“Let my people go…”
~ Moses, Exodus 5:1
“… and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
~ Jesus of Nazareth (Yeshua miNatzret) John 8:32
The fact that so many Christians–both Protestant and Catholic–take an oppositional stance toward Israel should be considered a tragedy, a dark veil over the eyes of professing believers; a veil spun of ignorance resulting in testimonial disgrace. At best, Christian anti-Zionism fuels the hatred of Israel’s enemies, making Christians again complicit in crimes committed against the Jewish people… in Jesus’ name. At worst, those who take the side of Israel’s enemies misrepresent the perspective of El Yisrael, the God of Israel, making Christian anti-Zionism a kind of human libel approaching the level of divine slander.
On the occasion of the anniversary of the birth of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we who know otherwise and stand with Israel as a grafted-in branch through Messiah, must take the time to look beneath the surface and beyond the obvious greatness of the Rev. King’s work as a civil redeemer of his people, to see the underlying dynamic, the human mechanisms that drove the good reverend toward his great work. In the end, it was not solely about the issues of earthly civil rights that drove him; it was about making the work of Heaven a reality upon the earth.
In the regard, it might be said that Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. were soul mates, spiritual kin of a very special kind who both declared the freedom of men in the spirit of the ancient Hebrew prophets. Rev. Dr. King was a modern-day type of Moses; Rabbi Heschel, a modern-day follower of Moses. Both were prophets and leaders of their people who declared the power of God’s love to be the sole key to human solidarity and the only real solution to mankind’s problem of hate.
This was the audacity of Abraham Joshua Heschel: in a telegram to President John F. Kennedy, he wrote, “We forfeit the right to worship God as long aswe continue to humiliate negroes. … The hour calls for moral grandeur and spiritual audacity.”
It was the same audacity that compelled Dr. King to proclaim in a speech in Detroit just prior to his “I Have A Dream” speech in Washington: “I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”
It was this common attribute of inspired audacity that Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel shared as allies in the fight for freedom during the Civil Rights Movement in America. And it is an audacity of another, sinister, kind that belies the anti-Zionistic attitude of many who call themselves Christians; those who follow philosophies based upon theologies about the Jewish Messiah, but do no not necessarily actually follow the Jewish Messiah. The Jewish Messiah was not a Christan; he was a Torah-observant Jew. The ancient discipleship arrangement is based upon relationship, not religion; upon intimacy, not theology.
“The relationship between the two men began in January 1963, and was a genuine friendship of affection as well as a relationship of two colleagues working together in political causes. As King encouraged Heschel’s involvement in the Civil Rights movement, Heschel encouraged King to take a public stance against the war in Vietnam. When the Conservative rabbis of America gathered in 1968 to celebrate Heschel’s sixtieth birthday, the keynote speaker they invited was King. Ten days later, when King was assassinated, Heschel was the rabbi Mrs. King invited to speak at his funeral.” [Susannah Heschel, “God-Talk, Friendship, and Activism”]
Whether it was because of this relationship between the rabbi and the reverend or not, Dr. King got it right with regard to the centrality of Israel in the overall view of things.
“On March 25, 1968, less than two weeks before his tragic death, he [Dr. King] 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.’” [John Lewis, retired U.S. Congressman and personal friend of Dr. King, “King’s Special Bond With Israel”]
Dr. Martin and Rabbi Joshua saw the same vision for each others people; the vision, I submit, that all Christians ought to have for both the black person and the Jewish person: that both should be able to live in whatever place they call their homeland in freedom and without condemnation. Perhaps the Christian who deplores Israel has forgotten how “he” did not “love his enemy,” so to speak, during the horrors of the Holocaust in the heart of Christian Europe. Perhaps, then “he” should remember “his” collapse and failure in that instance and not repeat it in this one regarding the right of Israel to exist in its own homeland. It is still Jacob, that is, the Jewish people, who are involved when it comes to the Jewish state. It was not Dr. King’s vision that the “Jew” and “Zionism” were two unrelated entities, as many who demonize the state of Israel try in vain to assert.
“When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism.” [Stated at a private dinner in the home of Martin Peretz, Dr. King is said to have addressed his view of Zionism in these direct, human terms; Martin Kramer, martinkramer.org]
For two years in a row, I’ve been unable to participate in the Martin Luther King Day walk here in my hometown. For the four years prior to that, my eldest son and I have been regular walkers, “praying with our feet” in honor of Dr. King’s legacy. But, in writing this column, perhaps another statement can be made, this one on behalf of both King’s and Heschel’s common, and ultimate, inspiration: the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—the God of the Bible.
The reverend and the rabbi shared a similar dream that all men were created equal in the sight of the God of Creation. And, that Israel forever occupies a special place in the heart of God, the God who will bring all of His promises to bear upon His people in His time, in His own way, despite the efforts of those who countermand His promise to gather them back into the land of their inheritance, once and for all.
As we pause to remember and continue to advance the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr., and as the threat against the Jewish state grows in scope and intensity, may we look up to the same Creator God that both the reverend and the rabbi sought to serve; the God who said of His people, Israel: “I will bless those who bless you… and curse those who curse you.” [Genesis 12:3]