As the last MLK Day of the first Black US President is celebrated, and in the aftermath of this administration’s abandonment of Israel, it is worth reviewing MLK’s comments specifically about Israel, and those which underscore his philosophy about Israel.
Martin Luther King on Israel (Direct Quotes)
Here is a selection of MLK quotes specifically about the Jewish State:
“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, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.”
“Israel’s right to exist as a state in security is incontestable.”
“When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews, you are talking anti-semitism,”
Below is a selection of 20 other famous quotes of MLK, applied to Israel.
Reestablishing the Jewish Homeland
“I have a dream.”
The famous line was taken from a speech given by MLK on August 28, 1963. That speech was a declaration that the promise of freedom that was given to blacks by President Abraham Lincoln 100 years earlier in 1863 was still not realized.
“Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds,””
In 2017, 100 years after the Balfour Declaration in 1917 recognized the right of Jews to reestablish their homeland in Palestine, President Obama said that the Jewish State could only be reestablished on a sliver of their homeland, and Jews living outside those bounds was illegal. Many Zionists have repeated the words of MLK to Obama today, that the tacit endorsement of United Nations Resolution 2334 was wrong; a bounced check marked “insufficient funds.”
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Theodore Herzl advanced modern Zionism when he wrote the book “The Jewish State” in 1896. He believed that “If you will it, it is no dream;” that Jews could actively participate in moving to Israel and reestablish Jewish sovereignty in the land. Jews were already a majority in Jerusalem since the 1860s, and had moved to Palestine in greater numbers than any other religion throughout the 1800s. But Herzl instilled the belief that sovereignty – Jewish self-determination in their homeland – was a possibility in modern times.
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
While international law established the right of a Jewish homeland in Palestine in the San Remo Agreement of 1920 and the Palestine Mandate in 1922, the nations of the world did not recognize the independent Jewish State until 1948-9. Some people have argued that Israel was created BECAUSE of the Holocaust, that bleak “starless midnight of racism and war.” The truth is that the world recognized the right of Jews to reestablish their homeland decades earlier, before the Nazis even rose to power.
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope”
The endorsements of a Jewish homeland in 1920 and 1922 was met with riots and pogroms in Israel. Arab riots in the 1920s killed dozens of Jews. The mini-Arab war against the Jews in 1936-9 killed thousands, and made the British administrators institute a ceiling on Jewish immigration to Palestine – on the eve of the Holocaust – an action that allowed thousands of Jews to die in Europe. Wars and terrorism from Arab forces have continued to kill Jews in Israel. But the Jewish State never gives up hope of living in peace.
“We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”
The Israeli people are a diverse people. Mizrachi Jews account for the majority, who came from Arab lands including Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt between 1948 and the 1960s. Many Jews left Argentina after the bombing of the Jewish Community Center in 1984, and Israel absorbed thousands of Jews from Ethiopia and Russia during the 1990s. While people think of the Ashkenazim of Europe being the dominant presence in the country, they are actually a minority.
Efforts at Peace and Coexistence
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
When Israel declared its independence in May 1948, it gave citizenship to everyone living in the land, Jews and non-Jews alike. This was in sharp contrast to the Jordanian Arabs who expelled all Jews from lands that they seized in the 1948-9 war in Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem. The Jordanians gave all of the Arabs in the region Jordanian citizenship and explicitly EXCLUDED JEWS from obtaining citizenship. At this time, the other Arab and Muslim countries began to force 1 million Jews to flee their homes.
In 1967, after the Arab countries tried to destroy Israel again, Israel asked for peace, but the Arab world declared in Khartoum “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.”
Israeli statesman Shimon Peres made an observation similar to MLK about the persistent Arab terrorism in Israel when he said in June 2014
“you cannot put fire and water in the same glass. Hamas is clearly not a partner for peace…. Finding a way forward is hard but we must not lose hope.”
Israel continues to extend a hand of peace and coexistence to its Arab neighbors and hopes that one day, the dream of peace will be reciprocated.
“It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.”
Israel took significant steps towards peace with its neighbors, sacrificing territory that it took when Arab countries sought to destroy Israel. In 1982, Israel removed all Jews from the Sinai peninsula and handed the land to Egypt in exchange for a peace treaty. In 1996, as part of the Oslo Agreements, Israel gave control of many cities in Judaea and Samaria/ the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority, in the hopes of establishing peace. The Israelis discussed giving back almost all of the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for peace, as detailed in Dennis Ross’s book, The Missing Peace. And in 2005, Israel withdrew all Israeli soldiers and civilians from Gaza in the hopes of achieving peace.
We have yet to see many Arabs sacrifice for peace willfully, such as admitting the rights of Jews to live throughout the region, facilitating their access to their holiest site on the Jewish Temple Mount and recognizing the Jewish State itself.
Love and Kindness
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Israel has been at the forefront of helping out countries of the world faced with natural disasters. Whether in Haiti or Turkey, Japan or Indonesia, Israel helps countries that do not even recognize it. Consider that Israel even helped people injured in the civil war in Syria next door, even though the two countries are technically at war.
