It’s nighttime now on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but the day has not gone by without a lot of folks talking and thinking about Palestine.
USA Today has a big piece on how King’s legacy is being carried on today in the U.S. by leaders of #BlackLivesMatter, including Phillip Agnew of Dream Defenders (which was founded after the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2012). Reporter Rick Hampson notes one of King’s strengths, and Agnew’s:
- The internationalist. His ability to elicit support from abroad – and shame Americans with segregation’s inherent contradictions — resonates with Agnew, who recently traveled to Palestine with other activists.
Dream Defenders lately held an action in Nazareth.
Speaking of King’s internationalism, Jamil Dakwar writes:
“If you wonder what #MLK’s position on #BDS would be read this newly found 1964 London speech.”
BDS is of course the international movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel. Dakwar links to this speech reported on DemocracyNow today in which King addressed racial injustice at home and abroad in 1964 and called for boycotting South Africa:
Our responsibility—our responsibility presents us with a unique opportunity: We can join in the one form of nonviolent action that could bring freedom and justice to South Africa, the action which African leaders have appealed for, in a massive movement for economic sanctions. In a world living under the appalling shadow of nuclear weapons, do we not recognize the need to perfect the use of economic pressures? Why is trade regarded by all nations and all ideologies as sacred? Why does our government and your government in Britain refuse to intervene effectively now, as if only when there is a bloodbath in South Africa—or a Korea or a Vietnam—will they recognize a crisis? If the United Kingdom and the United States decided tomorrow morning not to buy South African goods, not to buy South African gold, to put an embargo on oil, if our investors and capitalists would withdraw their support for that racial tyranny that we find there, then apartheid would be brought to an end. Then the majority of South Africans of all races could at last build the shared society they desire.
Electronic Intifada reported that speech excerpt some years ago, as well as a letter that King wrote in 1962 along with Albert Lutuli, a leader of the African National Congress. Key sentence:
The apartheid republic is a reality today only because the peoples and governments of the world have been unwilling to place her in quarantine.
Israeli supporters are promoting the fact that King also said nice things about Israel– calling it one of the outposts of democracy in the world (youtube clip here). Avi Mayer also tweets this photo of MLK Street in central Jerusalem.
But Dakwar is surely on target here. King was martyred when Israel was still Plucky Israel in the eyes of the west, before the occupation took real form. And it is the treatment of Palestinians under occupation that has driven the BDS movement in the west. There’s no question that if King were alive today, he would be in lines with that movement. Besides, think of how far America has come since King’s death. Diversity is today widely celebrated, and some establishment institutions are actually fostering diversity.
[Update: King canceled a planned trip to Israel in September 1967 in part because of political misgivings over the annexation of Jerusalem. He reportedly told his aides in a conference call:
[“I’d run into the situation where I’m damned if I say this and I’m damned if I say that no matter what I’d say, and I’ve already faced enough criticism including pro-Arab. I just think that if I go, the Arab world, and of course Africa and Asia for that matter, would interpret this as endorsing everything that Israel has done, and I do have questions of doubt… Most of it [the pilgrimage] would be Jerusalem and they [the Israelis] have annexed Jerusalem, and any way you say it they don’t plan to give it up… I frankly have to admit that my instincts – and when I follow my instincts so to speak I’m usually right – I just think that this would be a great mistake. I don’t think I could come out unscathed”]
Brooklyn for Peace urges folks to support negotiations with Iran— “Dr. King knew that war abroad means misery at home”– and is pressing activists to get on the campaign to pressure that NY City delegation to Israel not to go. From NYC2Palestine’s Facebook page:
Join us on Thursday, Jan 22nd at 1pm in City Hall Park to tell New York City Council members – Don’t Tour Apartheid Israel!
New Yorkers are outraged by 15 New York City Council members’ decision to take an all-expenses-paid propagandatour of Israel, organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council and United Jewish Appeal in February 2015.
Multiple social justice groups and organizations participating in a press conference on the steps of City Hall this past Monday told the New York City Council: #DontTourApartheid. We, the people of NYC, need to do the same.
Also, on Fresh Air today, Eric Foner spoke of the importance of solidarity to the antislavery movement, whites and blacks joining together. What was a difficult thing that was to achieve in the 1850s:
You know, the barriers between black and white were far higher than they are today. And overcoming that in order to work in a collaborative way, cooperating with each other in a, I think, noble cause of trying to assist people who were escaping from slavery and trying to undermine the institution of slavery and, eventually, bring about its abolition. And I – you know, I think on Martin Luther King Day, it should lead us to remember that the civil rights movement had antecedents in our history. It had, you know – that this was a great social movement of the mid-19th century and that these are the things that inspire me in American history – the struggle of people to make this a better country. To me, that’s what genuine patriotism is.
Of course Martin Luther King built that sort of coalition with considerable care in the 1960s, and today we should be thankful for the transformative coalition that we and so many others are building across racial and religious and national lines to free Palestinians (and Israelis), and lift a glass to MLK.
Thanks to Annie Robbins, Allison Deger and Alex Kane.