Sunday, January 17, 2010

An American Jew of Conscience Speaks, Thank Goodness

"What would King say about Israel today?"
http://wagingnonviolence.org/2010/01/what-would-king-say-about-israel-today/


by Jim Haber, January 16, 2010


Today is Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, not the national holiday
which is Monday. As an activist member of Jewish Voice for Peace
http://www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org/, I have at times faced
counter-demonstrations while I speak out against unjustifiable
atrocities being committed allegedly for me and by “my” side. Being
from the United States, I could be doubly responsible for the
US/Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. As a long-time member of the
War Resisters League http://www.warresisters.org/, King and I share a
belief that (in his words) “social change comes more meaningfully
through nonviolence,” that the “business of burning human beings with
napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of
injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally
humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields
physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be
reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love,” and that God didn’t choose
“America as his divine, messianic force to be a sort of policeman of
the whole world.” 42 years have passed since he was assassinated.


So I am perplexed when I see “pro-Israel” signs that extol Martin
Luther King’s defense of Israel, using quotes (which I also am fond of
doing) by the late revolutionary, but in their case, highlighting
things he said that seem to place him on “their” side of the police
line, not mine. On the occasion of his birth, newsletters of
synagogues may even have articles touting King as a staunch defender
of Israel’s right to defend itself. They take quotes from 42 years ago
as I do, to make our points. Certainly, after the Six Day War of 1967
(and before), King defended Israel. However, events of the last two
score years I think would have reinforced King’s pacifism and “eternal
hostility towards militarism, racism and economic exploitation.” He
never would have become an anti-Semite, but I do think facts on the
ground would have led him to become quite critical of Israel. I want
to briefly mention five specific issues that would have negatively
effected King’s perspective on Israel:


1. Regarding nuclear weapons and disarmament: as a critic of nuclear
weapons, he would have pushed for real steps on the part of the US on
this issue. He would have opposed ALL states building nuclear weapons,
US allies or not. Israel has a formidable nuclear arsenal and delivery
systems even though it and the United States refuse to admit it.
Israel has nukes, and King wouldn’t have been fooled or supportive of
the lie of omission. As he said, “In international conflicts, the
truth is hard to come by because most nations are deceived about
themselves. Rationalizations and the incessant search for scapegoats
are the psychological cataracts that blind us to our sins. But the day
has passed for superficial patriotism. He who lives with untruth lives
in spiritual slavery. Freedom is still the bonus we receive for
knowing the truth.”


2. Israeli support for apartheid in South Africa would certainly have
given MLK pause. Maybe he would have been able to help change Israeli
(and US) policy, but he certainly would have pointed out that
supporting the horrific racism of South Africa was wrong, in the
extreme. He would have seen Jews and some Israelis take anti-racist
stands, but as a whole, and on a governmental level, he would have had
much to rebuke.


3. Israel has been singular in its support for many of the worst
aspects of US foreign policy like covert actions undermining
democratically elected governments. Against oppressive regimes, he
would have supported nonviolent actors. Actions he spoke against while
denouncing the Vietnam war continue. Again, quoting King, “A nation
that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense
than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”


4. I don’t think King would have laid all or even most of the blame on
the Palestinian people for the unresolved catastrophe they have
suffered. He would not have supported efforts to punish all the people
of Gaza trying to make them turn on Hamas (a democratically elected
party, like it or not). He would have supported conscientious
objectors like the Shminitsim http://www.shministim.com/ and the
former fighters of Breaking the Silence
http://www.shovrimshtika.org/index_e.asp and Combatants for Peace
http://www.combatantsforpeace.org/. He would see Palestinian homes
being demolished or forcibly occupied by religious zealots (ala
Hebron) and say that it was not just. He would surely have supported
nonviolent Israeli and Palestinian initiatives and would have
sympathized with people being shot at, imprisoned and abused for
speaking out or demonstrating against the wall. He would have had
solidarity with the people of Sderot, many of whom denounced Operation
Cast Lead. He would have cared about every dead and injured person,
but he would maybe have thought that the numbers also had an important
story to tell. He would have denounced ALL war crimes, crimes against
humanity and collective punishment committed in or from Gaza. He would
hear appeals from Christian Palestinians and Palestinian civil society
and be moved.


5. The second class citizenship that Israeli Palestinians have with
its separate and unequal treatment by the State would have appeared
eerily reminiscent of the occasion for lunch counter sit-ins and bus
boycotts in the South. Even if they have more rights than people in
many Arab states, such partiality makes a mockery of democracy. Would
King be more likely to stand with Avigdor Leiberman and Ehud Olmert,
or Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela?


I certainly don’t think King would have become an anti-Semite, but he
may have become an anti-Zionist. They are not the same thing. “The
truth must be told, and I say that those who are seeking to make it
appear that anyone who opposes the war in Vietnam is a fool or a
traitor or an enemy of our soldiers is a person that has taken a stand
against the best in our tradition.” That is a quote of his that I have
no doubt could accurately be updated to go beyond mention of Vietnam
and include every military adventure subsequently waged by “the
greatest purveyor of violence in the world today–my own government,”
including the US/Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories.


-------------------


Jim Haber is the Coordinator of Nevada Desert Experience (NDE) which
organizes interfaith resistance to nuclear weapons and war. Jim is on
the War Resisters League National Committee, and he edited the 2008
WRL Peace Calendar. Jim is also very active with Jewish Voice for
Peace, the G.I. Rights Hotline and former SF CW and a regular
volunteer at the Las Vegas CW. He can be reached at:
jim[at]nevadadesertexperience.org.

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