African American-Israel ties saluted at Beit Hanassi

"We not only have a common history, but a common future," says President Peres at inauguration ceremony for the FIBA Martin Luther King, Jr. Israel Awards.

"We not only have a common history, but a common future," President Shimon Peres told a diverse delegation at an inauguration ceremony for the Fellowship of Israel and Black America (FIBA) Martin Luther King, Jr. Israel Awards. The Tuesday ceremony at Beit Hanassi, held on what would have been King's 79th birthday, was attended by African Americans, representatives of AIPAC, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Detroit, rabbis and pastors from Israel and the United States, and representatives of Israel government agencies and local Christian communities. Future award ceremonies will be held annually on King's birthday. FIBA is the brainchild of Pastor Glenn R. Plummer of Detroit, a former chairman of the National Religious Broadcasters of America and an outspoken advocate for Israel. He founded FIBA in 2004 for the purpose of uniting Israel and African Americans as friends and allies and forging a new coalition of Blacks and Jews. In tribute to the Jews' commitment to the Civil Rights Movement, Plummer pledged to stand with Israel in its time of need. "There are millions of African Americans who will not be silent," he said, because African Americans remember that "Jews walked with us, marched with us, were put in jail with us, and some died with us." Recalling the March on Washington in August 1963, in which Rabbi Joachim Prinz, then president of the American Jewish Congress, represented the Jewish community as one of the event's organizers, Plummer quoted a paragraph from Prinz's address that King had adopted. "When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things," Prinz had said. "The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence." Taking this message to heart, King had openly begun to condemn the Soviet Union for the way it treated its Jews. Among the many projects FIBA has on the drawing board is the engagement of the Ethiopian community in Israel with the African community of America. Rabbi Joseph Hadana, the chief rabbi of the Ethiopian community, was present to verify that such contacts were already under way. FIBA will mobilize 2.8 million African American Christians to bless Israel over the next year and will also encourage African Americans to travel to the Holy Land so they can understand the need for a strong and secure Israel. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Awards will be given to people from many different walks of life who in one way or another have fought and suffered for liberty and justice for all. The first recipient of the award was Rev. Kenneth Flowers, a pioneer of African American outreach to Jews and to Israel. It was only fitting to give the first award to someone who has patterned his life after King and was adopted as a son by Coretta King, said Plummer. Flowers has visited Israel five times. The second award went to Israeli violin virtuosa and Grammy Award-winner Miri Ben-Ari, who has uniquely fused different musical genres. Sporting a blond Afro, Ben-Ari played her stirring composition "Symphony of Brotherhood," based on a phrase toward the tail end of King's famous "I have a dream" speech. In the background was a video of King delivering his historic address. Ben-Ari, who walked through the audience as she played, got a standing ovation at the end of her performance. She noted that King would have been proud to know that the president of Israel was hosting an event celebrating friendship between Israel and Black Americans. Speaking on behalf of both groups, Flowers said that he, too, had a dream - that Israel and the Palestinians would live together along with their Arab neighbors, and that the lion would lie with the lamb, and that Israel would have the right to exist and never be threatened. Plummer mentioned that while visiting the Israeli Embassy in Ethiopia last year, he had seen a book entitled The Land of Promise, the story of the Jewish People from Abraham to the present. The book contains many pertinent quotes by well-known figures, including King, who defined Zionism saying, "How easy it should be, for anyone who holds dear this inalienable right of all mankind, to understand and support the right of the Jewish People to live in their ancient Land of Israel. All men of goodwill exult in the fulfillment of God's promise that His people should return in joy to rebuild their plundered land. This is Zionism, nothing more, nothing less." Plummer cited the quote before presenting the third prize to Peres and the State of Israel. "There's a slight mistake," said Peres. "We should be giving you an award." Moments later, Plummer was given a Friend of Israel Award by Todd Mandel, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit. Mandel noted that Detroit has the largest Arab community outside of the Middle East, but that this did not deter Plummer from speaking out on behalf of Israel and against Hamas and Hizbullah. Plummer has also made appeals for Israel's abducted soldiers. A fourth Martin Luther King, Jr. Award was presented to the US Embassy's Andrew Koss, who was deputizing for Ambassador Richard Jones. Plummer said that the US embodied King's vision of Zionism by standing constantly with Israel.