20 January 2003

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Jews

Yesterday we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Wayne State gave us the day off, but did anybody think about his message? Every group uses his message to support the causes that fit their agenda. Arab groups use him too to argue against the existence of the Jewish State of Israel. However the opposite is true.

Most people would be surprised to know that Dr. Martin Luther King was a great supporter of the State of Israel. Dr. King was alive at the time the Jewish State was created in 1948, and around to see the amazing Six Day victory of Israel in 1967. His words stand on their own, and need no explanation. He stated what he believed in.

In 1967, Dr. King wrote to Adolph Held, the president of the Jewish Labor Committee after a meeting of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that, “I would have made it crystal clear that I could not have supported any resolution ... calling for a condemnation of Israel and an unqualified endorsement of the policy of the Arab powers.”

In the same letter Dr. King stated, “Israel’s right to exist as a state is incontestable.” Instead of imagining what Dr. King believed about the State of Israel, it is very clear to anyone interested in finding out to read the words that he himself wrote.

In addition to his positive outlook toward Israel, he expressed his opinion about the Arab countries. “At the same time, the great powers have the obligation to recognize that the Arab world is in a state of imposed poverty and backwardness that must threaten peace and harmony.” He puts the blame for this poverty and backwardness on the people who created it. “...some Arab feudal rulers are no less concerned for oil wealth and neglect the plight of their own people.”

On March 25, 1968, two weeks before Dr. King was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee, he was at a Rabbinical Assembly and spoke clearly, “peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.”

Dr. King was even more clear in his “Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend,” (Saturday Review Aug. 1967) “...You declare, my friend, that you do not hate the Jews, you are merely ‘anti-Zionist.’... When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews--this is God’s own truth....

“Why is this? You know that Zionism is nothing less than the dream and ideal of the Jewish people returning to live in their own land....

“The antisemite rejoices at any opportunity to vent his malice. The times have made it unpopular, in the West, to proclaim openly a hatred of the Jews. This being the case, the antisemite must constantly seek new forms and forums for his poison. How must he revel in the new masquerade! He does not hate the Jews, he is just ‘anti-Zionist!....”

Dr. King was aware of the situation of the world in which he lived. He watched the creation of the State of Israel. He watched the Jews win back and reunify Jerusalem. He watched the Palestinian Liberation Organization as it was founded in 1964, before there were any “occupied territories”. And after all this, he still claimed the territorial integrity of the Jewish State with no exception. The world would be a better place if we would listen to his message.

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