Reverend. Dr. Martin Luther King, born on January 15, 1929, Atlanta, Georgia rose to prominence during the American Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. He espoused the values of non-violent protest in the face of bigotry and hatred
Dr. King had the opportunity to visit Israel in the winter of
1959. Though a tense time, when the western part of the city of Jerusalem was
controlled by Israel and the eastern part by Jordan
He and his wife, Coretta toured the Old City of Jerusalem, as
well as Hebron, Bethlehem, Jericho, and the Samaria region, all of which were
part of Jordan at the time.
He shared details of his visit during a homily at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL on Easter Sunday, 1959. He mused about strolling through “the narrow streets” in the Old City, walking the Via Dolorosa and completing the stations of the cross, seeing the ancient walls of Jericho, and visiting the Jordan River
Dr. King had also agreed to lead an interfaith pilgrimage of 600
to Israel in November 1967. However,
this never transpired,
since he was assassinated on April 4th, the
following year in Memphis, Tennessee.
Although Dr. King never visited the State of Israel again, it has not diminished his legacy in the eyes of most Israelis. His leadership during the civil rights movement has inspired generations of Israeli activists, from the Mizrahi Jews who fought for better housing and jobs during the 1970s to the Ethiopian Israelis who, more recently, have demonstrated in the streets of Tel Aviv against police brutality and discrimination.
The Knesset has also recognized Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and there is a forest in the Galilee planted in his honor. In 2016 his son Martin Luther King, III visited Israel and bestowed the 2016 Unsung Hero Award, given by his Drum Major Institute on Israeli activists working on behalf of the Ethiopian Jewish community.
One can only wonder what Dr. King would think of the startup
nation today in its brief 71 years of existence. Obviously, it stands to reason
that he would be disappointed that a lasting peace has not been achieved
between Israelis and Palestinians. Would
he be amazed by the cultural and ethnic mosaic of Israelis; Jews from India, Iraq
and Morocco live next to Jews from Yemen, Iran, Ethiopia and France? What about
the other minority groups who now call Israel home, Arabs, Armenians, Bahai’s,
Bedouins, Circassians, Druze, Hebrew Israelites, and Samaritans and have also
found a home in Israel—a place that one day might truly be, in King’s words, “one
of the greatest outposts of democracy in the world.”
“Israel must exist and has a right to exist, and is one of greatest outposts of democracy in the world.” –Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.