At Muhammad Ali’s Funeral, Rabbi Slams Islamophobia and Israel's Treatment of Palestinians

Longtime interfaith activist Rabbi Michael Lerner sparked uproarious applause and repeated standing ovations when he addressed mourners at Muhammad Ali’s funeral on Friday with a rousing call for social justice, denouncing the occupation of Palestine, the U.S. drone war, rampant Islamophobia and the mass incarceration of African Americans.


Framed by large bouquets of white flowers, the Berkeley-based editor of the progressive Jewish interfaith magazine Tikkun used his eulogy at the Muslim interfaith service in Louisville, Kentucky to implore attendees, most of them clad in black, to honor the spirit of the boxing champion. He noted that Ali was beloved by tens of millions, many of whom didn't care about boxing, because he was willing to “speak truth to power,” driven to “love black people” and daring enough to use his fame to “stand up to an immoral [Vietnam] war and say, No, I won’t go."

At a time when politicians across the spectrum, including Donald Trump, are invoking the legacy of Ali to advance their own interests, Lerner used his eulogy at the two-day service to deliver unapologetically political demands for systemic change that let none of these public figures off the hook.

"We will not tolerate politicians or anyone else putting down Muslims," Lerner said to thousands of attendees, including family members, friends, celebrities and politicians, among them former president Bill Clinton.

“Tell the one percent who own 80 percent of the wealth in this country that it’s time to share that wealth," he continued. "Tell the politicians who use violence worldwide and then preach nonviolence to the oppressed that it’s time for them to end their drone warfare and every other kind of warfare, to close our military bases around the world, to bring the troops home.”

“Tell judges to let out of prison the many African Americans swept up by racist police and imprisoned by racist judges,” Lerner continued, raising his fist and pointing his fingers. “Tell the leaders of Turkey to stop killing the Kurds. Tell Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu that the way to get security for Israel is to stop the occupation of the West Bank and help create a Palestinian state."

“The way to get security is for the United States to become known as the most generous and caring country in the world, not the most powerful,” he said. “We could start with a global and domestic plan to once and for all end global and domestic poverty, homelessness, hunger, inadequate education, inadequate health care.”

Lerner closed by saying, “We Jews, as well as our non-Jewish allies in all religions and secular humanists, wish to pay honor to the Muslims of the world as they continue today the fast of Ramadan, and join with them in mourning the loss and celebrating the life of Muhammad Ali, a great fighter for justice and peace.”

Watch Lerner's full eulogy below.

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