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!
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel:
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war?
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah:
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • 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.