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.”

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Read more at Tablet

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

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy