It is time to listen to the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once again, and
to understand that equal rights are not an "American
thing," but a "world thing." It is obviously not good enough for Americans to practice equality at
home and inequality abroad. We must realize that the "fierce urgency of Now" is for all earth's children, and that we
cannot afford to settle for the "tranquilizing drug of gradualism" when the lives and happiness of children are at stake. When the
United States practiced "more equal rights" for white children than for black children, we created racial disharmony and violence at
home. Now, as long as we practice "more equal rights" for American and Jewish children than for Palestinian children, we create
racial disharmony and violence abroad. When we finally established fair laws and courts at home, the Black Panthers soon lost their ability to
raise funds and recruit. If we can persuade Israel to establish fair laws and courts, terrorist organizations in the region will soon lose
their ability to raise funds and recruit. We have a proven path to racial harmony and peace. And so today, if we want peace rather
than violence, terrorism and war, we need to revist the ringing words of Dr. King and understand that he was not talking about equal rights
for some children, but for all children:
"We refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt ... We have also come to
this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is
no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug
of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is
the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit
path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands
of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make
justice a reality for all of God's children ... The whirlwinds of revolt will
continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice
emerges ... No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until
"justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream" ... And
so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a
dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that
one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We
hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'"—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
As Dr. King said, "The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the
foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges." If we want
to avoid events like 9-11 and the wars they engender, it's time to make sure we
respect the rights of Muslim children everywhere in the world, just as we do the
rights of people of every race and creed at home.
There have been attempts by certain people to paint Dr. King as being "for" Israel and therefore inferentially "against"
Palestinians, which would be strangely hypocritical for a man who spoke so eloquently for equal human rights for everyone. Here is an
informative article on the question of whether Dr. King favored Jewish human rights over the human rights of other people:
Israel's Apologists and the Martin Luther King Jr. Hoax
by Fadi Kiblawi & Will Youmans
President Lyndon Johnson and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the White
House, March 1966 (Photo: Yoichi Okamoto/Lyndon Baines Johnson Library
In formal logic, Argumentum Ad Verecundiam refers to arguing a point with an
appeal to authority. This type is categorized as a logical fallacy. Citing one
seemingly authoritative source is simply not conclusive evidence, even if the
authority is seen as an expert on the given subject.
For the sake of clarity, there are three degradations of this maxim enumerated
in this essay. First, it is especially fallacious as proof when the quoted
authority demonstrates no special knowledge on the subject. Second, when the
authority who is not an expert on the given subject is also quoted out of
context, the argument is even weaker. Third, the lowest violation of this formal
logic principle is when an advocate uses a false rendition, or a fabricated
quote, by the same authority who can claim no expertise.
This is the best framework for understanding how various exponents of Israel
have used Martin Luther King Jr. to promote their cause.
Dr. King's expertise as a non-violent civil rights leader and visionary are
unparalleled in U.S. history. However, that does not make him an informed
commentator on Middle Eastern affairs or on the ideological facets of Zionism.
As impressive as the references to his views on Israel may seem, this is a
textbook example of Argumentum Ad Verecundiam.
Finding direct and published utterances by Dr. King about the modern Middle East
and Zionism is extremely rare. A cursory review of dozens of books on and by the
civil rights leader turned up nothing.
Nonetheless, defenders of Israel often refer to a letter by Dr. King. This
letter is reprinted in full on many web pages and in print. One example of a
quotation derived from this letter is:
"... You declare, my friend; that you do not hate the Jews, you are merely
'anti-Zionist' ... And I say, let the truth ring forth from the high mountain
tops, let it echo through the valleys of God's green earth: When people
criticize Zionism, they mean Jews... Anti-Semitism, the hatred of the Jewish
people, has been and remains a blot on the soul of mankind. In this we are in
full agreement. So know also this: anti-Zionist is inherently anti-Semitic, and
ever will be so."
Antiracism writer Tim Wise checked the citation, which claimed that it
originated from a "Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend" in an August, 1967 edition
of Saturday Review. In an article on January, 2003, essay he declared that he
found no letters from Dr. King in any of the four August, 1967 editions. The
authors of this essay verified Wise's discovery. The letter was commonly cited
to also have been published in a book by Dr. King entitled This I Believe:
Selections from the Writings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. No such book was
listed in the bibliography provided by the King Center in Atlanta, nor in the
catalogs of several large public and university libraries.
Soon afterwards, CAMERA, a rabidly pro-Israeli organization, published a
statement declaring that the letter was "apparently" a hoax. CAMERA explained
how it gained so much currency. The "letter" came from a "reputable" book,
Shared Dreams, by Rabbi Marc Shneier. Martin Luther King III authored the
preface for the book, giving the impression of familial approval. Also, the
Anti-Defamation League's Michael Salberg used the same quotes in his July 31st,
2001 testimony before the U.S. House of Representative's International Relations
Committee's Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights.
