Not to take anything away from our new President. But the remarks of a friend on Monday got me thinking. I asked this friend if he, as an African-American (in his case he was born in Africa and is now a U.S. citizen), felt moved by the election of the first black President. My friend, never one to jump on any bandwagon, glanced down in thought for a moment before replying, "Let us wait and see what he does. After all, he has not yet accomplished anything."
He added, "Today [MLK's birthday], not tomorrow, is the day I celebrate. Because Dr. Martin Luther King was a man who endured hardship, who showed great courage, to effect change in this country. He was a hero, and what he accomplished was real, and tangible. Barack Obama - let us wait and see."
I respect the Presidency and am pulling for our new President to succeed. It will be interesting to see how he demonstrates the ideals he verbally champions. One of those is reaching out and working with other minorities. I think it will be especially revealing of who he is to see if he reaches out to Jews, including those who support Israel and thus are unapologetic Zionists.
President Obama's choice of Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff is interpreted by some as a hopeful sign that the President will demonstrate sensitivity to Jewish concerns such as Israel's security. But, as my friend pointed out today, "Rahm Emanuel is chief of staff, not secretary of state, not secretary of defense. He is an administrator. He will not be shaping policy."
Obviously, Jews are not the only minority in the U.S. with vital concerns. But we are a minority whose concerns are generally our own affair, meaning, we do not typically ask for, expect, or receive help from other groups in the world - even as many of us dedicate time and resources to helping other groups (Of course, Israel does receive substantial foreign aid from the U.S., but I would argue that is at least as much a matter of vital strategic interest to America as it is a matter of shared values and good will). Anyway, why few people have ever made the Jews their "cause" is somewhat mysterious. But the fact that this is true--that Jews almost always stand alone--makes us an interesting litmus test. In a world where siding with Jews has traditionally conferred no advantages, it is only the bravest who stand with us. Only a few rare individuals of great moral character, such as my friend quoted above, stand up for Israel when that state's right to self-defense, for instance, is attacked. Another who stood up for Israel was Dr. Martin Luther King.
I link here to video that includes some of Dr. King's words about Israel. Of course, Dr. King is first and foremost a hero because of his great work on behalf of African-Americans, for, and with, whom he won the human rights so long and shamefully denied them in the U.S. By extension, he is hero to all Americans, whom he gave the gift of challenging us to become better people. But I also think his dedication to speaking the unpopular truth in defense of Zionists--those who believe in the existence of a secure Jewish state--further reflects his rare character.
At a 1968 appearance at Harvard University, Dr. King said: "When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism." With his keen intellect and dedication to truth he grasped not only that anti-Semitism is an eternally mutating virus, but that its manifestation in modern times is political "anti-Zionism." The Romans, the Persians, the Babylonians and even at times the Catholic Church persecuted Jews for their religion. Hitler turned the war against the Jews into an issue of race. In today's world, it has become largely unacceptable to demonize people on the basis of religion or race. So modern anti-Semites, (and perhaps some who only parrot what they hear repeated in biased media coverage), seek to punish the Jews for their political identity. "Oh," the reasoning goes, "We don't resent Jews, we are tolerant multi-culturalists. It is only the Zionist, 'racist' state to which we object."
Today, throughout the Arab world, state-run TV news stations and newspapers push vicious anti-Jewish propaganda, as do many Muslim clerics. In some cases, they have dropped their pretense of "anti-Zionism" and just attack "the Jews" directly. Perhaps they deserve credit for honesty. "Liberal" media outlets often supply a subtler, more insidious form of anti-Israel news coverage that ignores Israeli suffering, eroticizes the suffering of the Palestinians, and fails to report in a way that would illuminate the main causes of this suffering, such as the way Palestinian and other Arab "leaders" brainwash their people and often use civilians, placing them deliberately in harm's way, to further the leaders' aims.
One result of this treatment is that many people around the world have been inculcated with the message that "Zionism"--which in reality simply means the right of the Jewish people to exist in a secure homeland--is evil. Feeling self-righteous, worked up by images of Palestinian suffering that are indeed heartbreaking, they begin to hate and demonize Israelis. In their minds, it's not anti-Semitism, because it is couched in "liberal" politics. "We don't resent Jews," the reasoning goes, "just Zionists." Then they conveniently ignore any facts inconsistent with their paradigm, such as the bottom line reality that, sadly, Israelis are forced to fight to protect their lives, the lives of their children, and the very existence of their nation.
It was also no accident that Martin Luther King talked about Israel's security. He understood the big picture. And he had the moral courage to speak the truth. And so the world advances, step by infinitesimal step. In the words of Dr. King, "The arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice."
Let us hope.
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