Dr. Clarence Jones� Speech Upon being Awarded by The State of Israel with Martin Luther King, Jr. Award
African-American Jewish Community Relations 2014: Challenges and Opportunities.
|Dr. Clarence B. Jones, delivers remarks after accepting the 23rd Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Award from the Consulate General of Israel in New York, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and the Jewish National Fund, at the Convent Avenue Baptist Church of Harlem.
I accept this award in the name of several members of the New York Jewish community who actively supported and worked on our behalf during critical years of our Civil Rights Movement. I would be remiss if I did not cite the work and support of persons like:
Stanley Levison, David Livingston, Adele Kantor, Leon Foner, Rabbi Joachim Prinz, Justine Polier, Harry Wachtel, David and Jonathan Lubell (my former law partners), Henry Schwarzschild, Arthur Kinoy Morton Stavis, Bernard Fischman, Martin "Mickey" Horowitz, Robert Nemiroff, Bella Abzug, Peter and Coral Weiss, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, leaders of the ILGWU, the United Electrical Workers Union, and the lawyer, Betty Olenick.
We are especially blessed this evening because Rabbi Sy Dresdner, one of the original Freedom Riders in 1961, has graced us with his presence this evening.
Rabbi Dresdner would you please stand.
You know, after the assassination of Dr. King, April 4, 1968, like several of us who were close to him, aside from unbelievable sorrow and grief, I experience great anger and rage. One way I dealt with this pain and rage was simply not to talk about or write about my years of work with Dr. King, as his personal lawyer, political advisor and draft speechwriter.
A man here tonight is a CPA, lawyer, former president of the NY Society of Certified Public Accountants and former managing partner of the one of country's outstanding Certified Public Accountant and Consulting Firms, Mark, Paneth & Shron, LLP. His name is Steve Baum. He is the person that insisted that I had an obligation to speak and write about my work with DR. King. He more that any other person enable me to rise above my anger and pain and focus my attention on writing and speaking about my years with Dr. King.
Steve would you please stand. I am forever in his debt for the guidance and love that he provided to me.
No African-American leader of national stature was more passionate, privately and publicly, in fostering a working coalition with the Jewish Community and his support for the State of Israel. Similarly, few leaders from the Jewish Community were more passionate in support of our Civil Rights Movement and Dr.King's leadership than the spiritual religious icon Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. That was then, this is now. Whether under the current domestic and international environment there are leaders from both communities with the stature and inclination to encourage the restoration of
This coalition that developed during the years of King and Heschel is the question whose answer is still being written.
An example of a current initiative to restore this coalition is the Spill The Honey Foundation in Detroit, MI. Through their Rebuilding Relations, Inc. they seek to rebuild the historical coalition that existed between the African-American and Jewish communities. Spill The Honey uses Holocaust education and ethical lessons learned from the Holocaust that contributed to the Civil Rights Movement.
Dr. Shari Rogers, head of The Spill The Honey Foundation, is with us here this evening. Dr. Rogers would you please stand.
Knowledge of the Jewish experience was something that Dr. King never forgot. It coincided with his deepest moral and religious beliefs and principles. Thus the Jewish biblical history, Nazi Germany, the
Concentration camp atrocities and the racial and religious genocide experiences of the Jewish people had a profound impact on Dr. King. In his mind the Jewish people were potential natural allies of the African Americans in the struggle against racial injustice in the United States.
"From the pre-Civil War decades to the 1880s, when few American blacks had ever seen a Jew, Fredrick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, not only drew frequent parallels between the persecution of modern Jews and blacks but urged their fellow blacks to emulate the Jews' unity, pride and quest for knowledge and achievement.
As hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants arrived in Northern cities that were already beginning to attract massive black migration from the South, the Yiddish press devoted an extraordinary amount of space too black cultural achievements, glowing biographies of black leaders, attacks on Jim Crow laws and racial discrimination, denunciations of lynching and race riots and the parallels between the Jewish and Black experience."(The Problem of Slavery in The Age of Emancipation, David Brion Davis)
Today, there are both challenges and opportunities to a successor generation of Dr. King and Rabbi Heschel.
There are certain positions and acts of Israel that justify criticism even from those of us who have and continue to support Israel. This does not, however, justify the conclusionary characterization of Israel as "racist" of an "Apartheid" State.
