African-American Christians seek to fulfill MLK’s dream in Israel

Members of a 200-strong delegation of African-American Christian women meet with the Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus in Jerusalem on Tuesday, July 25, 2023. Credit: Courtesy.

by Etgar Lefkovits

(JNS) — A delegation of 200 African-American Christian women met on July 25 with leaders of the Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus in Jerusalem, seeking to strengthen the ties of friendship with the Jewish people epitomized by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The faith-based event, dubbed the “Women of the Bible” tour, which was organized by a U.S.-based evangelical organization, follows decades of fraught relations between America’s black and Jewish communities despite the historic bonds forged during the Civil Rights Movement.

“In these days when people are rewriting history and fake news is everywhere, it is important to remember our roots and mutual history of struggle and rising up together, which connects us,” said Knesset member Sharren Haskel, who co-chairs the cross-party caucus.

“We are fulfilling the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King to bring African Americans to Israel,” said Cathelean Steele, national project coordinator at the Atlanta-based Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an African-American civil-rights organization co-founded by King. “Our job is to bring us back together because of the history we share.”

The meeting was part of an eight-day educational tour of the Holy Land which seeks to connect African Americans with Israelis and the Jewish People, said Dr. Ruth Pauline Plummer, CEO of Covenant Daughters International Ministries, who initiated the event.

“The importance of the day is to continue the work that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King started in building the relationship between the Jewish People, the State of Israel and African Americans,” said Plummer.

The predominantly American delegation hails from various Christian denominations and diverse walks of life, including pastors, entrepreneurs, businesswomen and singers. In addition to their tour of religious sites in the Holy Land, the women will visit the street in Jerusalem’s German Colony neighborhood named in honor of King, and will be hosted by Israeli first lady Michal Herzog at the President’s Residence in the city on July 26.

“The Black Church are natural allies to Israel because they believe in the Old Testament more than any other church,” said Josh Reinstein, director of the Christian Allies Caucus. “For them, Israel is something that is an everyday thing, witnessing the fulfillment of God’s prophecy to Israel.”

The gathering comes amid burgeoning relations between Israel and the largely supportive evangelical Christian community around the globe, based on shared Judeo-Christian values.

The Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, which has more than 50 sister-caucuses in parliaments around the globe based on faith-based diplomacy, was exploring establishing an African-American Christian Caucus in the United States to bring the communities together, said Haskel.

The event, which was originally scheduled to take place at the Knesset, was held at a Jerusalem hotel after parliament was shuttered to visitors in the wake of protests against the government’s judicial reform effort on July 24.

The Jerusalem-based Plummer cited a letter that King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, had sent to Israeli parliamentarians acknowledging the actions the Jewish state took to commemorate her husband after he was assassinated over half a century ago.

“On April 3, 1968, just before he was killed, Martin delivered his last public address. In it he spoke of the visit he and I made to Israel,” the letter reads, according to the Jewish National Fund, which planted a forest in her honor, that members of the group visited.

“Moreover, he spoke to us about his vision for the Promised Land, a land of justice and equality, brotherhood and peace. Martin dedicated his life to the goals of peace and unity among all peoples, and perhaps nowhere in the world is there a greater appreciation of the desirability and necessity of peace than in Israel,” wrote Coretta Scott King.