Speaking at a Martin Luther King Day ceremony in Jerusalem on Monday, the Haitian-born spiritual leader of a Brooklyn church demanded an apology from U.S. President Donald Trump for his recent racist and disparaging alleged comment about Haiti, calling it a dagger to the heart.
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Pastor Mullery Jean-Pierre, of Berraca Baptist Church, made the demand in front of 216 predominately Caribbean-American members of Brooklyn congregations, gathered to honor the slain civil rights leader during their week-long pilgrimage to Israel. He used the opportunity to speak truth to power and called on all Jews and Israelis to join him in seeking an apology.
It was on the third day of the trip, Jean-Pierre recounted, that news broke about Trumps alleged remarks, in which he reportedly described immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and Africa as coming from shithole countries.
I am calling on all Haitians, Africans, African-Americans and people of African descent, white American evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump and helped him into office, along with all Jews and Israelis – who I believe should stand by Haiti because Haiti stood by the Jewish nation of Israel by casting the deciding UN vote in 1947 and helped them become the great nation they are today: Please stand with Haiti, Africa and El Salvador, and demand that President Trump apologize for his remarks, he said.
Jean-Pierre, whose multicultural but predominantly Haitian-American church has 1,200 members, was one of a group of four church leaders (comprising the Brooklyn United Churches group) who led their congregations on a week-long tour of Israel, culminating in Jerusalem on Martin Luther King Day.
Another of the ministers, Pastor Gilford Monrose – spiritual leader of Mt. Zion Church of God (7th Day) – opened the ceremony and led the group in prayer in memory of King and other civil rights leaders. We thank you, father, for Martin Luther King. ... We are his children, white and black, Jewish and gentile. We are all part of the legacy he stood for, he said.
Telling the group to join hands, Monrose said that even in the current difficult political climate, it was vital to remember Kings message that We dont walk this path alone, and weve got to still do right even when others do wrong. We have to be light in the darkness, we have to be love in the midst of hate, we have to give voice to the voiceless.
We hold hands and bow our head in silence, as we remember Martin Luther King Jr., he continued. Thank you, dear God, for him and for those who stood up so we could stand up. For those who sat down so we could sit down. Thank you for those who protested so we could have rights. Thank you for those who put their lives on the line, and many who gave their lives. Thank you, God, for the blood, sweat and the tears of our fathers and mothers, our sisters and brothers who are long in the grave but whose contribution to the common good continues to live on.
Jean-Pierre told Haaretz he was left speechless when he learned what Trump had allegedly said to describe the country he and most of his congregants had immigrated from. I felt Trump had hit an all-time low and couldnt believe he had stooped to this level. It was a like a dagger in my heart, he said.
His challenge as a leader of the Haitian-American community, he said, was to help his angry congregants not lose faith in their country just because they have lost faith in this president.
Other church leaders in the group also joined calls for an apology. Pastor Charles Galbreath of the Clarendon Road Church called the comments an affront to all people of Caribbean descent, saying it has put us in a pre-1960s moment.
How can anyone who speaks like this Make America great again? he asked.
While the White House has not denied Trump used the offensive word to describe Haiti or the other countries, the president himself on Sunday denied using it, telling reporters the comments werent made and he was not a racist.
While numerous U.S. Jewish groups have denounced Trumps reported comments, no Israeli government officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have so far reacted publicly.
In his speech on Monday, Jean-Pierre called it a sad day in America when the president of the United States would utter such hateful and denigrating words to anyone – let alone a nation like Haiti [that] helped America win its war against France, which resulted in the Louisiana Purchase and made the colonies of America what we know today as the United States of America.
Jean-Pierre added that with that one remark, Donald J. Trump had denigrated not only Haitians but also the entire continent of Africa and the people of El Salvador. That is one quarter of the worlds population – 1.2 billion people, he said.
I would like Mr. Trump to know that Haitians are hardworking, resilient people, he continued. We have risen above false accusations such as being the originators of AIDS. We continue to overcome natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes and flooding. We have pressed past the cholera epidemic brought to our shores by UN peacekeepers. Yes, we are hard-pressed but not yet destroyed. We will stand strong.
Jean-Pierre opened his remarks with a message of gratitude on behalf of Haiti and Haitian-Americans for the assistance Israel provided in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake, crediting Netanyahu for his rapid offer of help. Before any other countries or agencies made it to Haitian shores, Israel rushed humanitarian aid and rescue units to Haiti. We are grateful to you for your support in our time of need.
Also speaking at the Jerusalem ceremony, an American-Jewish official who accompanied the Brooklyn church groups on their trip echoed their harsh criticism of Trump.
Evan Bernstein, New York regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, said Trumps comments were shameful and embarrassing. The president must be a leader that builds bridges, not divides people. The president must represent all Americans, not a selected few. There is no place for this kind of hate in any society.
He added that signs hateful speech and behavior were becoming normalized had caused him to become fearful.
When a swastika becomes normalized, when gun violence becomes normalized, when other kinds of violence are accepted as normal – we as a collective cannot do that, Bernstein said. This moment in history, he added, was similar to that of the civil rights era in the 1950s and 60s, calling it a time when white, black, Jew, Christian, Muslim, Sikh must come together. He pledged that the ADL and myself are committed to doing that, and well stand with you and speak out for you and with you at every chance we possibly can.
Other speakers at Mondays ceremony included Lisa Wishman, director of the American Center in Israel, who discussed education on Martin Luther King Jr and the U.S. civil rights movement in Israeli schools.
She said King had Israel on his mind from early in his career, and in 1967 even announced his plan to visit the Holy Land, with the goal of attracting at least 5,000 people for a pilgrimage. But his plans changed and, before he could come, he was assassinated in 1968. However, she noted that his son, Martin Luther King III, visited Israel in 2016 to support Ethiopian activists.
Comparing King to the biblical Moses, she said both were unsure at first if they were right for the role of leading their people to freedom. But Moses, like Dr. King, understood he had an inspirational and pivotal role to play in history. Like Moses before him, she said, Rev. King capitalized on that spark of determined freedom in each one of us ... that commands each of us to pursue justice.
Quoting King as saying the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice, she said both the United States and Israel are still on a winding path in search of justice. She concluded that each of us has a role in ensuring that his legacy is not only never forgotten, but expanded.