Zionism isn’t a movement solely dedicated to the return of the Jewish people to their homeland. Zionism is a movement of justice. For thousands of years injustices were perpetrated against the Jewish people. Jews suffered from Crusades, pogroms, and the Holocaust, among a host of economic injustices. Vile among the other injustices was the forceable exile of the Jewish people off their homeland – the land of Israel. As long as Jews were prohibited from reclaiming and returning to their land an injustice was being committed in the world.
When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize he spoke passionately about oppression and justice. “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself. The Bible tells the thrilling story of how Moses stood in Pharaoh’s court centuries ago and cried, ‘Let my people go.’ This is a kind of opening chapter in a continuing story. The deep rumbling of discontent that we hear today is the thunder of disinherited masses, rising from dungeons of oppression to the bright hills of freedom, in one majestic chorus the rising masses singing, in the words of our freedom song, ’Ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around.’
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was ‘well timed’ in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’
The Zionist struggle to return to their homeland and the African American struggle for equal rights in America are similar pursuits of justice. The late Congressman John Lewis, contemporary of Dr. King and hero of the American civil rights movement wrote, “[King] knew that both peoples were uprooted involuntarily from their homelands. He knew that both peoples were shaped by the tragic experience of slavery. He knew that both peoples were forced to live in ghettoes, victims of segregation.
He knew that both peoples were subject to laws passed with the particular intent of oppressing them simply because they were Jewish or black. He knew that both peoples have been subjected to oppression and genocide on a level unprecedented in history. King understood how important it is not to stand by in the face of injustice. He understood the cry, “Let my people go.”
Congressman Lewis wrote about Dr. King’s appreciation of Zionism, “On March 25, 1968, less than two weeks before his tragic death, he spoke out with clarity and directness stating, ‘Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel as 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.” During an appearance at Harvard University shortly before his death, a student stood up and asked King to address himself to the issue of Zionism. The question was clearly hostile. King responded, “When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism.”
At the opening of the Madrid Peace Conference between the Israelis and Palestinians in 1991, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Shamir echoed Dr. King’s sentiments on Zionism and justice, “The Zionist movement gave political expression to our claim to the Land of Israel. And in 1922 the League of Nations recognized the justice of this claim. It understood the compelling historic imperative of establishing a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel. The United Nations Organization reaffirmed this recognition after the Second World War.”
As a movement promoting justice, Zionism is a righteous movement. The continual affirmation of Zionism and rights of the Jewish people to self-determination in their own historic homeland is the continuous struggle for justice. Fighters for justice anywhere must fight for Zionism, as Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Unfortunately, Zionism must continuously defend itself, but I pray for a day when Zionism doesn’t need to defend itself. I pray for the day when justice reigns and the world recognize the justice of the Zionist ideal.