Since his death, many groups have attempted to use the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as champion of their cause. His timeless quotes are applied to all things related to social justice, equality and political freedom. Of course, in addition to being a beacon for all of the above, Dr. King was also a staunch supporter of the State of Israel, and loyal friend to the Jewish people. Yet this historical, indisputable fact does not seem to faze anti-Zionists who also claim Dr. King’s posthumous blessing on their agenda. How do they reconcile such a blatant discrepancy? They simply label the Palestinians as victims and the Israelis as perpetrators, and voila: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, becomes an obvious condemnation of the Jewish State.
The problem is, we have Dr. King’s unambiguous words supporting Israel, and none of his words to the contrary. In fact, his most full-throated endorsement of Israel may surprise you, not just because of its content, but its context.
It was March 26, 1968 – 10 days before Dr. King’s assassination. He was the honored guest at the 68th Annual Convention of the Rabbinical Assembly for Conservative Judaism. During an interview in which Rabbi Gendler read questions submitted by the group, Dr. King was asked specifically about African-American support for Israel. The question itself is a topic for a separate article, but on to Dr. King’s answer:
I think it is necessary to say that what is basic and what is needed in the Middle East is peace. Peace for Israel is one thing. Peace for the Arab side of that world is another thing. Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all of 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.
These words are powerful at face value. What is even more powerful is the realization that King spoke them almost a full year after the 1967 (Six Day) War in which Israel preemptively attacked Egypt, Jordan and Syria. When the War ended, Israel had regained control of Judea and Samaria (West Bank), as well as Gaza and the Sinai desert.
Not only did King not dismiss Israel as a colonizing, imperialistic power; he recognized the truth, and called for a protection of Israel’s “territorial integrity”. Israel an “occupying power”? Clearly Dr. King disagreed.
Demonstrating that one does not have to be anti-Arab to be pro-Israel, Dr. King continued:
On the other hand, we must see what peace for the Arabs means in a real sense of security on another level. Peace 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.
In 1968, Dr. King called for a “Marshal Plan” for the Arabs living in Palestine (they were not yet referred to as ‘Palestinians’). He suggested that, just as the international community rebuilt Europe after World War II, so should there be an effort to lift the Arabs “who are at the bottom of the economic ladder and bring them into the mainstream of economic security.”
Calev Myers of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice (citing international documents) has revealed that, over the past 19 years the Palestinian Authority has received the per capita equivalent of 25 ‘Marshall Plans’. Tens of billions of dollars have gone to do precisely what Dr. King advocated, yet poverty in the Palestinian Territories persists. Why? That answer is quite simple: Corruption of the Palestinian Authority. One small example is the latest report by the European Court of Auditors claiming that some $3.1 billion given to the PA is somehow missing.
According to The Sunday Times, which got an early glimpse of the report, “EU investigators who visited sites in Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank noted ‘significant shortcomings’ in the management of funds sent to Gaza and the West Bank.
What do anti-Zionists say when they see this type of blatant corruption by Palestinian leaders? “It’s Israel’s fault.” No doubt this is something else Dr. King anticipated, as he added, “I think that as long as these (Arab poverty) conditions exist there will be tensions; there will be the endless quest to find scapegoats.” In other words, if the Arab plight does not improve, Israel will be consistently, relentlessly blamed.
Not only was Dr. King an unapologetic supporter of the Jewish State (facing much of the same fierce criticisms that are leveled today); he also spoke up for the Arab population. Anti-Zionists who attempt to amend King’s views on Israel are not simply betraying his true legacy. These individuals also expose themselves as being truly unconcerned for human rights. How else do you explain a relentless attack on the only democracy in the Middle East, while the thievery of Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas gets a free pass? What might Dr. King have to say about that ‘Marshall Plan’ being siphoned by dishonorable Arab leaders, while their people are left to suffer?
This brief discussion is but a prelude to Dr. King’s Israel advocacy. The shadow he still casts is much broader than most realize. In my upcoming book Zionism & the Black Church: Why Standing With Israel Will be a Defining Issue for Christians of Color in the 21st Century, I devote an entire chapter to Dr. King’s prophetic voice regarding the Jewish State. In the coming weeks I will share other historical facts about King’s Zionist legacy, what he warned about, and why (believe it or not) positive change is coming.