The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) pays tribute this week, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of the great civil rights activist and hero, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968), for his extraordinary work to the point of martyrdom on behalf of civil rights; for his fierce, uncompromising criticism of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism; and for his principled support for Israel.
Martin Luther King on Jews and Israel:
- “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism” (Quoted by John Lewis, who worked with King, ‘“I have a dream” for peace in the Middle East / King’s special bond with Israel,’ San Francisco Chronicle, January 21, 2002).
- “I cannot stand idly by, even though I happen to live in the United States, and even though I happen to be an American Negro, and not be concerned about what happens to the Jews in Soviet Russia. For what happens to them happens to me and you, and we must be concerned,” (Quoted by John Lewis, ‘“I have a dream” for peace in the Middle East / King’s special bond with Israel,’ San Francisco Chronicle, January 21, 2002).
- “I could not have supported any resolution calling for black separatism or calling for a condemnation of Israel and an unqualified endorsement of the policy of the Arab powers … Israel’s right to exist as a state is incontestable …. At the same time the great powers have the obligation to recognize that the Arab world is in a state of imposed poverty and backwardness that must threaten peace and harmony … some Arab feudal rulers are no less concerned for oil wealth and neglect the plight of their own peoples.” (Letter to Adolph Held, president, Jewish Labor Committee, September 1967, explaining his opposition to anti-Zionist resolutions that had emerged at Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, ‘A Special Bond: Martin Luther King, Jr., Israel and American Jewry,’ Jewish Labor Committee).
- “Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality,” (March 25, 1968 speech to the Rabbinical Assembly, less than two weeks before King’s assassination).
The extraordinarily high regard in which Martin Luther King is held across the political spectrum has led to efforts by some Israel critics to cast doubt or falsify his statements on Israel and Zionism. Indeed, a fraudulent pro-Israel King quotation and reference was invented but we now know that, despite the existence of these fabrications, Martin Luther Ling did indeed make the statements supportive of Zionism and criticize the veiled anti-Semitism he perceived to lie behind some criticisms of Israel that we have quoted above. We also know that a statement by King attacking anti-Zionists who pretend to be merely criticizing Israel, (“Don’t talk like that! When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism!”) upon which anti-Zionists have worked hard to cast doubt, was indeed made by King at a dinner in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in October 1967. (For a detailed exposé of demonstrating the truth of this statement made at that October 1967 dinner and of the efforts of Israel-haters to cast doubt on it having been made, see Martin Kramer, ‘In the Words of Dr. Martin Luther King,’ Sandbox, March 12, 2012).
ZOA National President Morton A. Klein said, “We honor a great man, Martin Luther King, who steadfastly and consistently sought justice and equality, not separatism and hatred.
“It is little surprise that Rev. Dr. King fully appreciated the miraculous rebirth of Israel, defended the right of Jews to their own country and did not embrace the doctrines of hatred, resentment, violence and terrorism that were taken up by black supremacists and other movements around the world.”
“We feel confident that Rev. Dr. King would have rejected the notion that some have expressed that the Palestinian Arab movement is in any way similar to the African American civil rights movement.
“Not only is the Palestinian Arab movement dedicated to dismembering Israel, something King would have found to be a disgrace, but it uses all the strategies he utterly repudiated in his own life and movement –– terrorism, violence and incitement to hatred and murder.
“Martin Luther King did not call terrorists ‘heroes.’ He did not call terrorist chieftains ‘martyrs.’ He did not call upon his followers to direct their guns at their enemies. He did not appoint terrorists to his security detail. He did not give shelter to wanted murderers in his residence. The Palestinian Arabs, including the allegedly ‘moderate’ Mahmoud Abbas, have done all these things.
“Martin Luther King’s example reminds us of the nature and wisdom of true moderation and peace-making.” He will forever be an inspiration to every decent, moral and righteousness- seeking human being.