By Rolene Marks
In honour of Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Lay of the Land pays tribute to this great civil rights leader and his tremendous support for the State of Israel and Zionism as the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. At a time when Zionism is being maligned by many, we pay tribute to his support by examining who is a Zionist and historical ties to the civil rights movement in the article below.
There has been a lot of debate, discussion and social media brouhaha lately over who is or what defines a Zionist.
In simple terms Zionism is nothing more that the yearning of the Jewish people to return to their ancient homeland. The great civil rights leader, Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, was rumoured to have coined this definition of Zionism and I reckon he knew quite a bit about human rights. And he was a Zionist! And he wasn’t Jewish!!
The reason that I am writing about this is important.
After thousands of years of being made well aware that Jews are unwelcome in many countries, we have returned en masse to our ancient and ancestral homeland. The word ‘Zion’ refers to those biblical ties since time immemorial. It is proven that Jews have “indigenous people’s rights to the land” and in case anybody has doubt, antiquities are being unearthed every day in solid support.
Zionism is also the National Liberation Movement of the Jewish people. It is a guarantee of our rights to organize ourselves politically and assign it a name that hearkens back to our ancient roots and love for Zion. Many thought that with the realization of the modern state of Israel, antisemitism would disappear but instead it has reared its head in a new form – anti-Zionism.
To say that Jews have no right to organise themselves politically, and calling it Zionism, is racism. And many agree – that is why we have a phenomenal support base that includes many Christians who work tirelessly in support of the Jewish state and Muslims, some of whom put their lives at risk to support Israel.
The Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. identified strongly with Jews and proudly marched alongside us as we mutually supported each other’s activism for civil rights. Today, many have forgotten the noble history and historical relationship between Jews and African Americans and have tried to hijack this to serve a different agenda. Christians in America are and remain some of Israel’s most ardent supporters.
Sadly, there are many that denigrate this relationship and demonise those of us who proudly identify as Zionist – Jews and non-Jews alike.
I am a card carrying, loud spoken, flag carrying, Hatikvah singing Zionist. I don’t care much for labels or wings but take exceptional pride in the fact that our beautiful flawed democracy – the State of Israel – is brilliantly multicultural, and allows for divergent opinions. Robust discussion and debate is a point of pride in a neighbourhood where you can be killed for disagreeing with the leaders or following a different religion.
Are we all not heartbroken by the visuals coming out of Syria or news of Christians being slaughtered in our region?
Is Israel perfect? No – sometimes we are guilty of an epic fail or many, but I believe part of being a Zionist is being able to criticize and self-correct. I believe that Zionism means you want to see an exemplary Israel. An Israel that is tolerant and welcoming and grateful for all who support her. This is dignified; this is keeping with the tenets of our founders who envisioned this. There is room in the Zionist tent for everyone – Christian, Muslim, left and right.
“The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
I am proud of the many Arab, Druze, Christian and other minority groups who proudly serve in our diplomatic corps and IDF, laying their lives on the line every day for our safety. The rights of minorities, while not always respected (and this must be corrected), are enshrined in our Declaration of Independence.
The Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. recognised this.
His support was not contingent on perfection but rather the shared values of what both Zionism and the civil rights movement represent.
The world is becoming a hostile place for Zionists. Ask the students on campus that are bullied and sometimes physically threatened for their political beliefs. Or the store owners in Europe who find their shops ransacked for carrying Israeli products. Or the travelers turned away from accommodation for being Israeli. The rise of the alt-right in the USA with their Nazi salutes and propensity for spray painting swastikas or the neo Nazis and BDS supporters in Europe or South America and South Africa has many Jews feeling afraid and isolated.
It is a fear shared by many who worked hard and fought for equality for all.
It was the dream of another great Zionist who while addressing civil rights in America in the 1960’s, voiced a sentiment that is universal and as relevant today as it was then when he said:
“We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”
Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. The time is long overdue to make it come true.