Forward Thinking

Canadian Envy on Martin Luther King Day

By Mira Sucharov

  • Print
  • Share Share

Rabbi Joachim Prinz (center) confers with Martin Luther King Jr. at the March on Washington in 1963. / Getty Images

As a Canadian Jew, I often feel a twinge of envy on Martin Luther King Day. I’m envious of larger-than-life heroes who succeed in uniting a nation around issues that are so blatantly about justice versus bigotry that almost no one can today publicly disagree. I’m envious for symbols like Rosa Parks, and for American rabbis, like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who were able to join these freedom seekers while “praying with their feet,” as Heschel famously described his act of solidarity when he marched in Selma.

Today, it seems, the issues worth fighting for when you’re a Canadian Jew who expresses her political Jewish identity largely in terms of attachment to Israel are not nearly as simple. This can make the idea of praying with one’s feet a lonely exercise. As I write this, Israel is hosting an official visit by my prime minister, the Jewish State’s best friend among a sea of leaders who are increasingly critical of Netanyahu’s policies.

Will Prime Minister Stephen Harper mention anything to Bibi, today, on Martin Luther King Day, about the hundreds of Africans whom Israel is holding in open-air prisons, in contravention of the international refugee convention to which Israel is a signatory?

Many would of course argue that separate water fountains, Jim Crow, voter suppression, and back-of-the-bus laws in pre-civil rights America have nothing to do with the current asylum-seeker quagmire in Israel. But many others would say that there lies but a short road from one to the other.

I also wonder whether Prime Minister Harper will suggest to Bibi, today, on Martin Luther King Day, that the many laws that still exist in Israel — laws that effectively discriminate between Jewish and non-Jewish citizens of Israel — should be changed.

Again, I am well aware that many would object that the American civil rights struggle cannot be compared to the plight of Palestinian citizens of Israel (or “Arab Israelis,” as these critics would likely call them). In fact, that two Arab Knesset members heckled Stephen Harper today as he addressed the Knesset might even be brought as proof of Palestinian citizens’ lack of respect for the symbols of the Israeli state.

But when I contemplate these various struggles, which all have to do in some way with bigotry, power differentials, and mistreatment of minority populations, I can’t help but feel that how we think about one impacts how we think about another. These types of struggles are interconnected — not just in Israel, but in America and around the world.

I don’t think I’m alone in viewing such issues as interrelated, even if only loosely. Last year, the Anti-Defamation League issued an ad campaign called “Imagine a World Without Hate.” In a touching and poignant video, viewers are taken through the pages of a fictional newspaper. An older Harvey Milk is shown working to expand LGBT rights. A 90-year old Yitzhak Rabin is honored for two decades of Israeli-Palestinian peace. And an aging Martin Luther King fights for immigration reform.

All these figures — as well as the others profiled in the video (Anne Frank, Daniel Pearl, James Byrd, Matthew Shepherd) — were stolen from us in their prime, all victims of murderous bigotry.

But not all of these issues seem as simple to some as the issue of racial equality and civil rights in America now, thankfully, is. We know, sadly, that many individuals in power — in America, in Israel and certainly in many, many other countries — would still seek to deny full freedom to gays and lesbians, to those seeking pathways to immigration within their borders, and to Palestinians demanding an end to occupation.

I am heartened that the ADL sought to bundle these issues together. But I am painfully aware that there remain many dark corners where the light of MLK’s memory still needs to be shone.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Stephen Harper, Martin Luther King, Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, Canada

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.