One must seek to understand the mindset of the current generation of Israelis to protect themselves from suicide bombers and armed terrorists attacks. They are a generation whose parents and grandparents experienced the horrors of the Nazi holocaust. When they say "Never Again!" they mean never again.
The history of the Jewish experience convinces them that that" at the end of the day", they cannot depend upon ANY third party to protect and save Israel.
Thomas Friedman wrote in the New York Times that "There is "a violent minority that believes bad things: that it is O.K. to not only murder non-Muslims - "infidels," who do not submit to Muslim authority - but to murder Muslims as well who will not accept the most rigid Muslim lifestyle and submit to rule by a Muslim caliphate.
What is really scary is that this violent; jihadist minority seems to enjoy the most "legitimacy" in the Muslim world today. Few political and religious leaders dare to speak out against them in public. Secular Arab leaders wink at these groups, telling them: “We'll arrest if you do it to us, but if you leave us alone and do it elsewhere, no problem."
How many fatwas - religious edicts - have been issued by the leading bodies of Islam against Al Qaeda? Very few".
As a derivative beneficiary of my years of work with Dr.King and also the beneficiary of longevity, it would denigrate the legacy of Dr. King if I did not speak out as undoubtedly he would in support of the State of Israel. This is not to suggest that he, like me, would not have criticism of one or more of Israel's domestic and international actions. But, that criticism would not justify his or my support for current efforts to "delegitimize" Israel internationally.
In speaking about the legacy of Dr. King's support of Israel I am mindful of the fable that says, "If surviving Lions don't tell their stories, the Hunters will get all the credit." As one of the "surviving Lions" it is my obligation to tell the current generation truthful facts about the legacy of Dr. King.
In 12 years and 4 months, from 1956 until April 4th, 1968, with the exception of President Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, Martin Luther King, Jr. may have done more to achieve social, political, racial, justice and equality than any other person or event in the previous 400 year history of the United States.
This is the thesis of a 15-week course, From Slavery to Obama that I teach at the College of Arts & Sciences, University of San Francisco.
What I share with you this evening about Dr. King and the State of Israel is not based upon something I have read, or based upon what someone has told me; it is based upon my real time first hand, sometimes 24/7, work and relationship with Dr. King.
Consequently, I get annoyed and angry when I read or hear persons who did not work with Dr. King on a close and continuous basis, interpreting what They Believe he would say in criticism of Israel today. This is nonsense. Dr. King said to me in 1962 in Albany, GA.,"Clarence, Anyone can stand with you in the warm sunlight of an August summer. But, only a Winter Time Soldier stands with you at midnight in the Alpine chill of winter"
It is time for "Winter Time Soldier" successors to King in the African-American community to stand with Israel in it's proposal for a Jewish State during its negotiated settlement with the Palestinians, without relinquishing our right and responsibility to criticize Israel when we believe it is contravening if core values a democracy.
What we should be most concerned about today is what Tom Friedman, again, recently wrote in the New York Times. He calls it "The Third Intifada". Friedman writes:
"It's not an Intifada with stones and suicide bombers, but one propelled by non-violent resistance and economic boycott.
This Third Intifada isn't really led by Palestinian in Ramallah. It's led by the European Union in Brussels and other opponents of the Israel occupation of the West Bank across the globe."
Just recently…the Netherlands' largest pension fund management company, PGGM, has decided to withdraw all of its investments from Israel five largest banks because they have branches in the West Bank and/or are involved in financing construction in the settlements…. Danske Bank, Denmark's largest bank, has decided to boycott Israel's Bank Hapoalim for 'legal and ethical' reasons related to its operating in the settlements."
Each of the issues enumerated above provide both a challenge and an opportunity to the restoration of a mutually beneficial coalition between the African-American and Jewish Communities. However, one thing that is unarguably clear: It is not enough to invoke the "golden years" of King and Heschel as the template for current African-American and Jewish leaders to emulate. We must act urgently to do what we can to restore the coalition between the African-American and Jewish communities that was so successful during the Civil Rights Movement.
The challenge facing those few remaining King "disciples" and the next generation of African-American leaders is for us to reconstitute wherever possible the historic coalition between our two communities.
Only time will tell whether or not we be able to succeed. However, we must try as best as we can. This is the most enduring way we can honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I hope this evening and other similar endeavors will contribute to achieving this in real time, ASAP.
Thank you so much for this honor that you have bestowed upon me.