Golda's emissaries

Golda’s emissaries: African development and the gendering of Israeli foreign policy in the Cold War era

Dr Daniel K. Heller  

Golda Meir dances the hora with Margaret Kenyatta, the daughter of Kenya’s Prime Minister, to celebrate the establishment of the Kenya-Israel School for Social Work, 1962. (Photo courtesy of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries.)

About the project

In the late 1950s, Israel launched a sweeping development aid program focused on sub-Saharan Africa. Framing Israel as a country recently freed from British colonial domination, Israeli officials argued that it was their duty and destiny to alleviate the suffering of postcolonial states around the world.

Israeli support for African development was also imagined as a project by and for women. It was spearheaded by foreign minister and future prime minister Golda Meir, and women were its frontline workers and ideal beneficiaries. Decades before Hilary Clinton famously equated women’s rights with human rights, Israel situated gender at the very heart of its development policy.

This Israeli aid program for African women has been largely overlooked by historians and forgotten by the public. Golda’s Emissaries will tell this neglected story for the first time, using untapped archival sources and new interviews, and weaving together the voices of both Israeli and African women.

The book will contribute in novel ways to debates about gender and geopolitics, Israeli foreign policy, and the political stakes of global development aid. Set against the backdrop of decolonization, the Cold War, and the Arab-Israeli conflict, it will reveal how African women’s lives were impacted by Israeli development aid - and how they struggled to shape the design and delivery of interventions made in their name. It will also show how questions of race, colonialism, and gender reverberated among Israelis themselves as they reckoned with their country’s role in a postcolonial world.

Related publications and conference papers

Israeli Aid and the “African Woman”: The Gendered Politics of International Development, 1958-1973Jewish Social Studies 25,2 (2020), pp.49-78

Gender, Development and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: The Politics of Study Tours for Women from the Global South in the State of Israel, 1958-1973History Australia, November 2020, 1-17.

“Israeli Aid and African Women: The Gendered Politics of International Development, 1958-1973” Cultures of Humanitarianism and International Development Workshop, Melbourne, Australia (July 26, 2019)

Halutzot in Nairobi? Gender and Israeli Development Aid to Kenya, 1962-1968” Association for Jewish Studies Conference (December 18, 2018).

“Israel, the UN and the Gendered Politics of International Development” Association for Jewish Studies Conference (December 19, 2016).

Related talks & events

"Israeli Aid and African Women: The Gendered Politics of International Development", Keynote Speaker, Schwartz-Reisman Graduate Student Conference, University of Toronto, 30 April 2019.

"Israel and the Gendered Politics of International Development: The Case of Mina Ben Zvi", Oxford University, March 12, 2018.