Why One of Martin Luther King’s Most Trusted Colleagues Cared So Much for Jews and Israel

Jan. 19 2021

Yesterday, America celebrated the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Shalom Goldman takes the occasion to remember another outstanding figure of the civil-rights movement: Bayard Rustin, who was one of King’s foremost advisers and influences. Like King, Rustin was a friend of the Jewish people and the Jewish state; he also was a frequent contributor to Commentary, and would later help found—along with, inter alia, Norman Podhoretz, Midge Decter, and Jeanne Kirkpatrick—the anti-Soviet Committee for the Present Danger. Goldman finds the roots of Rustin’s sympathy for the Jews in his devout Quaker upbringing:

Bible lessons, led by his grandmother, were Bayard’s earliest educational experience. As a child Rustin was taught to respect all religions and to sympathize with the oppressed. “My grandmother,” Rustin recalled in his later years, “was thoroughly convinced that when it came to matters of the liberation of black people, we had much more to learn from the Jewish experience than we had to learn out of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”

Rustin’s public advocacy for Israel was a constant in his career, but it emerged more forcefully in response to the Black Power movement of the 1960s. Some of that movement’s leaders embraced the Palestinian cause and declared Israel a pariah state. Rustin, one of the pioneers of the struggle for civil rights, condemned this move and hostility to Jews and Israel, especially as manifested in the Nation of Islam and in the Black Panthers.

Rustin traveled to Israel twice, in 1969 and in 1982. That first visit was to a conference at Hebrew University on technology and human development. He toured the country and met Prime Minister Golda Meir. As Rustin’s biographer Jervis Anderson noted, “Of the many Israeli leaders Rustin met, Golda Meir captivated him most. She likewise was enchanted by him. . . . If he wasn’t already a Zionist before their first meeting, then he surely must have become one during the long and animated political discussions they held in her office.”

Read more at Tablet

More about: Commentary, Golda Meir, Martin Luther King, Midge Decter, Norman Podhoretz, Philo-Semitism

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount