Usually, there are 50-50 odds of winning a coin flip, but the chances of success for those pushing for a coin honoring Golda Meir are more complicated.
Twenty members of Congress, foreign ambassadors and others lunched on April 27 at the U.S. Capitol, in part to celebrate 75 years of the U.S.-Israel relationship and partly to launch a bipartisan congressional effort for the U.S. Mint to strike a coin commemorating Israel’s fourth prime minister, who grew up in Milwaukee.
Bobby Rechnitz, a real estate developer, is chairing the initiative, which would require the support of two-thirds of both the House of Representatives and Senate. Ezra Friedlander, CEO of the Friedlander Group, also played an important role.
Rechnitz previously lobbied for Iron Dome funding and pushed for a congressional gold medal for former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres in 2014 to honor his 90th birthday.
There could be no better time than the present—with the United States and Israel somewhat divided right now—for a unifying project, like honoring Meir, Rechnitz told JNS ahead of the event. “Especially when we’re talking about an American-Israeli woman, who became a prime minister of Israel and one of the first female leaders in the world,” he said.
Meir’s family (she was born Golda Mabovitch) left Ukraine for Milwaukee when she was 8 years old. In 1921, she and her husband, Morris Meyerson (she shortened her surname after moving to Israel), immigrated to British Mandatory Palestine, later serving as a delegate to the Zionist Organization and working as chief liaison to the British government during World War II.
She signed Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948 and was elected to the Knesset, before serving as labor minister, foreign affairs minister, and finally, as prime minister from 1969 to 1974.
Meir graced the cover of Time magazine in 1969, and U.S. voters named her Gallup’s “most admired woman” in 1971, 1973 and 1974.
On Feb. 10, Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Andrew Garbarino (R-N.Y.) introduced H.R. 987, the Prime Minister Golda Meir Commemorative Coin Act, which now has 39 co-sponsors.
The legislation calls on the U.S. Mint to create up to 50,000 gold $5 coins, up to 400,000 silver $1 coins and up to 750,000 half-dollar coins honoring Meir. Surcharges ($35 per gold coin; $10 per silver coin; and $5 per half-dollar coin) will go to the American Friends of Kiryat Sanz Laniado Hospital. A companion bill introduced by Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) on April 26 in the Senate, S.1300 contains the same figures.
‘What a woman leader should and could be’
At the April 27 luncheon, Wasserman Schultz told attendees that as a child in New York, she grew up in awe of Meir, whom she called a rare symbol of Jewish female power on the global stage.
“What stood out for me was her boldness, her willingness to put herself out there and to fiercely stand up for the values that she believed in, to fight for Israel’s safety and security,” the congresswoman told JNS.
“The leadership qualities that she displayed were just not as common or as prominent in most women,” she said. “That was the advent of the women’s movement worldwide. She’s just my earliest, most wonderful memory of what a woman leader should and could be like when I was a little girl.”
Despite the long odds of passage, Rechnitz is confident that Congress will get on board with the coin.
“We feel it’s feasible. We haven’t failed before,” he said. “It’s going to be a two- or three-year advocacy project.”
Wasserman Schultz told JNS it’s now a matter of “hard work, nose to the grindstone” to get the coins minted. “You just have to go member to member and educate them about Golda Meir’s legacy—the fact that she was an American, as well as an Israeli, and rose to the heights of power,” she explained. “It’s just a matter of being time-consuming because the support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is strong and bipartisan.”
‘Involved in Israel for a long, long time’
That relationship, currently strained for a number of reasons, was also a topic of discussion at Thursday’s event.
A House resolution honoring 75 years of U.S.-Israel relations and urging an expansion of the Abraham Accords passed overwhelmingly on April 25 by a 401-19 vote. Eighteen of the “no” votes came from the Democratic side.
“I don’t think there’s an issue with the Democratic Party and Israel,” freshman Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) told JNS. “It’s very important to me that we, as a party, build and strengthen our relationship with Israel to make sure they are preserving their democratic values and foundations. I have every confidence in the world that Israel will get it right.”
Where Goldman alluded to the judicial reform fight in Israel, which critics call anti-democratic, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), dean of the House’s Jewish membership, spoke bluntly to JNS.
“I think the relationship has been very close and is very close. I think it’s at a crisis point right now because of the crisis in Israel,” he said. “Israeli democracy is under huge threat. That’s why you have hundreds of thousands of people in the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.”
He said that U.S. President Joe Biden “has clearly given the cold shoulder” to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “because the president is supporting the pro-democracy movement in Israel, and God-willing, it will prevail.”
Asked where he draws the line between letting Israel sort out its own problems and getting involved as an ally, Nadler replied: “I’m both an American congressman and a Jewish person who has been involved in Israel for a long, long time.”
Nadler approves of Biden’s criticism of Netanyahu on judicial reform and supports the steps the Biden administration has taken to halt or slow down that process. He also critiques the right-wing nature of the current government, particularly National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, whom Nadler called racist.
Still, a wide swath of Democrat and Republican members of Congress took to the podium on Thursday to praise both Meir and the ties that bind the United States and Israel.
Rechnitz, who is privately funding the Meir coin program through his Bomel Initiative, stressed the bipartisan nature of the project to JNS.
“We feel that here’s a woman in Golda Meir, who stood for so many things,” he said. “She was an American-Israeli prime minister. She was one of the first female leaders in the world. She was very progressive and very liberal, and yet she helped found the country and fulfill the Zionist dream.”