Martin Luther King Jr. and the Upcoming Israeli Elections

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born 84 years ago on January 15, 1929. A towering figure in the history of the American civil rights movement, King has become symbolic of what it means to be a visionary, a leader, and a believer.

Exactly one week from today, on January 22, close to five million Israelis will enjoy the basic civil right of voting for the nineteenth Knesset (Israeli parliament). Our agenda in Israel is generally determined by our geo-political situation-the relationships with our close and remote Arab neighbors. In recent years, we have seen that our own internal disputes, tensions, and lack of tolerance have the potential to destroy us no less than external threats.

Many of us in Israel sadly feel that our relationship with our neighbors (both the Palestinians and surrounding countries) is heading nowhere at the moment. However, human rights, equality, social justice, and democracy should be a huge component of our current agenda. I grew up envisioning, praying, and hoping for peace with our neighbors, but I believe that children today broaden the term peace to include both internal and external varieties. After 65 years of Independence, we have matured to the level where we are able to acknowledge the rights of minorities and accept the fact that a healthy society is one that embraces all its parts with a vision of creating a human collage where the whole is bigger than its parts.

America was founded on the ideal of freedom and justice for all people. This was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream. The State of Israel was founded to provide a home for Jews, who were rootless for much of their history. This Jewish homeland is based on Jewish values as stated in our Declaration of Establishment of State of Israel: “The Jewish State will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”  David Ben Gurion’s dream to build a Jewish State, to make the desert bloom, and to excel as a modern country has become a proud reality, but we are not there yet in terms of his dream to ensure complete equality.

In preparation for the elections, I’m looking at our political map, listening to our political parties’ leaders, and am really hoping for hope. What once was the major difference between Israel’s left and right is not relevant anymore. All parties understand that our internal challenges are critical, but what do they offer? Do they offer hope or empty words? A nation needs a leader–one person who has the passion, charisma, vision and ability to provide hope, to be the guiding star, to lead.  Martin Luther King, Jr. was that person when leading the March in Washington on August 28, 1963. He gave people hope, provided the dream. In reviewing the lack of leadership in our politics, maybe what we need here in Israel, above all, is a Martin Luther King.

King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee didn’t end the hope, it transformed it into a legacy. As King said in his Washington speech: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!” My dream is that the nineteenth Knesset will allow us to hope, to dream that our miraculous Jewish state will continue to shine with pride, and that we will be able to complete Ben Gurion’s vision to “ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants.”

Leah Garber, Vice-President, JCC Association Israel Office

leah@jcca.org

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