He Had a Dream

The Yesha Council heads have borne a false tone in their clumsy effort to appear as the standard-bearers of the civil disobedience propounded by Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King's role model.

Pinhas Wallerstein, the militant leader of the settlers' anti-disengagement protest, went out on a limb when he tried to compare the right-wing demonstrators' attempted invasion of Gush Katif last week to human rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr.'s freedom march on Washington D.C. Wallerstein compared the march, which King led on August 28, 1963 and ended with his famous "I have a dream" speech, to the mass demonstration he, Wallerstein and his friends organized, which was stopped at Kfar Maimon.

The heads of the Yesha Council of settlements repeated this comparison. They compared themselves to the African-American leader who became a national symbol in the United States. They likened the methods of his struggle to free his fellow African-Americans from the shame of racial discrimination to their fight against disengagement.

To analyze the validity of the comparison, we should remember a few things King said that day in his address, which has entered the pantheon of speeches that have molded the American psyche, alongside Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address in 1863 (justifying the war against slavery) and the Four Freedoms speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1941 (to open the front in Europe against the Nazis).

King based his speech on obedience to the letter and the spirit of the Constitution. He declared the struggle would be by legitimate means: "In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred." He spoke out against violence: "We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence."

One of King's main messages was the shared destiny of the American people, and he spoke out against separatism and prejudice: "The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to distrust all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny and their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom."

King ended his speech with words that have rung out like an anthem ever since. "When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, `Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'"

When we examine the message of Wallerstein and his friends, we meet an entirely different world of concepts and intent. They challenge the government, they rebel against the law, they send out messages of arrogance and alienation from the majority. They pay lip service to the principle of non-violent struggle, but in fact they are preparing for a bellicose fight with the declared goal of forcing their stand on others.

From the beginning, the Yesha Council heads have borne a false tone in their clumsy effort to appear as the standard-bearers of the civil disobedience propounded by Mahatma Gandhi, King's role model. For King, breaking the law meant sitting in "whites only" bus seats. The Yesha leaders' attempt seems like a public relations chicanery, not an authentic worldview. After all, the Yesha Council heads cynically change their tactics on a daily basis: One moment they declare their intention to force their will on the country, the next moment they decide to sing songs of brotherhood and unity. One day they define their goal as bringing down the government; the next, as embracing the public.

Moreover, King's march was coordinated with the authorities; then-president John F. Kennedy welcomed it with a call for equality for all. The march to Gush Katif set out to break the law - an attempt that did not succeed.