Monday, March 11, 2013

CAMERA in need of more correction (or: a bad day for the MLK quote)

In my previous entry, I related how CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, had to take back their assertion that Martin Luther King had said his famous, but disputed, quote equating anti-Zionism to antisemitism in 1968. Their current correction reads:

Clarification: An earlier version of this article attributed Dr. King’s comment to a 1968 appearance at Harvard. To clarify, professor Seymour Martin Lipset and Congressman John Lewis, a disciple and associate of Dr. King, both point out that the comment was made shortly before King’s death, but did not name the precise date. Lipset asserted the comment was made in Cambridge, Mass., and Lewis cited Harvard University as the location.

So that CAMERA is currently saying that King said the quote in Harvard, albeit on an unspecified date.

Enter Martin Kramer, an Israeli professor very much worried that Wikipedia lists the quote as disputed. In a well-documented article, Kramer proved that Martin Luther King traveled to Boston in October 1967 on a fundraiser and was invited to Marty Peretz's  house in Cambridge, together with his aide Andrew Young, who would later become the US's Ambassador to the UN and the mayor of Atlanta. It was there, Kramer asserts, that King said the quote. In his words: "We now have a date, an approximate time of day, and a street address for the Cambridge dinner, all attested by contemporary documents." Kramer goes on to state:

And just to run the contemporary record against memory, I wrote to Peretz, to ask whether the much-quoted exchange did take place at his Cambridge home on that evening almost 45 years ago. His answer: “Absolutely.” I’ve written twice to Andrew Young to ask whether he has any recollection of the episode. I haven’t yet received a response.
So will the guardians of Wikiquote redeem this quote from the purgatory of “disputed”?

To put things in context, Marty Peretz is a well-known Zionist fanatic and anti-Muslim bigot, who has resorted to dishonesty to advance his cause. "Lying for the crown" is a behavior one would expect from him. The fact that Andy Young hasn't corroborated the quote doesn't help either (although even if he had it wouldn't mean much; after 45 years, memories tend to be blurred: personal recollections about issues one is not very much involved with are not usually reliable).

But remember, CAMERA quoted Congressman John Lewis, a disciple and associate of Dr. King, as also confirming the quote, in an article first published in the San Francisco Chronicle which eventually was adopted by the US Congress and made its way into the Congressional Record, V. 148, Pt. 1, January 23, 2002 to February 13 2002. In that article, Lewis states:

During an appearance at Harvard University shortly before his death, a student stood up and asked King to address himself to the issue of Zionism. The question was clearly hostile. King responded, “When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism.”

So that Kramer claims that the quote was said at a dinner at Marty Peretz's home, while Lewis claims it was said at Harvard. If one is right, the other is wrong, and vice-versa. What we have here is what appears to be a number of people interested in supporting a pro-Israel narrative (Kramer, Peretz and Lipset out of ideological motives; Lewis because he needs the money of his Jewish donors), all claiming that Martin Luther King Jr. equated anti-Zionism to antisemitism, but unable to get their act together as regards the details.

I expect CAMERA to clarify this mess; as long as they don't, the world has every right to doubt the authenticity of MLK's quote, and Wikipedia is fully justified to describe it as disputed.


Olin said...

Lewis never claimed to have been there, and his mention of the quote is second-hand and has no relevance. An appearance at Harvard would have been widely reported. There was none. Lipset said it was at a dinner, the documentation confirms there was such a dinner, and a witness (Peretz) recalls hearing the quote. But the Peretz recollection is not the crux of it. The question is whether Lipset, not long after the event, would have lied in print in a prominent journal, about something MLK said in the presence not just of him but of others (including Andrew Young). That beggars belief.

Olin said...

I'm Martin Kramer.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

Mr. Kramer, even in the Internet era it took 8 years for someone to prove that King did attend a diner in Cambridge. Even so, bear in mind that Lipset carefully failed to identify the precise date and location, so that other guests had no compelling reason to conclude he meant the event at Peretz's home, even if they had read his article. Which is a big if: Encounter was past its prime after the disclosure of the CIA funding scandal, and Lipset was not that prominent a thinker. All in all, the chances that some Peretz guest might read the article and call Lipset out on his inaccurate account were slim.

Marty Peretz, for his part, is a writer known for a marked lack of intellectual honesty. There's no reason to believe he would not lie for the sake of Israel. Bear in mind that before the advent of the Internet lies about the I/P conflict could (and did) go unchallenged. (For instance, up to a very recent time it was claimed that Jews never carried out terror attacks against civilians, only against military targets.) Peretz belongs to that bad-faith tradition, and the King quote may well have been a fabrication between him and Lipset. I think you'll agree that testimony from witnesses with an agenda is one of the weakest forms of proof.

