Today –- as we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King –- we can also celebrate a victory for nonviolence and peacemaking not only in the past but in the present and future.
For today we have just seen the agreement between Iran and the Great Powers led by the United States go into full effect, ending the danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon, ending the economic sanctions against Iran, and welcoming Iran back into the community of nations.
And today all of you who work with and support The Shalom Center can take pride in our role in making that peaceful outcome possible.
For two years ago, our work made a crucial difference in whether the US Congress would support or torpedo President Obama’s efforts to prevent an Iranian bomb by peaceful means instead of by war.
In late 2013 and early 2014, major elements of the US Congress were seeking to torpedo negotiations between the governments of Iran and the United States that sought to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and to end the world-wide, US led sanctions against Iran.
The most important pressure against the negotiations was coming from AIPAC at the behest of Prime Minister Netanyahoo of Israel (despite the warnings of many Israeli security officials that he was being far too rigid and that the deal being pursued by the US was worthwhile).
It was clear that one factor undergirding Congressional opposition to the nuclear-weapons-prevention agreement was the belief among many Members of Congress that the American Jewish community was united in support of the AIPAC efforts to torpedo the agreement.
At The Shalom Center, we knew that was not so. So we began organizing rabbis and other Jewish communal leaders to sign an explicitly Jewish petition supporting the effort for a diplomatic solution that would end the danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon and prevent a disastrous war.
At that time, we were the only national Jewish organization to work with full vigor for the peaceful pursuit of a peaceful solution.
On January 7, 2014, we sent the petition – signed by 120 rabbis and more than 100 other communal leaders –- to Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. She is a Jewishly committed Jew who was struggling to support the President against the wave of AIPAC-led opposition to his efforts.
We asked her to put the petition in the Congressional Record. She did. It made a difference to many members of Congress who were relieved to know that many in the American Jewish community supported the path of using peaceful methods to achieve a peaceful result. The Congress refused to wreck the diplomatic process. Congresswoman Schakowsky wrote Reb Arthur a note about The Shalom Center's work. To see it full-size, click on the title of this article.
Eighteen months later, when AIPAC fired its second torpedo,
J Street took the lead in Jewish efforts to deflect the torpedo. Perhaps our previous efforts emboldened them. (The Shalom Center often plays that role -- blazing the trail that others then turn into a roadway.) In any case, we admire the work J Street then did on behalf of a diplomatic solution.
And diplomacy succeeded!
Today Iran has destroyed the centrifuges that could have purified uranium toward weapons grade, has filled with concrete the plant that could have pursued a plutonium route to a bomb, and has transferred its stock of uranium out of the country. It has released Americans it had unjustly imprisoned, and Iranians imprisoned in the US for violating the sanctions have also been released. And a strange incident in which small US Navy ships that for some unexplained reason sailed into Iran’s own waters and were briefly detained with their crews, ended with the swift release of the crews and the ships.
Step by step, as Congreswoman Schakowsky wrote me -- steps toward shalom.
All this just after Saudi Arabia beheaded dozens of people its government called terrorists –- among them a clergyman committed to nonviolence, to human rights for a religious minority oppressed by the Saudi absolute monarchy, and for democracy. The man they beheaded, Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, might easily be called the Saudi Martin Luther King. (See the attached photo of Sheikh Nimr)
He was a Shiite leader who called for nonviolent protest against the Saudi government’s oppression of its Shiite minority, and called for democratic change in the Saudi kingdom –-- including elections and the end of the King’s autocratic power. He said, "The [Saudi] authorities depend on bullets ... and killing and imprisonment. We must depend on the roar of the word, on the words of justice. The weapon of the word is stronger than the power of bullets."
For this he was beheaded. And the US Government, which has correctly denounced ISIS for its cruelty and has actually undertaken an air war to destroy ISIS, issued a namby-pamby wistful comment on the beheading of Sheikh Nimr. The US addiction to Saudi oil, going back some 60 years, trumped any sense of justice.
In Iran, a nation committed to the Shiite version of Islam, there was mass indignation and horror at Sheikh Nimr’s beheading. The anger culminated in the burning of the Saudi embassy. Though this response was not fully nonviolent, it resulted in no loss of life. Imagine how the world and many Americans would have reacted had the US Government officially beheaded Martin Luther King for his nonviolent activism demanding full democracy at home and opposing the Vietnam War.
Just as Jews like Rabbis Abraham Joshua Heschel, Maurice Eisendrath, and Everett Gendler worked with Dr. King almost 50 years ago to make peace with Vietnam (see the attached photo of their anti-war vigil, carrying a Torah Scroll, at Arlington National Cemetery) --
And just as two years ago The Shalom Center worked to arouse Jewish willingness to act in accordance with our deepest values in the peaceful and successful effort to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon --
Just so in these years, today, and into the future, The Shalom Center has been arousing our willingness to act on our deepest Jewish values in making peace with Mother Earth.
If we are to make a real difference in this work now as we did two years ago, we need your help. Please click on the maroon “Donate” button just below my signature, to help strengthen your and our work to end the reign of the Corporate Carbon Pharaohs that are bringing modern plagues upon the Earth and human communities.
In Farsi, the language of Iran, the word for peace is “sohl.”
So let me end by invoking for us all today, in memory of Dr. King and Sheikh Nimr, the blessing that as seekers of peace among the human race and between us and our Mother, we shall overcome --
Shalom, salaam, sohl, peace, Earth!