Martin Luther King Jr. Day still relevant in current era

Also known as MLK Day, it was largely overshadowed in Israel this past Monday by pre-election political shenanigans

A STATUE of Martin Luther King.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
A STATUE of Martin Luther King.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Martin Luther King Jr. Day was enacted in US federal legislation and signed in 1986 by president Ronald Reagan. It had been adopted 15 years earlier by several states. Soon after, countries around the world – especially those with large American populations – began honoring the renowned civil-rights leader on the third Monday in January, a date close to his birthday.
Also known as MLK, it was largely overshadowed in Israel this past Monday by preelection political shenanigans and by preparations for the arrival this week of some 40 international leaders to participate in the Fifth World Holocaust Forum on Antisemitism.
An MLK conference jointly organized at the Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem by the Interfaith Encounter Association and Social Workers for Peace and Social Welfare proved to be an interfaith, interethnic, intercultural and international event in terms of speakers, audience and entertainers.
Retired Israel ambassador to South Africa Alon Liel said he had heard about the conference two days earlier and had asked to be permitted to relate an anecdote. Before appointment to South Africa, he had been Israeli consulate general in Atlanta, which was King’s hometown, and he had befriended King’s family and followers.
While in Atlanta, members of the Jewish community told Liel they had marched with King and had joined in his struggle for justice, civil rights and equality. Liel was very pleased to hear this.
Later, when Liel went to South Africa, many Jews told him they had been among those who had demonstrated for anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela’s release from jail and had also fought against apartheid. Again, Liel was very pleased. It was nice to know that after what King and Mandela had achieved, so many people wanted to be associated with them.
Now, echoing part of one of King’s most famous speeches, Liel said: “I have a dream…” But then he veered away from King’s eloquence and said his dream was to achieve civil rights and freedom for the Palestinians, and that all his Israeli friends should come and tell him how they fought for those values.
The general theme in all the addresses was civil rights, justice, equality and nonviolent protest.
Nepali Ambassador Anjan Shakya said King had been the youngest African American to receive a Nobel Prize, adding that what he fought for “is still relevant in our society today.”
She regarded his nonviolent methods as “inspiring,” adding that years after his death, he was the most widely known American leader of his era.
Alluding to the nationalism now pervading her country, Lisa Bess Wishman, the director of The American Center in Jerusalem, in talking about what King had done in his quest for equality for all in America today, quoted the Jewish Ethics of the Fathers, citing the notion that while people are not obligated to complete the work, neither should they desist from it.
If there was a latter-day figure such as MLK, said Bar-Ilan University lecturer Rabbi Daniel Roth, who also heads Mosaica Press, it would be Sheikh Abdullah Nimr Darwish, founder of the Islamic Movement, which had engaged in violent protest.
Darwish was arrested, he said. However, during his period in prison for inciting Islamic jihad, he got to know and understand the other side. He changed his way of thinking, preferring dialogue and nonviolent protest to his former methods. He then began campaigning for religious peace.
Darwish was in touch with many Zionist leaders and actively promoted peace through nonviolent methods until his death in 2017, Roth said.