King or Kahane, Which Way Forward?

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel Marching together In Selma
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel Marching together In Selma

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

—Martin Luther King

The annual commemoration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. birthday this month serves as a critical reminder of the essential nature of human rights, civil rights and peaceful co-existence. King was right when we said that co-existence is not merely an option but an obligation. He famously said, “we must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” Last summer in Jerusalem, as hatred and fear filled the air, I took heart in observing something I hadn’t noticed before. Just as Jerusalem has streets named for Christian Zionists like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Mary Ann Evans (aka George Elliot), so too it has a street named for Dr. King. Zionism is not limited to religion or nationality. The definition of Zionism has been and must remain more complicated than that. Zionism is also a set of beliefs, an ideology that anyone can espouse. You don’t have to be female to embrace feminism. You don’t have to be African American to reject racism. Like the adorable rye bread advertisement used to say: “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. Street in Jerusalem, Israel
Martin Luther King, Jr. Street in Jerusalem, Israel

The recent arson and vandalism against the Max Rayne Yad B’Yad/Hand in Hand School, a bilingual and bicultural school in Jerusalem, was not merely an attack against an institution that practices Arab-Jewish co-existence, it was an attack against multiculturalism, co-existence and peace itself. There has been a dismaying tendency in ultra-nationalist circles in Israel lately to quote the sayings of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. Along with the message “Kahane was Right” and “Death to Arabs”, Kahane’s message “There is no coexistence with cancer” was spray-painted on the walls of the school. Arabs are not a cancer. Palestinians are not a disease. Islam is not an illness. Judaism teaches that having endured such hateful rhetoric ourselves we have an even greater moral obligation to guard against saying such things about others. Arab citizens and residents of Israel are human beings with a right to be treated with dignity, justice and equality. While there are blatantly intolerant passages in biblical and rabbinic literature, nowhere does our tradition teach that Israel should be a place that is only for Jews.

Chanting “Death to Arabs” is inherently un-Jewish. Setting fire to a school and spray-painting hate speech on its walls is, by its very nature, antithetical to Judaism. Israel does not face a choice between coexistence and hatred. Israel faces a choice between coexistence and catastrophe. Israeli society can no longer afford a debate over the risks and rewards of co-existence. The question is how to embrace, instill and enhance coexistence. It not enough for the perpetrators of this despicable hate crime to be punished. Groups like Lehava, the Organization for the Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land, whose members committed the arson and who promote hatred and protest against all forms of integration between Jews and others—including anyone who intermarries, or even rents housing to or hires Arabs—must find no refuge in our communities. Their ideology to be rejected by ALL facets of Israeli society, and the Jewish community, regardless of political party or religious persuasion. King understood that America could no longer afford to raise another generation that accepted the false dichotomy between superiority and inferiority. So too, we must understand that the success of Yad b’Yad ‘s network of schools, where 1,200 Jewish and Arab children, and 3,000 parents, teachers, and supporters work together to create communities of common purpose and common values, are essential to Israel’s well being. We’ve seen more than a glimpse of the alternative and it is neither moral nor viable. The children of Yad b’Yad responded to the hateful graffiti with the message “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies” and “We continue together without hatred or fear.” They have embodied Dr. King’s message that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

 Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

—Martin Luther King

I’ll be turning 45 this month and I have a birthday request. I would like to ask you to participate in Hoops4Hope# (see my next blog post), or to donate whatever you deem appropriate, to Yad B’Yad, Hand in Hand Schools and write in “Memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” in the memo portion of the check or online donation form. We don’t have a choice between the worldview of King and Kahane, hope and hatred, coexistence and calamity. What we have is an obligation, a duty, a mitzvah to work for peace. Please go to http://www.handinhandk12.org to donate and learn more.

People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.
—Martin Luther King, Jr.

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