Where is Israel’s Dr. King?

September 29, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Consulate General of Israel in Atlanta and Morehouse College recently unveiled a new project, The Rabin-King Initiative, in an effort to bring the Jewish community and Israel closer to the African-American community. The venture’s launch was preceded by two years of dialogue and study of the history of relations between Jews in America and Israel to the African-American community.

Over the two years preceding the Initiative we began a dialogue and historical study of the relationship between the Jewish community in America, Israel and the African-American community. We met with many black leaders, including Congressman John Lewis who took part in the Dr. King’s famous march from Selma to Montgomery, and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young, who stood next to Dr. King at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis when the assassin shot the civil rights leader down.  We also contacted the acclaimed poet Maya Angelo, NBA and Maccabi Tel Aviv player Levan Mercer, who lives in Atlanta, and of course the children and extended family of the late Dr. King.

During my educational journey, I was surprised to discover the great role played by Jews in the movement for civil equality led by King and his comrades. From the movement’s inception, Jewish volunteers from across America enlisted themselves in the cause. Jewish students traveled to the South to assist with the voter registration of Afro-Americans, unflinching even as some of their own were kidnapped and murdered.  They rode together on integrated buses to break the laws demanding the racial separation of public facilities.  Jewish accounts assisted the civil rights movement by managing its funds and Jewish lawyers were there to promote it in court.

Another surprising lesson I learned had to do with King’s love for America. In almost every speech, he stressed the importance of loving others and the need to co-exist upon the struggle’s end, and for this he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  In all his speeches King would laud America’s achievements and emphasize that the black struggle was not just for equality, but also for the right to enjoy the benefits of the world’s most democratic, wealthiest, and most advanced society.

These are two important lessons to be applied in the context of Jewish-Arab relations in Israel. The Jews in Israel need to be active partners in the Arab struggle for full equality. At this time we don’t see enough Jewish involvement in Arab struggles for education, employment, and development. And while in the absence of Israeli Jews, American Jews are again filling the vacuum, there this is no substitute for the Jewish-Israeli civil society’s enlistment to this important cause.

Joint action for the sake of social objectives is important in and of itself, but it also serves as an important means to advance co-existence. Once Jews and Arabs join forces, they will get to know each other better and they will learn that there is no difference between a woman’s shelter for Jews and one for Arabs, or to how Arabs and Jews are affected by sickness, tragedy, and loss.

Israeli Arabs must also learn to emphases their desire to integrate into Israeli society.  They must tone done their criticism of Israel during times of struggle.  The almost automatic identification of some Israeli Arabs with any rival confronting Israel, be it Hamas or Hezbollah, is their right, yet it does not serve the equality we aspire for.  As long as this message is not clear, the Jews are right to be concerned that Arab Israelis are fighting for separation rather than integration.

The shared future of all of us in Israel will depend on the extent of mutual consideration given by Arabs and Jews to the sensitivities and difficulties of each side.

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