Recently, Cornel West hosted a lecture supporting a campaign urging Princeton to boycott companies profiting off the “illegal occupation” of the “Palestinian Territories.” West started his lecture by stating, “I come from a tradition… the legacy… of Martin King.” But is this statement true? Is there a legacy of Dr. King condemning Israel? Sadly, this statement is totally false. During Dr. King’s lifetime, there was already a boycott of Israel; Israel was accused of being an “occupier,” and African American leaders were condemning Israel, exactly like West is doing today. And yet, Dr. King stood up against people like West, and he praised Israel as an example of democracy.
During Dr. King’s lifetime, the Arab states were already boycotting Israel, and Israel was already being called an “occupier.” In “The 1967 War” the Arabs states attacked Israel. As a result of an act of self defense, Israel found itself in control of the West Bank. Rather than discuss a truce, the Arab states condemned Israel as an “occupier.” Professor Wisse described the circumstances: “Israel’s ability to defend itself against Arab aggression in the Six-Day war of 1967 gained it a reputation…. for “conquest,” “militarism,” “expansionism,” and “imperialism.” As with older charges… the new pretext for assailing Israel was that it had become an “occupier” of another people’s land.” At the same time, this perspective was also shared by some African American leaders. Eldridge Cleaver stated, “We totally support the armed struggle of the Palestinians.”
Shortly after “The 1967 War,” an event called The National Conference on New Politics was held in Chicago. Dr. King delivered the opening address to the conference but left early. However, during the conference a resolution was adopted which condemned Israel. When a Rabbi found out about the resolution, he wrote to Dr. King asking for an explanation. Dr. King responded, “If I had been at the conference during the discussion of the resolutions, I (would) have made it crystal clear that I could not have supported any resolution calling for… condemnation of Israel and an unqualified endorsement of the policy of Arab powers.”
A year after Israel gained control over the West Bank in 1968, Dr. King attended The Rabbinical Assembly. A Rabbi posed this question to Dr. King: “What would you say if you were talking to a Negro Intellectual… and were told… that he supported the Arabs against Israel?” Dr. King responded, “What is needed in the Middle East is peace… 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… as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world.” A year after Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank, Dr. King did not condemn Israel. During Dr. King’s lifetime, there was already a boycott of Israel, Israel was accused of being an evil “occupier,” and some African American leaders were condemning Israel. And yet, Dr. King praised Israel as an example of democracy. This means that West is only coming from his own dishonest legacy.
For the sake of argument, perhaps West meant that the circumstances have changed. Israel has “occupied” the West Bank for so many years that if Dr. King were alive today, he would condemn Israel. The problem with this claim is that the criticism of Israel has not changed. If Dr. King did not join with this criticism in the past, then what reason is there to believe he would today? Another problem with this claim is that it requires an ignorance of Dr. King’s own words, as well as an ignorance of the history of Palestinian leadership decisions. Dr. King praised Israel, but he did not leave out his concern for the Arabs. 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… 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.” The Marshall Plan was the initiative to rebuild Europe after WWII, including Germany, in which the US gave approximately $160 billion in the modern dollar value. Dr. King proposed that if the Palestinians were given aid to build an economy, then it might lead to peace.
However, the tragic reality is that Dr. King’s suggestion has already happened. According to some studies, Palestinians have received more financial aid than any other group of people in the world. According to the Jerusalem Institute for Justice, the Palestinian Authority has received the per capita equivalent of 25 Marshall Plans in foreign donations. How is it possible that the Palestinians have been given 25 times what the Germans used to rebuild Germany, and yet still lack a strong economy? Well, two of the primary reasons are theft by the Palestinian leadership and money used for terrorism. When it comes to theft, Yassir Arafat is estimated to have stolen roughly a billion dollars. And Arafat’s financial advisor had a personal “fortune at more than half a billion dollars,” while the current PA President’s wealth is “estimated at more than $100 million.” A “spokesman claimed that… there are 1,700 millionaires among Hamas members.” And the Hamas leader “enjoys a bank stash of $2.6 billion.”
Another primary reason is that the foreign aid is used to fund terrorism. Although this is hard to believe, “a law signed and published in the official Palestinian Authority registry in April 2011 puts all Palestinians and Israeli Arabs imprisoned in Israel for terror crimes on the PA payroll to receive a monthly salary.” The PA “pays monthly salaries to 5,500 prisoners in Israeli prisons, including terrorists.” While according to David Bedein, currently, “there are now 108 humanitarian organizations that pour $700 million per year into Gaza. The Funds are not transparent. Resources are instead used for building material used for building (terror) tunnels… there is also a huge network of rocket launching positions… Hamas is also pouring resources into openly training its ever growing army.” Hamas is currently training over 15,000 child and teenage soldiers. Given the incredible theft and continuous war against Israel, is it possible that if Dr. King were alive today, he would blame the Palestinian leadership and not Israel?
Technically, no one can know for certain what Dr. King would say if he were alive today. But is there someone who might be more reliable to claim he speaks in the legacy of Dr. King? Well, there is someone who might be able to make that claim, Dr. Clarence Jones. Dr. Jones is now in his eighties, but he was Dr. King’s close friend, advisor, and lawyer. Dr. King said, “I have known Mr. Jones, I have always seen him as a man of sound judgment, deep insights, and great dedication.” In fact, Dr. Jones and Dr. King wrote the first draft of the “I have a Dream” speech in Dr. Jones’ house. In 2014, Dr. Jones wrote, “I am seeing people quoting (Dr. King) frequently out of context to develop an argument that he would not be in support of the State of Israel. That is absolutely insane. No African American leader… was more passionate… (in) his support for the State of Israel.” Well, allow me be the first to say if the person who helped write the “I have a Dream” speech argues that Dr. King would still support Israel, I will believe him. In conclusion, Cornel West is stealing the name of Dr. King and the image of Dr. King, but West is leaving the man and his legacy far behind.
*For a detailed history of Dr. King’s pro-Israel support, read “Zionism and the Black Church” by Dumisani Washington.