Dr. Martin Luther King Day

By Yariv Ovadia (Embassy of Israel)

On April 4, 1968, humanity lost Dr. Martin Luther King to an assassin’s bullet, and as the world honors his legacy, we in Israel remember the special bond he had with our people and our country. Dr. King witnessed the birth of the State of Israel, and spoke out against those who would destroy her, 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."

Dr. King fought for the most sacred of human rights: to live in peace with your neighbors and to stand as equals in the eyes of their fellow men and women. His embrace of nonviolent resistance, of the right of every citizen to work for change with their voice and their vote, and not with guns or bombs, made him a true freedom fighter.

Even when it was politically unpopular to do so, Dr. King did not compromise his defense of both Jews and Israel, answering an overtly hostile question about the issue of Zionism, saying, "When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism."

Now, as Israel begins again her quest for peace, Dr. King’s legacy is more important to us than ever. He knew firsthand the destruction to the soul caused by oppression and discrimination. He knew that true liberation was as necessary to life as breathing, regardless of race, creed or religion.

From the Ethiopian Jews rescued from war and famine in Africa to the release of the many prisoners of conscience from the former Soviet Union, over a million people fleeing oppression in their native countries have made their new home in Israel.

Then and now, Israel remains an oasis of safety for all who come seeking freedom of worship, political beliefs, gender and sexual orientation. Dr. King’s dream encouraged their journey to freedom, while his insistence the world not turn a blind eye to the suffering of those not yet free inspired action.

Israel, one of the smallest countries in the world, has consistently been a country with one of the most open hearts.

Were he alive, Dr. King would celebrate the diversity that is the democratic reality of Israel, from its dual official languages of Hebrew and Arabic and coexisting populations of Jew, Arab, Druze, Bedouin, to its absorption of even more immigrants comprising dozens of languages and nationalities.

With each of Israel’s new citizen’s embrace of freedom have come unique challenges and opportunities. Dr. King spoke prophetically of the rewards to a society with such multicultural openness when he said, "The large house in which we live demands that we transform this worldwide neighborhood into a worldwide brotherhood. Together we must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools."

We in Israel miss Dr. King. We miss his courage, his vision and his voice. He inspired us to reach higher, to put aside our fears and insecurities, and embrace each other, to find and nurture both our commonalties and our differences as the only way to strengthen all of humanity.

This was Dr. King’s dream, his legacy, and, just like the trees we plant in the Martin Luther King Memorial Forest in Israel, it grows stronger in the hearts, dreams and aspirations of the people and State of Israel.