Dr. Martin Luther King and Israel

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was ahead of his time in many ways. He was a pioneer of the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century in America, giving voice and moral weight to the struggle of black Americans for an equal status in American society.

He was also a pioneer in speaking out for the defense of Zionism and the State of Israel at a time that some African-Americans were joining cause with anti-Israel elements. By equating those anti-Israel positions with anti-Semitism, King was in a sense an early voice of opposition to those who in our own day call for boycott, divestment and sanctions again Israel.  King was unafraid of calling to task those, even among his own supporters, who would question Israel’s rightful position in world society. He was indeed an unabashed, outspoken advocate on behalf of Israel’s security.

Speaking at the annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly of America in 1968, about a month before his assassination in April of that year, Dr. King said:

“The response of some of the so-called young militants does not represent the position of the vast majority of Negroes. There are some who are color-consumed and they see a kind of mystique in blackness or in being colored, and anything non-colored is condemned. We do not follow that course …Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect her right to exist, its territorial integrity and the right to use whatever sea lanes it needs. Israel is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy.”

He is also attributed with having said, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism,”

In speaking up for Israel, King did not position himself as anti-Arab or anti-Palestinian. Indeed, because he was apprehensive that a planned visit by himself as the head of a large delegation to Israel in 1967 would be misinterpreted in that way, King – after much hesitation and with regret – canceled a visit to Israel that year, a visit which was not planned as a political one and into which much planning had been invested.

Perhaps Dr. King would indeed have visited Israel at a later date, but his young and meaning-filled life was cut short shortly thereafter, making such a proposition a moot one.