News from January 13-January 19
Martin Luther King Day, Israeli election update, World Zionist Congress elections
|Jan 20, 2020|
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I know it’s MLK day, what does this have to do with Jews? Dr. King was obviously an incredible advocate for equality and a stalwart of the civil rights movement, but he was also a great friend to the Jewish people. A prominent example was his very close relationship with Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. A leader in the Jewish community, “Heschel brought King and his message to a wide Jewish audience, and King made Heschel a central figure in the struggle for civil rights.” Dr. King even asked Rabbi Heschel to join him at the iconic march from Selma to Montgomery. For more on their relationship, check out the story I linked earlier in this paragraph.
Heschel and King at Arlington National Cemetery, February 6, 1968 ( Photograph by John C. Goodwin in Plough)
What did he say about Jews and Israel? Here are some select Dr. King quotes:
“My people were brought in America in chains. Your people were driven here to escape the chains fashioned for them in Europe. Our unity is born out of our common struggle for centuries, not only to rid us of bondage, but to make oppression of any people by others an impossibility.” (Source)
“Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect her right to exist, its territorial integrity and the right to use whatever sea lanes it needs. Israel is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security, and that security must be a reality.” (Source)
“I can’t stand idly by, even though I happen to live in the United States and even though I happen to be an American Negro, and not be concerned about what happens to the Jews in Soviet Russia. For what happens to them happens to me and you, and we must be concerned.” (Source)
"It has been impossible to record the contribution that the Jewish people have made toward the Negro's struggle for freedom, it has been so great." (Source)
What didn’t he say about Jews and Israel? Many people like to point to the second quote I listed as evidence that Dr. King was a strong supporter of Israel. That’s true. Dr. King was definitely a fan of Israel during its early history. Yet, some of the quotes people attribute to him don’t appear to have actually been said. For example, Dr. King is alleged to have said, “My friend, when people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews–make no mistake about it.” Former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon even referenced the quote in a speech he made to the Knesset in 2005. However, there is no evidence that Dr. King said it. The moral of the story is that there is a lot of misinformation surrounding Dr. King’s views of Judaism and Israel. Stay vigilant.
What would Dr. King think of Israel today? Some people say that cherrypicking quotes from Dr. King about Israel from 50 years ago is misleading because he would preach against some of the things Israel does today. Others see the criticism as intentionally trying to erase Dr. King’s historical support for the Jewish state to fit a political agenda.
My take? It’s hard to say, so it’s probably best to avoid making sweeping judgments. Projecting someone’s views from 50 years ago onto an entirely different and more complex situation seems problematic. I’m sure there are things Dr. King would love about contemporary Israel and things he would hate. What we do know, though, is that Dr. King was a true friend to the Jewish people who vigorously fought antisemitism. We can only hope that other leaders follow in his path.
Does Israel have a government yet? No.
What’s new? Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein announced that he “convene the plenum” to vote on creating an immunity panel. In other words, Edelstein is supporting the creation of a House Committee, which will decide whether or not to grant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immunity against charges of bribery, breach of trust, and fraud. As you may recall, Netanyahu sought immunity from prosecution because he believed there was no way the House Committee could be formed. If there is no House Committee, the Knesset cannot decide his immunity charges. Since the trial cannot start until immunity is decided, the trial would have to wait until after a government is formed following the next election (hopefully). Now, the Knesset will consider his immunity in the next few weeks. The House Committee is expected to vote against Netanyahu’s immunity.
What does this mean? It’s a tough loss for Netanyahu, who will now have to contend with bad press from his trial while he’s on the campaign trail. Moreover, it was a significant rebuke of Netanyahu. Despite disagreeing with the legal opinion that the House Committee could be formed, Edelstein, a Likud MK, disregarded Netanyahu’s call for him to refuse “convening the plenum.” It’s also a win for Israeli democracy in the sense that the legislative branch in Israel appears to be respecting legal rulings in spite of political pressure from government leaders.
Anything else? The deadline for submitting party lists for the March election is on Wednesday. The latest news is that the Israeli far-right, which is extremely fragmented, is in a state of turmoil. Check out this article for a good rundown of what’s going on. There are basically four parties, one of which is secular and one of which is overtly racist. Netanyahu wants them to all run together to ensure they all pass the threshold. However, the secular party won’t partner with the racist party, and one of the other parties won’t join the secular party without the racist party. Stay tuned!
What is the World Zionist Congress? Started in 1897 by Theodor Herzl, the World Zionist Congress (WZC) is a legislative body that determines how almost $5 billion will be spent on Zionist causes. It’s essentially a way for non-Israeli Jews to have a say in how Zionism takes shape.
Before 1948, the WZC deliberated what Zionism would look like once the Jews had a territorial state. Since then, Jews all over the world have been able to meaningfully impact how Zionism is carried out in practice by deciding how money is spent on organizations like The Jewish Agency, the Jewish National Fund, and the World Zionist Organization. The body has 500 seats which are broken up by region. The United States sends 152 delegates, so your vote will determine how the American ballots are distributed. Elections occur once every five years.
Are there parties? Pretty much. They’re more like movements that advocate for broad platforms that align with their theological and political positions. For example, Vote Reform, the group which won the most seats in the last election, calls for a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as equal funding for projects related to liberal forms of Judaism. For an excellent breakdown of the WZC, the movements, and their platforms, check out the link I embedded in the header of this section.
How can I vote? Voting in the United States will run from January 21 to March 11. To vote, you will have to sign a statement affirming your commitment to the Jerusalem program, which you can read about here. Essentially, you have to be Jewish, Zionist, and care about the unity of the Jewish people. You will be able to vote at this site (It also costs $7.50 to cover the cost of the election). American Jews often complain that they don’t get a say in Israeli policy. Well, if that’s you, this is your chance! Vote!
Further reading: Seriously, read the article in the header of this section.
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