February 5, 2017

Protecting Dr. King's Legacy of Non-Violence

Josh Warhit

The third week of January is a rare but necessary opportunity to reflect on the birthday of a true American hero: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. As the primary leader of America’s Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s, Dr. King demanded both drastic change and unity.  Despite America’s continuing struggles to achieve both half a century after Dr. King’s assassination, we should credit this man for outlining a path to true justice.
As a Zionist, I am proud that Dr. King supported the Jewish community’s quest for peace and self-determination in its ancestral homeland and he understood the threats Israel faced from its neighbors
King told the Rabbinical Assembly at its 1968 convention that “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 (sic) and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.”
Dr. King understood that Israel’s security must be guaranteed in order for it to ever secure a just peace with its neighbors.
We can be proud that a man who dreamed of brotherhood on the red hills of Georgia drew inspiration from the resolute Jewish community. However, this is not the only part of King’s legacy that should be remembered.  
We must also stand for the values for which he lived, struggled and died.  It is not enough for Jews and Zionists to know that Dr. King supported Israel; we must also further his goals of justice and equality for everyone including marginalized communities.
We must also protect one of his most respected legacies – that of nonviolence.  Regardless of where one stands on the use and effectiveness of nonviolent protest, we must respect his commitment to never prefer violence.
The spirit of Dr. King's legacy of nonviolent resistance lives on in our society.  Unfortunately, there are people who taint this legacy by falsely claiming to live by it, including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement. Many people know that BDS emboldens extremism. They know that BDS proponents obscure their real goals, that the movement serves as a vehicle for one of the most potent forms of anti-Semitism today and that it lowers the prospect for co-existence by denouncing conflict resolution.
The most mendacious part of BDS’s fa├žade is its self-description as a non-violent, peacemaking tool. To put it simply, when a movement denies Jewish heritage, makes excuses for the use of human shields and lambastes cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, it does not have a realistic chance at achieving peace.  
BDS opposes actual non-violent methods of conflict resolution such as diplomatic negotiations and cultural exchange. Endorsing a policy of anti-normalization increases xenophobia and racism. Emboldening the murder of innocent people, cheering on an Intifada, and calling for the destruction of the democratic nation-state of Israel cannot be considered non-violent behaviors.
BDS falsely claims to stand for equality and falsely places itself in a chain of historically important movements, including the U.S. Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. If this blatant dishonesty goes unchecked, we may witness a cheapening of the true spirit of nonviolence and pursuit of justice. As Americans, we need to call out BDS for its deceptive self-label. Our nation’s legacy of preferring nonviolence – including all the heroes who have used it to create change – depends on it.

Josh Warhit is the Northeast High School Coordinator at StandWithUs, an Israel education organization.  He currently lives in Brooklyn, NY and will be returning to Israel this summer to continue working in Israel education and advocacy.

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