This photograph depicts a solidarity rally that took place in Tel Aviv in in support of the campaign to free Soviet Jews. Golda Meir, who became the Israeli prime minister in March 1969, is standing at the podium, preparing to address the crowd below her. Golda Meir was well known for her support for Soviet Jews, and she even went to the Soviet Union as a representative of the Israeli government in 1948. Here Meir is shown addressing the crowd with many journalists around her. Behind her, on top of the roof of a neighbouring apartment building, is a group of people watching the rally taking place below them. The location of the rally was probably כיכר מלכי ישראל (Kings of Israel Square). The square is now known as Rabin Square, named after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who was assassinated there in 1995 after delivering a speech at a peace rally.
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Golda Meir – Golda Meir was Israel’s fourth prime minister. Born in Kiev in 1898, Golda moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin when she was eight years old. In Milwaukee, she became very active in a Zionist youth movement. She married Morris Myerson in 1921, and the couple moved to Israel to live on Kibbutz Merhavia. Golda was very involved in the Histradrut (the trade union movement) and took various leadership positions in the organisation. In the years leading up to Israel’s independence, Golda began to play a role in diplomacy, culminating in a secret trip, dressed as an Arab, to try to convince King Abdullah of Jordan to refrain from attacking Israel after the state was declared. In June 1948, Golda became Israel’s first ambassador to Russia and was elected to the Knesset for the Mapai party in the first Knesset elections in 1949. In 1956 she became Israel’s foreign minister, and later, after the death of Levi Eshkol in 1969, she became the prime minister and was then re-elected in 1973. The 1973 Yom Kippur War caught Golda Meir’s government and the IDF unprepared. Israel was victorious in the war, but the trauma of the initial shock caused much political unrest, and the Agranat Commission was appointed to investigate the war. The commission’s report did not directly blame Golda for the lack of preparation, but she nevertheless resigned as prime minister in 1974. Golda Meir died on December 8, 1978 and is buried on Mount Herzl.
Refuseniks – During the communist rule of the Soviet Union, it was very difficult for Jews to obtain visas to leave the country, and only a small quota of Jews was allowed to leave each year. The Jews who were refused an exit permit were unofficially named “refuseniks” and were considered either traitors or a security liability. Jews who applied for an exit visa were subjected to KGB (secret police) surveillance, were often denied employment, and, as a result, would either face imprisonment or find a menial job. Famous refuseniks included Natan Sharansky, Ida Nudel, Yosef Mendelevitch, Israel and Sylva Zalmenson, and Yuli Edelstein, who later became the speaker of the Knesset (Israeli parliament). In the 1970s the plight of the Soviet refuseniks became known, and Jews from around the world placed international pressure on the USSR to allow Jews to leave the country. In 1990s, with political changes in the USSR Jews were allowed to leave freely.
Soviet Jewry Movement – The Soviet Jewry movement refers to the activities of Jews in the United States, Europe, and Israel to pressure the Soviet Union to allow Jews to immigrate to Israel. This movement began as a grassroots movement in the United States, led by students and housewives, but within a short time many more joined the movement and they even succeeded in enlisting large Western governments to protest the plight of Soviet Jews, as a human rights issue, whenever they met with Soviet officials. The movement’s slogan, taken from the book of Exodus, was “Let My People Go,” and it was used in demonstrations and rallies that took place around the world, culminating in the 1987 March on Washington when a quarter of a million people rallied in Washington, DC before the Reagan-Gorbachev summit. Throughout this period and continuing after the collapse of the Soviet Union, over one million Russian Jews left the Soviet Union, with most of them immigrating to Israel. Some well-known Russian emigres are Natan Sharansky, Ida Nudel, Yuli Edelstein, and Sergey Brin, Google co-founder.
Jews in the Soviet Union – The communist ideology of the Soviet Union demanded all Soviet minorities and nationalities to merge into one Soviet entity. While the Jews were not allowed a Jewish identity or to practice their Jewish tradition, they were nonetheless forced to have the word “Jewish” printed on their identity cards during Stalin’s rule. The combination of wiping out national and religious identity and yet singling out Jews created a difficult situation for Soviet Jews. With the creation of the State of Israel, their situation became even more complex. Despite voting in favour of the establishment of the State of Israel, the Soviet Union rejected Zionism in principle and prohibited any activity of a national or Jewish nature. In the 1960s, and especially after Israel’s success in the 1967 Six-Day War, Soviet Jews felt tremendous pride in Israel and empowered to request exit visas to leave the Soviet Union for Israel. However, most applicants for exit visas were “refused,” which led to them being known as “Refuseniks.” Some Refuseniks were fired from their jobs and even arrested and charged with activity against the government and the Soviet people. The plight of Soviet Jewry aroused international Jewish activity and pressure from the United States and Europe on the Soviet Union to open their gates. As a result of this activity, the Soviet Union changed its policy and enabled hundreds of thousands of Jews to leave for Israel.