MLK, tokenism and the rebound of Jew hatred

Dr. King’s message teaches us that we can only be satisfied when all human rights are obtained – not just a few.

January 21, 2015 21:08

STEPHEN SOMERSTEIN talks about a photo he took during the famous 1965 Selma to Montgomery, Alabama march, at the New-York Historical Society on January 14.. Somerstein was a 24-year-old college student when he photographed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the march from Selma to Montgomery.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King penned an article in The National Review titled “A Bold Design for a New South.” In the piece, Dr. King laments what he calls the “tokenism” of American society, specifically America’s satisfaction with mere modicums of freedom – as opposed to absolute liberation.

He wrote that Americans “have been persuaded to accept token victories as indicative of genuine and satisfactory progress.” Dr. King praises America’s innate desire to pursue and maintain a free society from its birth in 1776, to the “shedding of the evil of chattel slavery in 1863,” to its fight against fascism in World War II.

Yet at the conclusion of the piece, Dr. King still objects to the current situation, saying, “There segregation, the evil heritage of slavery, remains.”

Dr. King’s message teaches us that we can only be satisfied when all human rights are obtained – not just a few.

The civil rights movement which Dr. King spearheaded illustrated that we must demonstrate until total emancipation is established and full liberation is realized.

This lesson is especially relevant today as terror spreads across Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, and as Jews flee Europe for Israel.

Just as in 1963 white Southerners were actively advocating for policies of discrimination and segregation against blacks, today there are many – both journalists and statesmen – who place blame on Jewish victims of oppression rather than those who do the oppressing. In doing so, they perpetuate the idea that Jews should be disenfranchised and marginalized.

• Rula Jebreal, for example, on a segment on CNN, implicitly suggested that it was the Jews’ own fault that they were being persecuted in France and elsewhere. She stated that “extremists” – who target Jews because they are Jews – were on the rise because of Israel’s alleged policies of “segregation.” To wit, extremists are fighting against Jewish “oppression” by fighting for oppression of Jews a la Adolf Hitler.

• In a broadcast on MSNBC, reporter Ayman Mohyeldin suggested that attacks against Jews should be contextualized and that one should take into consideration Israel’s immigration laws when discussing such matters.

• The BBC’s Tim Wilcox suggested that anti-Semitism against French Jews was justified because of the state of Israel.

• CNN Anchor Ashley Banfield justified Palestinian lynchings of Israeli civilians because many would grow up to defend their country and enroll in the Israel Defense Forces.

• In 2013, The New York Times published a piece that idealized attacks on Jews, calling attempted aggression against Jewish Israelis vis-a-vis rock throwing “nonviolent peaceful resistance.” This is as senseless as suggesting that when Dr.

King marched through the South Side of Chicago in 1966 and white protesters threw rocks at him, they were simply engaging in “nonviolent peaceful resistance” against a civil rights leader.

• In the United States, we provide material support in the form of hundreds of millions of dollars to the Palestinian Authority – a regime that calls almost daily for the lynching of Jews in the streets of Israel and which honors racists – like Leila Khaled – who have been successful in murdering Jews.

• We indirectly finance Hamas via funds that are sent to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency – funds which are supposed to go toward helping the residents of Gaza but which often end up in Hamas’ coffers.

This collective lip service to the idea of “Never Again” is simply that: priggish conversation we engage in to make ourselves feel good. Yet we are content with mere “tokens” of freedom. We believe we are saying something of great substance when we condemn anti-Semitism with statements of “Yes, that is horrible.” Yet, all too often we follow those statements with qualifiers of, “but I understand why it happened.”

These “yes, buts” are the language of tokenism. Here a little, there a little. We are plaster saints who talk the talk without backing our words up with deeds: • We claim to stand for Jewish self-determination but do so only in principle. We entertain and promote the racist notion that Jews should be banned from living in Judea and Samaria simply because they are Jews. We would never say that Blacks or Asians should be banned from living in a place merely because of their ethnic identity – and rightfully so. Yet we do not extend this same right to Jews.

• We appear at rallies and press conferences that express solidarity with Jews in France after others have just been slaughtered – while bashing Jews who secure themselves in order to prevent such a slaughter from happening in Israel.

• We lament when Jews are murdered in a supermarket near Paris, while finding justification for the prohibition of Jewish existence in Ramallah.

• In the selfsame breath, 1.5 million joined hands and avowed that they supported the Jewish community all while marching in lock step with Mahmoud Abbas – one of the primary government leaders today who perpetuates anti-Semitism.

• We claim to have sympathy for Israelis when rockets are launched against them, and yet become angry when Israelis dare to attack those who did the launching.

• We tweet out, “Je Suis Juif,” because it’s trendy, but insist that we certainly are not Jews who want nothing more than the basic right to pray at their holy sites, including the Temple Mount.

As if actors in our own theater of the absurd, we preserve that which we claim to eschew.

These suggestions that victims of persecution should be held responsible for what is done to them or should be discriminated against because of who they are should elicit moral outrage from decent human beings everywhere. Yet such ideas are accepted as legitimate viewpoints. Today, if anyone suggested that black males deserved to be lynched because they were infringing upon the right of the white elite to oppress them, they would receive backlash and the opprobrium of their peers – and rightfully so.

But overt justification of Jew hatred continues to air on prime-time television with little-to-no protest – suggesting that we have yet to build a society that Dr. King envisioned: where prejudice against Jewish people is socially taboo.

Our mistaking of scraps of freedom for authentic emancipation yields consequences: Jews are told that they have rights but only when those rights come with limitations and reservations to our liking. If this pattern persists, there will be more incidents like those in France, and more Jews will be targeted and slaughtered simply because they are Jews. Our cowardice and artificial support for basic human rights for the Jewish people has led to a global social pandemic wherein Jews are attacked with impunity and anti-Semitism is routinely justified by journalists and state governments alike.

Altering the status quo requires reflection: We cannot escape this role we have played in enabling Jew hatred to spread around the globe.

This week we remember Dr. King’s legacy and his dream of love and justice covering the breadth of the earth. Yet, until radical changes occur in our attitudes toward animosity against Jews, Dr. King’s dream will remain a dream deferred.

The author is a consultant for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America and a fellow at the Lawfare Project.

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