NEW YORK – Make no mistake, American civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. supported Israel, said Dr. Clarence B. Jones, King’s lawyer and close friend.
Jones was one of two men the Israeli Consulate in New York honored at the Convent Avenue Baptist Church in Harlem on Thursday night for their civil rights work.
“I am always a little taken aback,” Jones said in his remarks. “I am seeing people quoting [Dr. King] frequently out of context to develop a thesis, an argument, that he would not be in support of the State of Israel.
That is absolutely insane.
“Israel has made mistakes,” Jones said – including the continuation of settlement building, he later told reporters – but that “doesn’t mean that gives you carte blanche to say ‘Israel is an apartheid state’ or ‘Israel is a racist state.’” Jones, who knew King for years, spoke about King’s legacy in America, and said that African-Americans and Jews were “natural allies in the struggle against racism.
“I say to my African-American brothers and sisters, speaking of the standpoint of the derivative relationship I had with Martin Luther King Jr., the time is now for every African-American person, every person of stature in the African- American community, to come forward and stand with Israel in the alpine chill of winter, to show that we are wintertime soldiers,” Jones declared.
Pastor Jesse Williams of the Convent Avenue Baptist Church was the other honoree of the night. He spoke about the need for the African-American community to be the “Joshua generation” and carry forward King’s legacy of activism. “Too many churches are cautious where they should be courageous, hiding behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows,” Williams said.
Consul-General Ido Aharoni presented Jones with his award, and lauded him for his efforts to bring understanding to the Jewish and African American communities.
“Dr. Clarence B. Jones has staunchly served as an ambassador for human rights, diversity and tolerance, and his influence on the American people and civil rights is invaluable,” Aharoni said. “We take pride knowing that Dr. King was a great friend to Israel and valued the precious nature of the friendship between the African-American and Jewish communities – who both share the goal of fighting racism, hatred and prejudice.”
After the ceremony, which featured joint musical performances by an Israeli ensemble and the church’s Chosen Generation Youth Choir, Jones spoke to reporters about helping to write the 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech – “I gave him handwritten notes to consider using. I had no idea he would use them” – sneaking paper into the Birmingham jail for King to write on when he was his lawyer – “I put blank sheets of paper under my shirt for four days, but I never took the time to read it until weeks later!” – and what Dr. King would have thought of the current situation in the Middle East.
“The choice of a gun as a rational option for resolving a conflict, that’s not a rational option,” Jones said.
“The only rational option is nonviolence or nonexistence.”
“Both the Palestinians and the Israelis are going have to have a ‘come to Jesus’ moment,” he added, with a bit of irony. “We’ve been at this [the conflict] since 1967. It’s time to end it. We’ve got to find a way.”
Jones also said that he thought US Secretary of State John Kerry was “close” to finding a solution, but the key was to end settlement construction.
“American Jews, Israelis, they have to understand, the world is not going to sanction continued building of settlements on Palestinian land,” Jones said. “That’s feeding a lot of the backlash against Israel.”