A year ago, I had the solemn honor of laying a State of Israel wreath on the hallowed gravesite of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, in Atlanta. The moment was one of profound meaning for me and on several levels.
I grew up in this country during the great struggle for civil rights and followed with pride the historic alliance between the African-American and American Jewish communities, I mourned the loss of both African-American and Jewish lives in that noble cause. For forty years, my father headed a Jewish hospital in Newark. The hospital was originally established to provide jobs for Jewish doctors who were denied work at other facilities simply because of their religion. The hospital later became the first to hire African-American physicians who were denied work elsewhere merely because of their race. In 1967, after the Newark riots, every private hospital fled the city but one. That Jewish hospital determined to stay in Newark and continue to serve its community. The hospital remains to this day with the Star of David gracing its entrance and my father's name inscribed on its emergency room.
Throughout those years, the Rev. Dr. King was an inspiration to us all, a source of hope and wellspring of brotherhood. His assassination was devastating to our community and deeply scarring for me.
Later, writing as an historian of America's centuries-long involvement in the Middle East, I learned about the courageous support of early champions of African-American rights--the Reverend Edward Wilmot Blyden and Frederick Douglass--for Zionism. For them, Zionism--the quest to recreate a Jewish state in our ancestral homeland, the Land of Israel--was no different than the African-American dream of freedom. That same standard of common cause was borne high by the Rev. Dr. King. "Zionism," he said, "is nothing less than the dream and ideal of the Jewish people returning to live in their own land. All men of good will exult in the fulfillment of God's promise, that His people should return in joy to rebuild their plundered land."
Finally, today, as ambassador, I am proud to represent the a country that is deeply engaged with Africa, in promoting agricultural development, women's empowerment, and health care. I represent the country that was the first on the ground with a medical team in earthquake-devastated Haiti, and a country that is home to a vibrant Ethiopian community.
Israel is the only country in the Middle East to host a Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King memorial--not far from my home in Jerusalem--and the only country to plant a Coretta Scott King Memorial Forest, in the Galilee.
The King legacy is part of our legacy, for we cherish the same values of equality and tolerance, and strive for the same goals of liberty and peace. And so, on the personal, the professional, and the official levels, I feel singularly privileged to be named as the Honorary Chair of this 21st Annual commemoration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.