The bogus letter was further quoted by writers in prominent publications one
would imagine armed with fact-checkers capable of spending the short amount of
time needed to verify the primary source. Mort Zuckerman, the editor-in-chief of U.S.
News & World Report quoted the
letter in a column (17 September 2001). Warren Kinsella followed suit in an
article for Maclean's(20
January 2003). Commentary,which
is known more for its ideological zeal than any appreciation for factual
scruples, ran a piece by Natan Sharansky. He quoted the false passage as a
block--some ten months after CAMERA declared it a hoax.
More recently, the Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) featured
excerpts from the letter prominently on its website. Despite its name, SPME is
an advocacy group seeking to bolster Israel's image on campus--a mission it
claims promotes peace in the region. Ironically, right under the false Dr. King
quotation is an announcement of the formation of a task force "dealing with
academic integrity with respect to fabricating and falsifying data when
discussing the Middle East."
After one of the authors of this article informed SPME's director of the
quotation's discredited status, he replied with hostility despite the simple
verifiability of the claim that the citation is incorrect. After several
exchanges he replaced it with another seemingly far-fetched quote:
Martin Luther King addressed the issue in 1968, in a speech at Harvard when he
said: ".. You declare, my friend, that you do not hate the Jews, you are merely
'anti-Zionist.' ...When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews... And what is
anti-Zionist? It is the denial to the Jewish people of a fundamental right that
we justly claim for the people of Africa and freely accord all other nations of
the Globe...When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews--make no mistake about
When a citation for this new quote was requested, he refused to provide one,
leaving visitors only with its claim that Dr. King delivered it in a 1968
Harvard "speech." However, the language of SPME's new posting strongly resembles
their original one--on account of the fact that it too comes from the same
discredited "Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend."
The first time the fake letter was quoted, it could have been a mistake, but to
draw on different lines from the same fictitious letter is strikingly
unscholarly--as is the false citation of it to a 1968 "speech" at Harvard.
Either this citation was invented or taken from another unspecified
source--classic plagiarism, whether intentional or out of gross negligence.
SPME's reference to a 1968 "speech" at Harvard mirrors the details from a
published account that appeared in two sources: First, it was in right-wing and
ardently pro-Israeli sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset's 1969 article in Encounter.
Second, it was in a January, 2002 San
Francisco Chronicleop-ed by
Congressman John Lewis, who knew Dr. King personally.
Lipset wrote in his essay "The Socialism of Fools: The Left, the Jews & Israel"
about a "dinner" for Dr. King he attended. When one black student made "some
remark against the Zionists," Dr. King "snapped" back, "'When people criticize
Zionists, they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism." The piece by
Congressman Lewis also quotes this same remark though it is not clear if it is
gathered from Lipset's essay.
Congressman Lewis claims Dr. King made this comment "shortly before his death"
during "an appearance at Harvard." Lipset states it was "shortly before he was
assassinated" at a "dinner given for him in Cambridge." This quotation seems on
its face much more credible. Yet, SPME presents snippets from the fake letter
while apparently citing this statement (a 1968 "speech" at Harvard).
There are still, however, a few reasons for casting doubt on the authenticity of
this statement. According to the Harvard
Crimson,"The Rev. Martin Luther
King was last in Cambridge almost exactly a year ago--April 23, 1967" ("While
You Were Away" 4/8/68). If this is true, Dr. King could not have been in
Cambridge in 1968. Lipset stated he was in the area for a "fund-raising
mission," which would seem to imply a high profile visit. Also, an intensive
inventory of publications by Stanford University's Martin Luther King Jr. Papers
Project accounts for numerous speeches in 1968. None of them are for talks in
Cambridge or Boston.
While these points raise some doubt, let us assume that the quote is accurate.
This is where context comes in. One of the principal arguments of Lipset's 1969
article is that the split between blacks and Jews "stems much more from the
American situation than from the Middle East Conflict." He identifies Jews as a
dominating force within the civil rights movement. Black nationalist leadership
wanted to distance themselves from whites in the movement, Lipset argues. In
Lipset's own words, he summarized what black nationalists were saying: "We don't
want whites, but we particularly don't want Jews, and we are expressing
antagonism to Jews in the form of opposition to Israel."
Few of the articles that cite Lipset's essay mention this crucial context. One
individual who did explore this, albeit crudely, still managed to contrive
another Dr. King quote unimaginatively. Dr. Andrew Bostom, a medical professor
at Brown University, wrote an article for Front
Page Magazine(20 January 2003)
that was reprinted on former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's
website. In it, he claimed that Dr. King had the "moral courage" to confront the
anti-Jewish rhetoric of black left-wing and Muslim organizations. This is not to
say that Dr. Bostom is a reliable source. Central to his article is a 347 word
passage which he attributes to Dr. King. He fails to cite a source for the
outlandish tirade. A quick Google search determined it was lifted entirely from
original material on the homepage of www.yahoodi.com (which has a copyright date
of 2002), plus healthy portions of the fake "Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend."
