MLK Supported Israel

01.21.13 7:30 PM ET

With the predictability of hedgehogs, anti-Zionists are attacking me for protecting Martin Luther King Junior’s memory from what I called an act of intellectual grave-robbery. In demonstrating that it was disrespectful to King and demeaning to the university, for University of Pennsylvania fanatics to use the civil rights martyr’s birthday to libel Israel, I quoted from Bayard Rustin’s column condemning the 1975 Zionism is Racism resolution, in which “Rustin invoked King’s famous comment that ‘when people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism.’”

In writing that blog post—and in writing the chapter in my book "Moynihan's Moment: America's Fight Against Zionism as Racism"—I used this King quotation carefully, aware of the controversy surrounding one King statement on Zionism, and how critics used it to impeach the credibility of anyone who mentioned King’s support for Israel and contempt for anti-Semitism. I checked the King quotation issue before publishing it—and proceeded because I was summarizing Rustin’s column. Yes, the "flowery" letter which King supposedly wrote to an anti-Zionist friend has not been verified—that is what pro-Israel sources like Camera and others called a hoax. But just because one letter was not authenticated does not mean that every Martin Luther King quotation on Israel and Zionism is false.

Here's part of what Camera said—it's pretty rude and foolish to quote a fact-checker inaccurately: "The flowery, pro-Zionist 'Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend'… allegedly written by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is apparently a hoax. However, the basic message of the letter was indeed, without question, spoken by Martin Luther King, Jr. at a dinner in Cambridge, MA, shortly before he was assassinated. At that dinner, he rebuked a student who made an anti-Zionist remark, saying, 'When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism.' (See, e.g., 'The Socialism of Fools: The Left, the Jews and Israel' by Seymour Martin Lipset; Encounter magazine, December 1969, p. 24.)"

I used the quotation Camera authenticated. So did the civil rights activist John Lewis, in his Jan. 21, 2002 article, "I have a dream" for peace in the Middle East / King's special bond with Israel.” I found at least two references on the Electronic Intifada which fail to debunk that quotation’s authenticity, in an article by Tim Wise on January 25, 2003, and a later article which references the Wise article and, admittedly, raises “some doubt” about the quote's provenance.

Having been attacked by the Electronic Intifada and others, I decided to dig deeper. In the King papers I found a letter from September 29, 1967 which Dr. King wrote after attempts were made to condemn Israel and Zionism at a conference. Dr. King notes that the conference “voted to eliminate references to Zionism” thanks to the “Spirited opposition of Hosea Williams” and adds: “If I had been at the conference during the discussion of the resolutions, I would have made it crystal clear that I could not have supported any resolution calling for… a condemnation of Israel and an unqualified endorsement of the policy of the Arab powers. I later made this clear to the press but a disclaimer seldom gets the attention that an original sensational attack receives.” In the context of fighting anti-Zionism, King proclaims that “Israel’s right to exist as a state [with] security is incontestable.” And he calls anti-semitism “immoral,” and a “social poison,” while condemning the “cheap and dishonest slogans” used “to divide Negro and Jew.”

Eight years after his death, King’s allies, rivals, and successors united in hostility against the U.N.’s 1975 Zionism is Racism resolution, which is the Rosetta Stone of the anti-Zionist movement, and the polluted source from which the Apartheid charge against Israel emerged. The Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver said: “to condemn the Jewish survival doctrine of Zionism as racism is a travesty upon the truth.” Vernon Jordan, the National Urban League president, wrote: “Black people, who recognize code words since we’ve been victimized by code words like ‘forced busing,’ ‘law and order,’ and others, can easily smell out the fact that ‘Zionism’ in this context is a code word for anti-Semitism." Leading African-American intellectuals signed an ad warning that incorrectly injecting the word “racism” into the national conflict between Israelis and Palestinians would derail the fight against the evil Apartheid regime in South Africa.

Note how anxious Israel’s enemies are to rush and cry “foul,” trying to dismiss King’s clear support for Israel and Zionism. They cannot reconcile King's greatness and his support for Israel, just as it is hard for anti-Zionist gay activists to reconcile their support for gay rights and Israel’s progressive policies in that arena. As we celebrate Dr. King’s memory, let’s honor his memory by condemning this hoax-hoax, repudiating the “pinkwashing” charge, and, as we note the authenticity of his support for Israel, let’s remember his own warning that “a disclaimer seldom gets the attention that an original sensational attack receives.”