JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – A fascinating new movie was just released in theaters throughout the U.S. and Israel.
It’s called GOLDA and it tells the gripping and deeply moving story of Golda Meir, Israel’s first and, so far, only woman prime minister.
The movie doesn’t try to tell her whole life story, as compelling as that was – born a Jewess in Ukraine, emigrated to the United States, settled in Milwaukee, moved to Denver, eventually made aliyah to Israel, lived on a kibbutz, and rose to become the most powerful woman in the Jewish world.
Rather, the film focuses on how Golda dealt with the most serious crisis of her life, when the combined military forces of Egypt and Syria, fully backed by the Soviet Union, simultaneously launched a surprise invasion of Israel in 1973 on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar when Jews don’t eat or drink or watch TV or listen to the radio.
Earlier this month, Bleecker Street – the independent film company that is distributing GOLDA – gave me the opportunity to watch an advance copy of the film starring Academy Award-winning actress Helen Mirren as Golda and I loved it.
I hope you’ll watch it and then go see the film.
HERE’S WHAT THE MOVIE DOES SO WELL
After all, what the movie does so well is to take you inside Golda’s world and inside her inner circle – made up entirely of men – as they misread the warning signs that war was coming.
Directed by Academy Award-winner Guy Nattiv – himself an Israeli – we are shown the chain-smoking Golda, gripped by fear and initial indecision as Israel faces, not just a devastating sneak attack from both north and south, but losses so extreme in the early days that she worries her country is facing utter annihilation.
The makeup job is extraordinary.
Helen Mirren is truly transformed into modern Israel’s least attractive but most heroic woman.
But it’s Mirren’s Oscar-worthy performance that makes the movie work.
We see Golda summon the courage not to give up – not to roll over and accept defeat – but rather to push her generals to take enormous risks to turn the tide of the war in Israel’s favor.
We see her secretly battling cancer – and going through chemotherapy – even in the darkest hours of the fighting.
We watch her navigate fierce political crosswinds as the Kremlin gives the Arabs all the support they need to win, while the Nixon White House initially resists giving Israel all the arms it needs to prevent a Second Holocaust.
What’s more, as the tide of the war finally turns in Israel’s favor, we see Golda resist tremendous pressure by hen-U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger – played brilliantly by Liev Schreiber – to force Israel into a premature ceasefire without gaining significant concessions by the Egyptians.
HERE’S WHAT THE MOVIE GETS WRONG
That said, as much as I enjoyed GOLDA, and believe it’s an important film, there are some flaws.
One is that it doesn’t give nearly enough attention to the fact that Israel actually had a mole deep inside Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s inner circle.
His name was Ashraf Marwan.
He was code-named, “The Angel.”
And he was the son-in-law of the late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Far better portrayed in the Netflix film, “The Angel,” for months – and at severe risk to his own life – Marwan had been warning the Mossad, Israel’s legendary spy agency, that Egypt and Syria were preparing to invade.
He was feeding Mossad the actual war plans.
And when he learned the actual date and time of the invasion, Marwan passed this on to Israeli intelligence, as well.
But Golda and her team didn’t take the warnings seriously enough.
After Israel’s miraculous victory in the 1967 Six-Day War just a few years earlier, they arrogantly thought Israel was invincible.
They thought the Arabs would never try to attack again. But they were wrong.
The movie, Golda, does allude to the existence of 'The Angel' but gives this element short shrift, understating just how much information Marwan was providing Mossad, and thus, understating the magnitude of Golda’s failure to get Israel ready.
Don’t get me wrong – Golda is and will always remain a great hero for how she led Israel to victory after the attack.
But if she had mobilized the Israel Defense Forces earlier, based on The Angel’s warnings, the invasion may never have happened in the first place.
HOW CLOSE DID GOLDA COME TO USING THE “NUCLEAR OPTION"?
Also somewhat odd – and I’d say, disappointing – is that director Guy Nattiv gives far too little screen time to the recommendation by then-Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan in the first few disastrous days of the war, to prepare to use nuclear weapons against the Egyptians and Syrians to save the country from total destruction.
We now know that on Oct. 7 – Day 2 of the war – Golda was briefed by her generals on just how horribly things were going, especially in the Golan Heights, during a tense and historic 30-minute meeting.
It was in that meeting Dayan urged Golda to order the military to pull Israel’s top secret nuclear weapons – weapons that, to this day, Israel still does not officially acknowledge having – out of storage and ready them for actual use against the enemy.
Dayan said such preparations needed to be made immediately, without delay, in case Israel continued suffering massive defeats on the battlefield, saying: “It’s possible that time will be of the essence.”
Several of Golda’s advisors were horrified by the suggestion, and reportedly shouted at Dayan, telling him, “Moshe, it’s too soon to panic.”
In the end, Golda sided against Dayan, refusing to set into motion the nuclear option.
In the new film, we see Dayan raise the nuclear option with Golda, and we see her bat it away.
But director Nattiv doesn’t give the moment enough screen time.
We don’t see the intensity of the argument.
Thus, we miss much of the drama – and emotion – of just how close Israel’s legendary defense minister thought his country was to being wiped off the map, and how difficult it was for Israel’s legendary prime minister to say 'no' to using atomic weapons.
Still, GOLDA is an excellent and important film – I loved it – and I hope you will, too.
Joel C. Rosenberg is the editor-in-chief of ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and the President and CEO of Near East Media. A New York Times best-selling author, Middle East analyst, and Evangelical leader, he lives in Jerusalem with his wife and sons.