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Shared Struggle Against Racism

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. day, PJME members Gail Rubin, Gila Libet and Ralph Libet, reflect on King's support of Zionism, and the connections in the fights against racism and anti-Semitism (1/16/2011).

Shared struggle against racism

Special to The Enterprise

Published: January 16, 2011

How can we forget that iconic image from 1965 of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. marching from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., with a line of activists linking arms, including one of his closest allies in the fight for civil rights, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel?

This year, U.S. Jews, like other Americans, will mark King's birthday holiday Monday by remembering him as a powerful voice against racism and for civil rights. But, for Jews, King also was something else: a uniquely important ally in the fight against anti-Semitism and for a secure Israel. The role Jews played in King's civil rights movement is well known — of all whites who participated, between half and two-thirds are purported to have been Jewish.

This legacy gives testimony to the special relationship between African-Americans and American Jews. King referenced that both peoples were uprooted involuntarily from their homelands. He knew that both peoples were shaped by the tragic experience of slavery. He knew that both peoples were forced to live in ghettoes, denied the basic rights of citizenship in their host countries, and suffered the humiliation of segregation.

King vehemently denounced anti-Semitism within the black nationalist movement as well as within the former Soviet Union. In King's 1968 Harvard University speech, which he delivered less than two weeks before his tragic death, he spoke out with clarity and directness, stating, "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."

At that same Harvard appearance, King stated: "When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews; you are talking anti-Semitism." This message was true in his time and is true today.

While the earliest forms of external anti-Zionism sprung from Nazi racist ideology, it was the Soviets who later popularized the campaign. Soviet anti-Zionism was based on opposition to ethnic nationalism, which was seen as an ideological deviation from the communist ideal of a classless society.

During the 1950s, Soviet anti-Zionism used "Zionist" as a term to describe spies, saboteurs and other criminals. Zionism became a form of treason against the state, punishable by death. Anti-Zionism also was a mainstay of Soviet propaganda in the Third World and the Muslim world. The culmination of this anti-Zionism was the "Zionism is racism" resolution passed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1975.

There are several explanations for the campaign to de-legitimize the Jewish state and its national philosophy, Zionism, but none is more potent than the collective power of 21 Arab states in the U.N. The Arab world, armed with the oil weapon, has the ability to set the terms of discussion. The Arab nations' domination of the U.N. trickles down into other venues of the left and defines the discourse.

Anti-Semitism is a handy instrument in the tyrant's tool kit. The accuser appropriates primitive hatreds to draw attention away from his own sins — in this case, Arab leaders who systematically oppress and occupy the hearts and minds of their people — and points to the Jews instead. In much the same way segregationists threatened to punish those who would seek normalization with American blacks, Palestinian Authority and Hamas rulers have for decades tortured, imprisoned and killed their own people who have sought peaceful coexistence with Jews.

Has anyone ever heard of a "Palestinian Peace Now" movement in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip? No. Instead, Palestinian rulers exploit their own people by inculcating the following values: Shahada (Death for Allah); Holocaust denial and distortion; glorification of terrorists and terror; demonization of Jews; conspiracy libels against the Jewish people; that Jewish and Christian holy sites are really all Muslim holy sites; Israel does not exist; and, that Muslims must destroy Israel and replace it with a hegemonic Muslim nation.

Nothing could be more contrary to the vision of King. In the past several years alone, the Palestinian Authority's iron-fist hold on its people continues to extinguish peace. The PA has fired a musical director of a West Bank children's orchestra ("Strings of Freedom") when the children were brought to perform for a group of elderly Holocaust survivors. The director was accused of "exploiting children for the purpose of normalizing ties with Israel."

In a 2009 Eurovision song contest, a Muslim Israeli citizen was forced to resign under Islamic threat of bodily harm when she tried to perform in a duet with an Israeli Jew. She was accused of heresy. Similarly, a Muslim Arab family who wanted to send their son to Japan with Jewish children to participate in an international aikido competition was forced to withdraw their son under coercion and duress from the PA.

Just two months ago, the PA, under President Mahmoud Abbas, honored the mastermind of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre — Palestinian terrorist Amin Al-Hindi — in which 11 Israeli athletes were killed in cold blood. President Abbas sat at a Fatah Revolutionary Council meeting against the backdrop of a large poster that read: "Palestinian National Liberation Movement — Fatah Fifth Sitting of the Revolutionary Council Shahid (Martyr) Commander Amin Al-Hindi November 24-25, 2010, Ramallah — Palestine."

Earlier this year, the official PA daily described Al-Hindi's participation in the Olympic massacre, saying he was "one of the stars who sparkled ... at the sports stadium in Munich." The attack itself was referred to as "just one of many shining stations" in his life. (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Aug. 20, 2010) Hamas' Al-Aqsa TV recently showed school children in the East Jerusalem Islamic Riyad (Gardens of) Al-Aqsa School being taught to sing about desiring death: "May our blood be shed." In the past, Palestinian Authority TV also has shown children in PA schools reciting poems glorifying martyrdom death, for example, including the words: "I have let my land drink my blood, I love the way of martyrdom." (PA TV Fatah, Nov. 14, 2008;

Just as segregationists in the Deep South sought to dehumanize African-Americans to justify their racist laws, so, too, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and other ruling tyrants in the Middle East continue to dehumanize the Jewish [people] worldwide to justify their objective of destroying Israel. Did you know the PA imposes the death penalty on any Arab who sells his land to a Jew? Or, that the PA insists that any land ceded to it for a future Palestinian state be Judenrein — free of Jews?

King was a compassionate man who saw the similarities between African-American and Jewish quests for self-determination, and did not accept the anti-Semitic twisting of Zionism to try and paint Jews and Israel supporters as nefarious neo-colonists. The exploitation of the Palestinians and the brainwashing of their children is reminiscent of the methods used by the Ku Klux Klan in its heyday when the Klan's children were taught to hate blacks, Jews and Catholics.The abuse of children is deplorable. But let us not forget the attempts by those brave Palestinian Arabs who seek peace with their Jewish neighbors, and who desire to share in economic, cultural and agricultural endeavors. We share their dream that people of all faith may live in peace.As King declared, "From every mountainside, let freedom ring."

— Gail Rubin, Gila Libet and Ralph Libet are members of the Davis Interfaith Coalition for Peace and Justice in the Middle East. This column appears every other month.

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