Martin Luther King Jr and the Jews

I keep hearing lately all these comments about how Martin Luther King was against Zionism and supported the Palestinians. All these comments are done in the name of "Intersectionality", which is the assumption that all oppressed people (be it by gender, race, national origin, etc) share a common cause against the oppressors. In this unique perspective, the reasoning is that since Blacks are oppressed in America and Palestinians in Palestine, they are natural allies. White America and Israelis are the oppressors - therefore Blacks and Palestinians must make common cause. It follows, therefore, for those who believe in this perspective, that the greatest historical figure of African-Americans, the Rev Martin Luther King Jr, must have been against the oppressors, namely White America and Israel.

This is indeed an interesting perspective, but one that ironically, says more about the biasses and hates of those who hold it that about reality or about the beliefs of Rev. King.

One of the problems with the so-called Intersectional movement is that when it comes to religious beliefs, they start from the assumption that Jews are not discriminated against for their religion. Not only is this inaccurate, but it also represents a case of circular thinking. "Since Israelis oppress the Palestinians, and the Israelis are Jews, Jews cannot be opressed because they are oppressors". It would do good to these activists to read the works of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator and philosopher who wrote "The pedagogy of the Oppressed" and is considered to be the father of critical pedagogy. Among other concepts, he developed the idea that oppressor and oppressed are not independent categories nor are they "pure" categories. Each of us is oppressor and oppressed. Contrary to what the activists of Intersectionality claim, that one can be an oppressor only when holding the reins of power. Freire postulates that the conditions of oppressor and oppressed exist in any human relationship and can manifest themselves in many ways. So much then for the idea that the oppressed is not the oppressor or viceversa. For Freire there is a dialectical connection between power and powerlessness.

But that chink in the armor of self-righteousness that so many supporters of intersectionalism wear these days, is just one. In the case of Martin Luther King Jr's position on Zionism and Israel, they tend to dismiss the living words of MLK in favor of their own interpretation. This is nothing short of intellectual dishonesty intended to ensnare those who are not familiar with the subject. In King's days, his movement was not unchallenged within the African American community; there were those who advocated a violent overthrow of whites in power and a whole variety of ideas in-between. When King was asked what he would say to those activists who were also disparaging Israel, King responded:

"On the MIddle East crisis...the response of the so-called young militants, again, does not represent the position of the vast majority of Negroes. There are those who are color-consumed, and they see a kind of mystique in being colored, and anything non-colored is condemned. We do not follow that course in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and certainly most of the organizations in the civil rights movement do not follow that course...

...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, and never mind saying it, as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land almost can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality...

...On the other hand, we must see what peace for the Arabs means in a real sense of security on another level. Pace for the Arabs means the kind of economic security that they so desperately need. These nations, as you know, are part of that third world of hunger, of disease, of illiteracy. I think that as long as these conditions exist, there will be tensions; there will be the endless quest to find scapegoats. So there is a need for a Marshall Plan for the Middle East, where we lift those who are at the bottom of the economic ladder and bring them into the mainstream of economic security"

(Excerpts of Dr King's speech at the 68th Annual Convention of the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism)

I believe, as a Jew, that we need to work in our society to complete the realization of the ideals articulated in the US Constitution. We have come a long way from the time when "We the People" referred only to a narrow segment of White America; no women, no minorities. The job, however, is not done. The American Political Covenant is not something frozen in time; it is a living ideal, a living word. But to meet the high expectations those ideals represent, we need to do so with intellectual honesty and respect; not by twisting the facts to meet our own agenda. Not by coopting popular historical figures and putting our own words in their mouth.

To fix the world, we need to start by recognizing reality and work together to make that reality come closer to the ideals of freedom and democracy. In the words of Freire - to liberate the oppressor and the oppressed by eliminating oppression...




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