“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
Israeli officials often call out the barbarity that exists around the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region. The murderous regimes that extinguish freedoms make Israel a lonely island of democracy and liberal attitudes. But for its efforts of calling out evil, Israel just gets more world condemnation, as it is mocked for progressive attitudes with terms like “pinkwashing.” No matter. Israel will continue to lead by example and call out its neighbors.
Israel and Greatness
“Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.”
Jews may only a fraction of the global body, but they account for an enormous percentage of the Nobel Prizes for Chemistry, Medicine and Physics. Similarly, the Jewish State has more Nobel Prize winners than the African continent and entire Arabian peninsula combined.
“The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be… The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”
Israel has been named the “Start Up Nation” because of the remarkable number of entrepreneurs that have created successful start up companies. Despite its small size, lack of natural resources and unfriendly neighbors, the country has managed to create break-through hardware and software companies with products that are incorporated into almost every successful technology today.
Israel and Arab Neighbors
“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
At the moment of Israel’s declaration of statehood, it opened its arms to Arabs both in its midst and those at its borders. In the very text of the declaration on May 14, 1948 it stated:
“WE APPEAL – in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months – to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions. WE EXTEND our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.” It is an effort that Israel still continues to advance today.
“The principle of self defense, even involving weapons and bloodshed, has never been condemned, even by Gandhi.”
While Israel attempts to achieve a peaceful coexistence with its neighbors, it will always have the security of its land and people as a primary concern. When rockets flew from Gaza, Israel responded by launching an operation to stop the attacks. When suicide bombers infiltrated the country from Arab towns in Judaea and Samaria, the country built a security barrier.
“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”
Israel has attempted to advance peace with Palestinian Arabs on the basis of peaceful coexistence. It gave full rights of citizenship to Arabs living in Israel in 1948, and has allowed Arabs living in the eastern part of Jerusalem which Israel reunited in 1967, the right to apply for citizenship. In contrast, the Arabs have made no attempt to advance peace, but have only focused on a complete separation from Israel. Some Palestinian Arabs that are viewed as “moderates” seek a state just in Gaza and the West Bank. Other Arabs seek to destroy Israel completely.
Peace will only come to the region when peace is a means and an ends, not just a potential byproduct of maneuvers and declarations.
Israel and the United Nations
“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
The United Nations has made a name for itself in its rampant antisemitism. Efforts have ranged from Having a former Nazi, Kurt Waldheim, run the UN for years, to resolutions declaring that “Zionism is racism.”
In 2015 and 2016, the UN advanced and approved resolutions that removed any connection of Judaism from Jerusalem and the Jewish Temple Mount. The efforts are part of a long-standing Arab complaint that Israel is trying to “Judaize” its holiest city, despite Jews’ 3000-year history in the city.
MLK said it best, that nothing is more dangerous than conscientious stupidity.
“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.”
Several European countries have tried to advance a peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli Conflict. However, in doing so, they have compounded the problem and made chances for peace more remote.
Removing Hamas from a list of terrorist entities enables terrorism and parties that oppose any peace with Israel. Labeling products from Judaea and Samaria with distinct labels pushes away opportunities for coexistence. Condemning Jews living across from Armistice Lines that were specifically never designated as borders is illogical and harms negotiations. Advancing peace forums without the presence of Israelis makes the possibility of direct negotiations more remote.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood before the General Assembly at the United Nations in October 2015 to rebuke the countries of the world for their “utter silence, deafening silence” in condemning Iran for its pledge to destroy Israel. President Obama called US Ambassador Samantha Power out of the room so she missed Netanyahu’s speech. Silence compounded: the refusal to speak and the refusal to hear.
Israel and the United States Under Obama
“The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.”
As noted above, Barack Obama pulled his people out of the UN General Assembly so they would not hear the Israeli Prime Minister’s speech. It was not the only time he would snub Israel.
Obama made a point of reaching out to the Arab and Muslim world as soon as he began his presidency. He made his first public trip to Turkey where he pitched “common ground.” He traveled to Cairo, Egypt, where he made his “new beginnings” appeal. He would stop by Iraq and Saudi Arabia. And skip Israel.
When Obama did make it to Israel four years later, he declined an invitation to speak to the Israeli Knesset, and instead opted to use that time to speak to college students, snubbing the only democracy in the Middle East.
“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.”
By early 2015, the contours of the Iran nuclear deal were taking shape, very much to the dislike of Israel, Saudi Arabia and other American allies. As the Iranian government made clear its interest in destroying Israel, Netanyahu sought to take aggressive steps to improve upon the deal. He accepted an invitation to address a joint session of Congress, but Obama had 58 Democratic loyalists in Congress boycott the speech.
Beyond snubbing Israel in Jerusalem and Washington DC, and standing by idly when the United Nations Security Council lambasted Israel, the Obama administration never had the courage to state that it supported Israel as it confronted dozens of terrorist attacks. Those sentiments were reserved for other countries. And for Palestinian Arabs.
The twentieth quote summarizes the life of Martin Luther King:
“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
It is a mantra he lived as a civil rights leader fighting for a minority group to achieve common rights and freedoms.
It is a cause that the Jewish people and the Jewish State understand full well.