Since claiming the presidency, Barack Obama has been universally praised by foreign leaders as a breath of fresh air for American diplomacy. On Dec. 27, however, world leaders’ jubilant anticipation of his inauguration took a back seat as Israel began its current operation in Gaza and questions arose as to how the incoming president would respond to the conflict.
While President-elect Obama has correctly insisted that there cannot be “two presidents at a time,” his inauguration is rapidly approaching and soon the global community will be looking to him for guidance on the Middle East.
Obama would be best served by embracing the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his unequivocal support and commitment to the State of Israel.
When visiting Sderot last July, then-candidate Obama said he would do whatever he could to protect his daughters if they were threatened by rocket attacks. His top political adviser, David Axelrod, has been quoted as saying, “When bombs are raining down on your citizens there is an urge to respond and act to put an end to that. That’s what [Obama] believes.”
Axelrod has also said the Obama administration plans to work closely with Israel, which he called Washington’s “most important ally in the region.”
Needless to say, one’s rhetoric is just that – one’s words. It is one’s actions that will dictate one’s legacy.
What irony that Barack Obama will be inaugurated as president one day after the national commemoration of Rev. King’s 80th birthday. King’s struggles and supreme sacrifice laid the groundwork for an Obama presidency. As we come together to swear-in the first African-American president against the backdrop of the current crisis in the Middle East, Obama should recall the noble legacy of King and his steadfast dedication to Israel.
King understood the necessity for Israel to protect its citizens, invoking the sentiment, “Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all of our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity.”
The people of Israel held a special place in King’s thinking. During Israel’s 1956 war with Egypt, he wrote: “There is something in the very nature of the universe which is on the side of Israel in its struggle with every Egypt.”
In March 1959, returning to the United States by a circuitous route that took him through Jordan and Egypt, King visited Jerusalem and Jericho, then still in Arab hands. Though Jordan refused to let him into the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem, King often spoke of the adventure and excitement of being in the Holy City and the Holy Land.
In fact, the last speech he gave before his death specifically referred to his trip on the Jericho Road. King remarked, “I see Israel, and never mind saying it, as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land almost can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy.”
January 20 is rapidly approaching and the weight of the world will soon be thrust upon Barack Obama’s shoulders. As president, he will immediately be faced with a number of urgent domestic and international issues. The crisis in the Middle East will present a great challenge to our new president, and I trust King’s legacy will offer him great wisdom and guidance.
As King so eloquently stated, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”