(Caught In the Middle of the Middle East) Martin Luther King Jr. & Israel & The Six-Day War (Martin Kramer)

Image result for martin luther king street sign israel

I can’t speak for the volume as a whole, but this piece here by Martin Kramer about Martin Luther King Jr., Israel, and the Middle East circa 1967 judiciously cuts straight down the middle against those who would claim King for either Israel or “the Arabs.” Kramer’s argues that King, against the Vietnam War, found himself in the uncomfortable middle just before and right after the Six Day War. King made every effort to avoid this vortex, knowing that there was no way he could emerge “unscathed.” The subheadings that organize the essay are “The Six Day War,” “The Visit That Wasn’t,” “The Quote” (“When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism!”), and, finally, “The Balancing Act.”

The conclusion:

King’s careful maneuvering before, during, and after the Six-Day War demonstrated a much deeper understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict than critics credit him with possessing. Te two Palestinian-Americans who sought to dismiss the Cambridge quote suggested that the conflict “was probably not a subject he was well-versed on,” and that his public statements in praise of Israel “surely do not sound like the words of someone familiar with both sides of the story.”38 Not so. King had been to the Arab world, had a full grasp of the positions of the sides, and was wary of the possible pitfalls of favoring one over the other. He struck a delicate balance, speaking out or staying silent after careful assessments made in consultation with advisers who had their ears to the ground—Levison and Wachtel (both non-Zionists) in the Jewish community, and Andrew Young, whom King dispatched to the Middle East as his emissary” (p.264).

[PS: In response to a friend and colleague at FB, I made this comment about Kramer and the article. As I’m looking at it, the article was more than aboveboard. King was neither anti-Israel nor anti-Arab. He was pro-Israel and anti-war. I am not reading Kramer “demanding” by way of a historical retrospect what we today would consider a hard “pro-Israel” stance from King. I don’t see a conservative or rightwing Zionist polemic here on Kramer’s part. Neither sympathetic nor unsympathetic, Kramer’s analysis takes into account the ambivalence and complexity of King’s position in the middle against either side that would seek to corral King into their corner. Even if that was not, in fact, Kramer’s own personal and political POV, that was my own independent takeaway from the article, which I’m finding useful as such.]

[The bibliographical source is Martin Kramer, “In the Words of Martin Luther King,” in Martin Kramer, The War on Error: Israel, Islam, and the Middle East (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2016), 253-67.]

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics. http://religion.syr.edu
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1 Response to (Caught In the Middle of the Middle East) Martin Luther King Jr. & Israel & The Six-Day War (Martin Kramer)

  1. dmf says:

    you’ve only got to turn around…

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