martin luther king, jr..
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Attempting to turn a page in a very mixed history, a prominent African American evangelical pastor and the head of the Knesset's Christian Allies Caucus launched an annual award on Monday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. The launch was aimed at strengthening the relationship between Israel and the African American community after three decades of frosty relations following the Civil Rights Movement in the US.
The award seeks to focus on the pinnacle of the relationship between African Americans and Jews during the Civil Rights Movement in America under King's leadership, when the two peoples worked hand in hand to fight segregation.
"When Black Americans had no one standing with us, at a time when even our White evangelical Christian brothers were pro-segregation or silent, the Jewish people stood with us, and I want to say...that we will stand with Israel," Detroit pastor Glenn Plummer said in an address at the Knesset.
Plummer, who founded the Fellowship of Israel and Black America and served as head of the American National Religious Broadcasters, said that more than 80 percent of the 35 million African Americans consider themselves Christian. He estimated that eight million of them could be potential "open and unapologetic" supporters of the State of Israel.
In a first-ever appearance at a caucus event, the US Ambassador to Israel Richard Jones, in a ringing endorsement of the parliamentary lobby's work, welcomed the establishment of the award, stating that it makes his work at promoting American-Israeli ties easier.
"The real bridge between our people is not just interests but the Bible," said interim caucus head MK Benny Elon (National Union-National Religious Party), the hawkish rabbi who spearheaded Israel's relations with the predominantly supportive evangelical Christian world during his tenure as tourism minister.
Attempting to draw on the past alliance between Jews and African Americans, which has fast waned over the past 30 years as contemporary African American leaders such as Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have repeatedly criticized Israel and sided with the Palestinians, all the speakers noted how King was an outspoken ally and supporter of Israel.
The event was attended by the Ethiopian archbishop and clergy dressed in black-hooded gowns, as well as the black-hatted rabbi of the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel and a delegation of African Americans affiliated with Plummer's organization.
The increasingly influential parliamentary lobby, which is made up of 12 Knesset members from seven parties across the political spectrum, has come to epitomize Israel's newfound interest in garnering the support of the Christian world in the 21st century, especially the largely pro-Israel evangelical Christian community around the world, at a time when radical Islam is on the rise.
"As both African American and Jewish people share in their collective memories, a history of discrimination and persecution, it is especially meaningful that they join together today in the parliament of the Jewish state - a living symbol of democracy and the struggle for freedom in the face of those who deny it," said caucus administrator Miya Keren.
The award will be presented annually in Jerusalem on January 15th, the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with the first award to be handed out next year.