On March 25, 1968 the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the honored guest at the 68th Annual Convention for the Rabbinical Assembly.  Israel was still being unfairly criticized for its actions in the June 1967 (Six Day) War, and Dr. King was asked by the rabbis to weigh in on the Arab-Israeli conflict.  His words, uttered nearly a half-century ago, remain among the strongest and most eloquent endorsements of the Jewish State:

Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all of our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity.  I see Israel, and never mind saying it, as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land almost can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy.  Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.

Dr. King was assassinated just ten days after making these comments.  


Unfortunately, some leaders of the black community have chosen to ignore Dr. King’s moral clarity on Israel.  As author and journalist Jason Riley recently pointed out “black leaders like Jesse Jackson (Dr. King’s protégé) would openly embrace Yasser Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).”  But the anti-Israel attitudes of a few black leaders do not represent the community as a whole. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Bayard Rustin, a close confidant of Dr. King, saw Arafat for what he was: a “terrorist.”  And as far back as 1975 Rustin established B.A.S.I.C. -- Black Americans to Support Israel Committee -- whose members included Coretta Scott King and Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr.   

The reasons for African-American Zionism are many, but at our core, the values that inspired Dr. King, and inspire us today, are found in the Bible.

According to a 2009 Pew Research poll, Black Americans are the most religious group in the nation – by a wide margin.  And that’s not all.  According to the same poll:

Compared with the population overall, for instance, African-Americans are more likely to believe in God with absolute certainty (88 percent vs. 71 percent among the total adult population), [and] interpret Scripture as the literal word of God (55 percent vs. 33 percent).  

These statistics are compelling because the Bible is a Zionist document; support for Israel for many Black Americans is a core biblical issue.  For the contemporary Black Christian, the Jewish people are the rightful inheritors of the modern state of Israel.  Further, Black Christians often identify with the Jewish struggle from slavery to freedom.  Thus it is with great agony and concern that many Black Americans watch the ongoing, worsening rift between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaMichelle Obama and Jennifer Lopez exchange Ginsburg memories Pence defends Trump's 'obligation' to nominate new Supreme Court justice The militia menace MORE.   


Likewise, Black Americans, especially those who lived through that time period, look fondly upon the close relationship that existed between the African-American and Jewish communities during the civil rights movement. Thus the strain placed on that historic relationship is equally agonizing and concerning.   

Yet in spite of this history and mutual communal admiration, it is during the tenure of our first Black President that the U.S.-Israel relationship has reached an historic low. And Jerusalem is not to blame.  

Fundamentally, the problem stems from the diametric foreign policy shift the president has taken in the Middle East, coupled with the excessively hostile and at times completely undignified anti-Netanyahu rhetoric coming from the Obama administration. 

Obama’s attempt to negotiate with the Iran may sound like a good idea in principle, but the president has failed to meet even his own standards in these negotiations.  And when Israelis did not elect for their leader Obama’s (ostensibly) preferred candidate, the Obama administration threw a diplomatic “temper tantrum,” which only ended once members of his own party demanded the president’s staff end their childish behavior.  

For some time, there have been increasing rumblings that the Democratic Party establishment takes the African-American vote for granted. I won’t comment on that as it pertains to any other issue, but when it comes to African-American support for Israel, the Democrats – including some members of the Congressional Black Caucus - would do well to remember we are first and foremost a biblically inspired people, and that Black Americans, like all Americans, will judge candidates not “by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Washington is the Diversity Outreach coordinator for Christians United for Israel.