As Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress is being compared to Queen Esther’s intervention in ancient Persia, America is this week celebrating the courageous stand taken 50 years ago by one of its own heroes.
And just as Bibi has stood up to the bullies in the White House, Dr Martin Luther King refused to be intimidated by the bullets, batons and bigots among white officialdom in the Deep South, defying Alabama Governor George Wallace and even President Lyndon B Johnson as he finally led protestors on a 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery.
He was less of a hero then, however, as his Civil Rights Movement both challenged and divided America, just as Bibi has done over Israel. And the irony, in view of the clash of emphasis between the current Israeli and American leaders, is that King became the inspiration for President Barack Obama to run for the White House.
The 1960s was a desperate time for many in the southern states of America as they paid a heavy price in deaths, injuries and denial of dignity despite their peaceful campaign led by a Baptist minister who insisted that God was on his side because the Bible makes clear that all men are created equal. Yet the black people of an America that claimed to have been founded on Christian principles were still being denied the vote and much else. But King refused to be cowed as he squarely faced up to his enemies.
Of course it’s very appropriate that Bibi’s appeal for understanding about the threat to Israel from Iran should fall at the very time Jews everywhere celebrate Purim, marking the time when God used Esther to save her people from extinction in 127 provinces of ancient Persia (modern Iran). In exposing the plot of the Persian potentate, this courageous Jewish woman secured the right for the Chosen People to defend themselves against their enemies – a right now being challenged even in the Western world.
Once again Mr Netanyahu emerges as a man called to office “for such a time as this,” as Esther was, following his brave but controversial calls first for his people to study the Scriptures and then for persecuted Jews everywhere to come home to safety in the Promised Land.
He is challenging America to take a harder line with Iran, who protest that their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, because the deal currently being worked on looks like only postponing the evil day when a terrorist regime armed with a nuclear weapon turns its sights on its arch-enemy Israel. He was trying to tell Congress what is really happening, which of course was Esther’s role in the court of King Xerxes.
I don’t know if Bibi has seen the film Selma, brought out to mark the 50th anniversary of the epic march to Montgomery, but I’m sure it would encourage him. I saw the movie in York earlier this week. It’s hugely inspiring, and a salutary reminder of what one person can do (especially in God’s strength) when he stands up to the bullies of this world. King rose up to challenge an America founded on Judeo-Christian principles that if these counted for anything, they also applied to its millions of downtrodden blacks. Bibi is doing the same for Israel’s preservation, for the seven million or so Jews in other parts of the globe, and indeed for civilization itself.
By the way, English actor David Oyelowo gave a towering performance as King, which I found particularly interesting as I had watched a TV interview with him in which he gave testimony to his own passionate Christian faith, actually saying that God had told him, back in 2007, that he would play this part. So clearly, he’s not a believer who plays at it, but one who hears from God!
The 54-mile distance of the Selma-Montgomery march reminds me of a gruelling marathon of the same length in South Africa, which I ran three times, and I also note that the Jerusalem Marathon (over a standard 26 miles) is being held next week with an expected 25,000 competitors. I have learnt that life itself is also a marathon, and campaigns such as that led by King, and the current international political efforts of Israel’s Prime Minister, require persistence and perseverance. So with the coming elections in mind, and with security and peace among the main issues at stake, I hope and trust he will be allowed to keep leading the way. He is surely Israel’s man of the hour.