war, especially  for failing to mobilize in response to enemy troop activity.
Throughout the film, Golda is shown holding a cigarette, as the real-life Meir was a heavy smoker and so were most of the IDF brass. Even in scenes when she is at Hadassah Hospital, where she receives treatment for lymphoma, Meir is smoking.
Mirren looks like Meir in the film, which at times shifts to actual archived footage of Golda during the war. The use of such footage adds to the film. Mirren speaks English throughout the movie, which makes more sense than it normally would given that Meir grew up in the United States. Mirren, like Golda, speaks with a little bit of a Yiddish accent.
The film portrays Golda as being able to be a “tough as nails” negotiator, as she convinces the United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to resupply Israel with weapons in the of middle of the war. In  another scene Meir tells Henry Kissinger, played by Liev Schreiber, that she will not allow humanitarian aid to be brought to trapped Egyptian troops until Egyptian President Anwar Sadat agrees to recognize Israel by name , instead of calling it “the Zionist entity.”
The movie also includes one of Meir’s most memorable quotes, which was part of a conversation with Kissinger, when he said, “Golda, you must remember that first I am an  American, second I am Secretary of State and third I am a Jew,” and she responded, “Henry, you forget that in Israel we read from right to left.”
The film demonstrates how Meir had the courage to make life and death decisions under very circumstances. It also portrays her humanity as she agonizes over the number of casualties.
The talented Mirren portrays Golda as both having backbone and heart.
Golda was a woman on the world stage dominated by men, and she never wanted anyone in Israel to know if she was worried. The film  uses footage of Golda on the front lines with cheering soldiers which boosted morale for the war effort.
Meir was cleared of any wrongdoing in her conduct during the war by the Agranat Commission, which placed most of the blame on Israel’s military intelligence department, whose analysts adhered to the incorrect assumption that Egypt wouldn’t go to war until it gained long range fighter planes capable of destroying the Israeli Air Force and Scud missiles to deter a strike deep into Egypt. 
The Agranat Commission’s conclusions led to the dismissal of the IDF’s chief of staff, David Elazar, and the head of Aman, Major General Eli Zeira.
Some  2800 Israeli soldiers died in the 1973 war, with almost 9000 wounded. Roughly 400 Israelis were captured as prisoners of war.
Once re-armed by the U.S,Israel gained ground until a ceasefire took hold, Eventually there was a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.
Meir lived until 1978, and there is a clip of her talking ot Anwar Sadat.
Although Israel emerged victorious, it was a very painful victory, and the nation was traumatized.
I very much recommend seeing the film. Kudos to Ben-Gurion University Canada for bringing this pre-screening of it to Winnipeg . The film is now in theatres.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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