Dr. Bostom's article featured the least creative and perhaps most fraudulent
doctored script yet: a patchwork of plagiarism.
Taking the context described by Lipset and Dr. Bostom to be generally correct
for the sake of argument would shed light on the credible Dr. King quotes. If
the movement he figured so prominently in was facing such a rift, his response
was only natural. To borrow Lipset's analysis then, Dr. King's statement also
"stems much more from the American situation than from the Middle East
Conflict." Given his local political anxieties, Dr. King was hardly the kind of
disinterested authority worth quoting on the subject.
As a note: the actual validity of Lipset and Dr. Bostom's views of that context
is beyond the scope of this essay. While it is true that black nationalists,
such as SNCC's leadership, became increasingly critical of Israel after 1967, it
is not convincing that the motive was to alienate American Jews even if that was
the foreseeable effect. An ardent internationalist for example would care more
about linking oppressed people's struggles across the globe than they would
about the relatively mainstream political movement for equality in the American
Back to the main point: if the forged quotes reflecting Dr. King's views on
Israel were accurate, citing him would still be classic Argumentum Ad Verecundiam. Where is the proof that Dr. King studied the region or its modern
history? The dearth of then-publicized comments and writings on the region by
Dr. King shows that it was probably not a subject he was well-versed on, nor did
it appear to be a priority of his throughout his career.
Even the statements Congressman Lewis attributes to him are low in substance and
high on flourishing rhetoric. For example, Dr. King stated that Israel is a
"marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into
an oasis of brotherhood and democracy." Referring to it as "marvelous" and an
"oasis" sounds rather uninformed given the realities of military occupation and
the forced exile the Palestinians have witnessed since Israel's foundation. They
surely do not sound like the words of someone familiar with both sides of the
More significantly, as Tim Wise pointed out, Dr. King's supposed statements on
Zionism came before the more than three decades of crippling Israeli occupation
of the West Bank and Gaza, and the 1987 intifada that grabbed the world's
attention. The Palestinian narrative was sparsely conveyed in the United States
up to that point. There were few Arabs or Palestinians in the U.S. and fewer
Arab academics, policymakers, and activists working with Dr. King. Wise also
suggests that application of Dr. King's principles logically give way to more
sympathy to the Palestinian side given the systematic inequality it faces.
That advocates of Israel have relied on fabricated and out-of-context quotations
from a leading moral figure of yesteryear only underscores the absurdity of the
general point that all opposition to a Jewish state in a diverse land is
anti-Semitic. There are obviously many legitimate ways to critique Zionism. One
quite reasonable observation is that after more than a half-century of conflict,
the Zionist project has failed to bring the Jews of Israel peace and
security--its raison d'etre. One might counter that this is due to Arab
intransigence; the Palestinians should accept their dispossession. However,
Palestinian opposition to this fate is an indisputable fact, and security was
and is Zionism's key goal. This necessarily was an analytical failure on the
part of the Zionists who assumed the Palestinians would blend in to other Arab
countries while the later generations forget their past. To dismiss this
argument--one that evaluates Zionism by its own goals--and every other critique
of Zionism as anti-Semitism is not only dishonest but a cowardly evasion of
This is not to say that all opponents of Israel are not anti-Semitic. Of course
the Palestinian cause, like all movements, is exploited by those with other
agendas, such as David Duke and Osama Bin Laden. Blanket statements in either
direction are inaccurate.
The main reason why critique of Zionism persists is that whether Israeli
officials like it or not, history as it is written and the actual land are still
disputed by the millions of Palestinians who are refugees as a result of
Israel's birth, the 3.5 million Palestinians living under Israel's direct
military rule, and the Palestinians who compose twenty percent of Israel's
citizens in second class status. If Israel was founded and developed on
uncontested terrain then arguments against its existence would more likely be
out of hatred against the Jewish people. For supporters of Israel to wipe away
all critics of the methods and outcomes of Israel's foundation with the
"anti-Semitic" label denies completely the legitimacy of the Palestinian
narrative--the experiences and perspectives that never show up in Dr. King's
Dr. King, though long-passed, is still monumental in the continuing movement for
civil rights in the United States. His legacy should be celebrated, and also
critiqued constructively; it should not be falsified or stretched to accommodate
a different agenda today. The context behind Dr. King's authentic statements on
Zionism was unique to a particular domestic political moment in order to sustain
a fragile political coalition. Beyond that, Dr. King never claimed any expertise
on the subject, nor made it a frequent topic of his speeches or writings.
Claiming that all critiques of Zionism are anti-Semitic based on the force
Martin Luther King Jr.'s words on the matter fails as an argument on many
Fadi Kiblawi is a law student at George Washington University.
Will Youmans is a contributor to The Politics of Anti-Semitism (AK Press,