As we celebrate Black History Month, we also celebrate the African-American community’s historic support of Israel.
An excerpt from our new booklet “On the Frontlines of Faith” – written by Dr. Edward L. Branch, pastor of Third New Hope Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan, and member of The Fellowship's African-American Advisory Council, with reflections by Rabbi Eckstein – shines a light on this rich history.
In April 1975, prominent African-American leaders gathered in New York City at the request of A. Philip Randolph, a key leader in the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s, for the formation of an organization for black Americans to demonstrate support for Israel. Thus BASIC was born — Black Americans to Support Israel Committee.
“We are here to express our support for the State of Israel,” said Bayard Rustin, executive director of REF (the Randolph Education Fund). “Whenever minorities seek justice, they have to defend democracy. We seek to defend democracy in the Mideast and therefore we support Israel.”
Randolph, who noted that American Jewry had always supported the rights of African- Americans, said: “I would like to see the blacks of America register their support for the State of Israel. It will be a crime for anyone, and especially for blacks, not to support the just cause of Israel.”
BASIC placed a full-page ad in The New York Times, in November 23, 1975, which was signed by influential African Americans such as Lionel Hampton, Hank Aaron, Arthur Ashe, Harry Belafonte, Tom Bradley, Shirley Chisolm, Ralph Ellison, Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, Charles Rangel, Percy Sutton, Gardner Taylor, Roy Wilkins, Andrew Young, Julian Bond, Ralph Abernathy, and more than 100 others.
While Dr. King is rightfully known for his pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., what is less known — but well worth remembering — is that Dr. King saw a clear parallel between the struggle of his own people for equality and the struggle of another group familiar with oppression: the Jewish people.
John Lewis, a U.S. politician who worked side-by-side with Dr. King during the Civil Rights Movement, noted King’s deep understanding of the shared experience of Jews and African-Americans in a 2002 article for the San Francisco Chronicle. Lewis wrote that Dr. King “knew that both peoples were shaped by the tragic experience of slavery. He knew that both peoples were forced to live in ghettos, victims of segregation ... King understood how important it is not to stand by in the face of injustice. He understood the cry, ‘Let my people go.’”
Dr. King was also a staunch supporter of the modern state of Israel, which was born during his lifetime. At a 1968 national rabbinical convention he said, “I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.”
Go to ifcj.org/frontlines to receive your free copy of “On the Frontlines of Faith: The Historical and Spiritual Bonds between African-Americans and Jews.”