Tomorrow is the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. (the federal holiday is observed on Monday, January 16), on which we celebrate the life and legacy of the civil rights leader and champion of racial justice and equality.
While most people know that Dr. King was a powerful voice against racism and for civil rights, many don’t realize that Dr. King also was an important ally in the fight against anti-Semitism and for a secure Israel.
When a student attacked Zionism during a dinner event in 1968, Dr. King angrily responded, “Don’t talk like that! When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism!”
And when radicals in the civil rights movement identified with the Arabs in the run-up to the 1967 Six-Day War, King signed an open letter to President Johnson published in The New York Times urging American support for Israel.
Speaking at the annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly in 1968, Dr. King said:
“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. Peace for Israel means security, and that security must be a reality.”
So as we honor Dr. King’s commitment to civil rights (indeed, he went to jail 29 times to achieve freedom for others), let’s also make sure to remember about, and remind others of, his condemnation of anti-Semitism and his support for a safe and secure Israel.