Aaron David Fruh

What would Martin Luther King say about the Gaza war? It depends on the context

Earlier this week, as the world honored the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., some used the moment to dishonor Israel by declaring that King, if he were living today, would be sympathetic to the cause of Hamas.

On Martin Luther King Day in the Seattle Times, managing editor Naomi Ishisaka, in a piece entitled “This MLK Day I Have to Speak Out on Gaza,” wrote, “Often I think of this famous Martin Luther King Jr. quote and ask myself if I am living up to this standard: ‘The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.’ Not since the racial reckoning of 2020 have I seen a greater test of this question in the U.S. than the ongoing war in Gaza . . . any honest accounting of the war that followed [the October 7 attack of Hamas on Israel] cannot start the clock on October 7th.” In the article, Ishisaka holds Israel responsible for the hostilities of Hamas and celebrates the International Criminal Court’s charge of Genocide against Israel, all the while cloaking Jews as the villains in the imaginary mind of King were he alive today.

Michael Mcbride, Pastor of The Way Christian Center in West Berkeley, California, in an MLK Day article in Responsible Statecraft, wrote: “As we celebrate the life and legacy of Reverend Martin Luther King today, we cross the 100-day mark in the devastating war in Gaza. If Dr. King were alive today, I feel certain he would have joined marches this weekend and used his voice and his pulpit to press the United States government to do everything in its power to persuade or pressure the government of Israel—which it has backed politically, diplomatically, militarily and financially—to agree to a ceasefire in its war in Gaza . . . As Rev. King reminded us in this Letter from a Birmingham Jail, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ As people of moral conscience and as citizens of the United States, black Christian leaders and so many other moral voices will continue to do all that is within our power to end U.S. support for the indiscriminate war (in Gaza). Unfortunately, Pastor Mcbride draws from the moral clarity of Dr. King and uses it to paint Israel as the evil victimizer.

Leading up to MLK Day, Garrison Hayes wrote a piece for Mother Jones entitled “We Don’t Have to Guess What MLK Thought About the Israel-Palestine Conflict.” His “proof” that King— if alive today—would demand that Israel immediately call for a ceasefire and withdraw from Gaza, allowing Hamas to retain power, is found in King’s response to the Six-Day War in a June 18, 1967 interview on ABC’s Sunday’s “Issues and Answers” where King stated, “I think for the ultimate peace and security of the situation it will probably be necessary for Israel to give up this conquered territory because to hold on to it will only exacerbate the tensions and deepen the bitterness of the Arabs.”

Hayes fails to mention that the full transcript of the ABC interview stored in the digital archives at the King Center includes comments by King in the ABC interview that did not make it onto the edited program, in which Dr. King states, “Peace for Israel means security. The world and all people of goodwill must respect the territorial integrity of Israel. We must see Israel’s right to exist and always go out of the way to protect that right to exist. We must also see that Israel is there, and any talk of driving the Jews into the Mediterranean, as we have heard over the last few weeks or the last several years, is not only unrealistic talk but it is suicidal talk for the whole world and I think also it is terribly immoral. We must see what Israel has done for the world. It is a marvelous demonstration of what people together in unity and with determination, rugged determination can do in transforming almost a desert into an oasis.”

People who use Dr. King’s statements about social justice to condemn Israel’s war with Hamas fail to recognize—in the words of the three university professors who recently refused to admit before Congress that calling for the genocide of Jews is not hate speech—the context. Somehow, they forget about what has occurred in the world in the last six decades since King’s death. They conveniently have forgotten about the 1972 Munich Olympic Village attack by Palestinian terrorists that left eleven Israeli athletes dead. They have forgotten about the rise of radical Islamism within Iran and her proxies. They have forgotten about the radical Islamic terror attack on U.S. soil on September 11, 2001. They have forgotten about the Intifada that left thousands of innocent Israelis dead and wounded—blown to bits by Palestinian suicide bombers. They have forgotten about the brutality of Hamas, whose founding charter calls for the genocide of Jews not only in Israel but globally. They have forgotten about the tens of thousands of rockets Hamas has fired into Israel since Israel gave the Gaza Strip to the Palestinians in exchange for peace in 2005. In the face of these atrocities against Jews, the voices of leaders now self-righteously claiming to carry King’s mantle of moral justice and then using that mantle to demonize Jews, were silent.

Any intellectually honest inquiry into the mind of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., should, at the very least, consider the context of the last sixty years of terror attacks against innocent Israeli men, women, and children attempting to hold onto their right of existence—a right Dr. King unequivocally endorsed. Dr. King—prophetically, I think—said in the June 1967 ABC interview mentioned above that “any talk of driving the Jews into the Mediterranean . . . is not only unrealistic talk but it is suicidal talk for the whole world and I think also it is terribly immoral.” Imagining what this great moral leader would think today about the war in Gaza must begin with this statement. As Antisemites the world over support the genocidal ambitions of Hamas by proclaiming “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free,” they disrespect the territorial integrity of Israel—an action Dr. King proclaimed to be “terribly immoral.” Without a full reckoning of history, those who believe they know what King would think about the measures Israel must employ for its own survival in its ongoing war with malevolent radical Islamism have absolutely no idea what they are talking about. In the last sixty years, Israel has faced one existential threat after another. Overlooking this either naively or purposely is unconscionable. In this case, it really does depend on the context.

About the Author
Aaron David Fruh is a Research Fellow at The Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP) and the President of Israel Team Advocates, whose mission it is to change the growing anti-Israel narrative on college campuses. Aaron is the author of five books including The Casualty of Contempt: the alarming rise of Antisemitism and what can be done to stop it (editor), and Two Minute Warning: why it’s time to honor the Jewish people before the clock runs out. Aaron has written for The Jerusalem Post and The Algemeiner.
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