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Mixed messages as US marks Martin Luther King Jr Day

On the 90th birth anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr, many used American icon’s legacy to push political messages.

January 15 marked what would have been King's 90th birthday [File: Jeff Kamen/Getty Images]
January 15 marked what would have been King’s 90th birthday [File: Jeff Kamen/Getty Images]

For many Americans, Martin Luther King Jr Day is a time to reflect on his legacy and to hope for advances in racial equality yet to come.

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January 15 marked what would have been King’s 90th birthday, which was nationally observed this year on Monday. For some, the celebration of King’s birthday was a chance to reflect on his message of change onto other modern issues.

On Sunday, the New York Times published an article by civil rights lawyer Michelle Alexander that invoked King’s name to criticise Israeli policies against Palestine.

The comment piece, titled Time to Break the Silence on Palestine, urged the international community to speak out against the “grave injustice of our time” – just as King did against the war in Vietnam.

“If we are to honour King’s message and not merely the man, we must condemn Israel’s actions: unrelenting violations of international law, continued occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, home demolitions and land confiscations,” Alexander wrote.

Israel supporters were quick to denounce the commentary.

The American Jewish Committee tweeted a statement saying Alexander was appropriating King’s memory to push her own message and referred to his famed Mountaintop speech.

The American Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, joined in the Twitter backlash against the op-ed, and went so far as to say that if King were alive today, “He would be proud of his robust support for the State of Israel.”

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The Israel-Palestine conflict wasn’t the only current issue King’s message got wrapped up in.

While trying to drum up support for President Donald Trump‘s proposed deal for the border wall on an episode of CBS’s Face the Nation that aired on Sunday, Vice President Mike Pence referred to King’s I Have a Dream speech and likened the president to him.

“One of my favourite quotes from Doctor King was, ‘Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy’,” Pence said. “You think of how he changed America. He inspired us to change through the legislative process to become a more perfect union. That’s exactly what President Trump is calling on the Congress to do.”

King addressed the subject of border walls during a 1964 sermon in East Berlin. “Here on either side of the wall are God’s children, and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact.”

On Sunday, Bernice King, King’s youngest child, decided to weigh in on the practice of using her father’s name to further a cause.

“Many who quote him now would have hated him then,” she wrote on Twitter.

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SOURCE: Al Jazeera News

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