Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is commemorated today, Monday January 17. Of course, Dr. King is first and foremost a hero because of his great work on behalf of African-Americans, for, and with, whom he won the human rights so long and shamefully denied them in the U.S. By extension, he is hero to all Americans, whom he gave the gift of challenging us to become better people. But I also think his dedication to speaking the unpopular truth in defense of Zionists–those who believe in the existence of a secure Jewish state–further reflects his rare character.
I link here to a video that includes some of Dr. King’s words about Israel.
Dr. King stood with the Jews. Many among our ranks stood with him, too.
Last week the New Jersey Jewish Standard ran a fine story about the efforts of rabbis and others in the Jewish community to answer Dr. King’s call for clergy from the North to join the civil rights movement down South.
I had heard about Jewish-American participation in the civil rights movement. But I was pleasantly surprised to learn that “of the thousands of white activists who headed South” to stand up for the rights of African-Americans in the 1960’s “nearly half were Jewish,” according to Jewish Dimensions of Social Justice, a 1998 publication of the Reform movement.
Jews are a minority whose concerns are generally our own affair, meaning, we do not typically ask for, expect, or receive help from other groups in the world - even as many of us dedicate time and resources to helping other groups (Of course, Israel does receive substantial foreign aid from the U.S., but I would argue that is at least as much a matter of vital strategic interest to America as it is a matter of shared values and good will).
Why few people have ever made the Jews their “cause” is somewhat mysterious. But the fact that this is true–that Jews almost always stand alone–makes us an interesting litmus test. Never has it been more true than today, when Israel’s right to self-defense is regularly under attack. In a world where siding with Jews has traditionally conferred no advantages, it is only the bravest who stand with us.
Dr. Martin Luther King was one of them.
We must honor his memory and strive to be worthy of the courage he showed in defense of truth and justice.
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