Today is Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, not the national holiday which is Monday. As an activist member of Jewish Voice for Peace, I have at times faced counter-demonstrations while I speak out against unjustifiable atrocities being committed allegedly for me and by “my” side. Being from the United States, I could be doubly responsible for the US/Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. As a long-time member of the War Resisters League, King and I share a belief that (in his words) “social change comes more meaningfully through nonviolence,” that the “business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love,” and that God didn’t choose “America as his divine, messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world.” 42 years have passed since he was assassinated.
So I am perplexed when I see “pro-Israel” signs that extol Martin Luther King’s defense of Israel, using quotes (which I also am fond of doing) by the late revolutionary, but in their case, highlighting things he said that seem to place him on “their” side of the police line, not mine. On the occasion of his birth, newsletters of synagogues may even have articles touting King as a staunch defender of Israel’s right to defend itself. They take quotes from 42 years ago as I do, to make our points. Certainly, after the Six Day War of 1967 (and before), King defended Israel. However, events of the last two score years I think would have reinforced King’s pacifism and “eternal hostility towards militarism, racism and economic exploitation.” He never would have become an anti-Semite, but I do think facts on the ground would have led him to become quite critical of Israel. I want to briefly mention five specific issues that would have negatively effected King’s perspective on Israel:
I certainly don’t think King would have become an anti-Semite, but he may have become an anti-Zionist. They are not the same thing. “The truth must be told, and I say that those who are seeking to make it appear that anyone who opposes the war in Vietnam is a fool or a traitor or an enemy of our soldiers is a person that has taken a stand against the best in our tradition.” That is a quote of his that I have no doubt could accurately be updated to go beyond mention of Vietnam and include every military adventure subsequently waged by “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today–my own government,” including the US/Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories.
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