Finally, I see you discount Lewis' article. Good, but it happens to be CAMERA's "independent source" confirming Lipset's account (CAMERA calls Lewis a "close associate" of Dr. King, thus suggesting that his statements about MLK enjoy special credibility). Also, Lewis' article was cited in Wikipedia as a reliable source for the quote. You can't have it both ways.

Olin said...

Ibrahim, I’m trying to strip away all of the irrelevant innuendo and speculation from your answer, and your position seems to come down to this: Lipset was a Zionist, therefore he must have been a liar and fabricator, because they all “lie for the sake of Israel.” This is not a very sophisticated position, even for a self-styled “hasbara-buster.”

It took even longer than eight years before anyone challenged the quote, and they did it not on the grounds that MLK could not have said it, but that he couldn’t have said it when and where he was supposed to have said it, since he wasn’t there. Well, it is now established that everything in the record confirms the particulars in Lipset’s account. Now that the insinuation that Lipset fabricated the whole occasion is shown to be false, you suggest that Lipset fabricated MLK’s words--flagrantly and recklessly, one might add, since he wasn’t the only witness to them. As I said, that beggars belief.

You describe Lipset’s account as “inaccurate,” so what is the “accurate” account against which you have measured it? Do you maintain that the issue did not come up at the dinner? Do you think it did come up, but MLK did not say anything? What is your “accurate” account, and what is your source for it? And why--since I assume you are speculating, as you have not named a source for an alternative account--do you think that MLK could not have uttered this sentence? He had gone to Cambridge to reassure a major donor to his organization and one committed to Israel. The point of the dinner was, as Peretz said in his invitation, “an honest and tough and friendly dialogue.” If an SNCC student had attacked “Zionists,” why would it have been out of character for MLK, in the presence of Jewish supporters, to call this out as a euphemism for Jews?

The problem with you (and, for that matter, advocates for Israel who use the quote) is that you rip it from its context. I said in my post that there is a lot of room to debate the meaning of the quote. I would take the position that it has to be read in context. MLK said, in response to a student militant’s denunciation of Zionists: ““When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism!” He didn’t mean all people in all circumstances. He was calling out the kind of rhetoric emerging from his own militant critics in the SSNC, which was inciting against American Jews for reasons that had nothing to do with Israel. The SSNC simply used “Zionists” as a code word for Jews. That’s also the subject of Lipset’s article, in which he brings the quote. It’s not about Israel or the Middle East. Like all of MLK’s quotes, this one has been invoked far outside its specific context, by interested parties. But in its context, which I have painstakingly reconstructed, it makes perfect sense that MLK would say it. He would not allow what he knew to be (reprehensible) antisemitism to cloak itself in sloganeering about “Zionists.”

Would you?

Olin said...

I meant SNCC, not SSNC. The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

No, you misunderstood my point. I'm partly to blame, because I didn't state it clearly enough.

Your position seems to be that Lipset couldn't have possibly lied, because other guests at that dinner would have called him out. But that would be a good argument if Lipset had explicitly stated that he meant the dinner at Peretz's home. Since he didn't, other Peretz guests didn't have a clear reason to object to his account in case it was inaccurate, because he might be making reference to another dinner. Thus, by being vague about the details, he didn't run the risk of being exposed.

You also misrepresent the Electronic Intifada article. Their authors object to CAMERA's assertion that the quote was said in 1968 (which they say casts some doubt on its authenticity), but the crux of the article is that MLK was no Zionism expert, and his opinion on the subject is not authoritative.

I still can't believe you would rely on Peretz's testimony. He doesn't meet the threshold of integrity needed to be a trustworthy witness, don't you think?

Regarding your last two phrases, I don't think I'm in a position to allow or not allow anyone to do anything. In my own personal usage I say Jews when I mean Jews, without any "cloak," as you can see from my other writings.

Olin said...

Where is the evidence for another dinner in Cambridge, or for that matter, another fundraising visit to Boston? MLK’s archives are now open. (That’s how I documented the visit to Cambridge that everyone missed.) But another Cambridge dinner, also in the months before the assassination? Where is the evidence? You cannot simply throw out assertions like that. Produce evidence of another dinner, or acknowledge that you are grasping at straws.

I have one more post to do on MLK, and I will refute the notion in the EI article that MLK was some sort of naif when it came to Israel and the Arabs. I trust you saw my piece, on why he decided to cancel a planned trip to Israel in the fall of 1967. He had a full understanding of the dilemmas, and I will say still more about his reaction to Israel’s victory in 1967. It put him in a difficult position, and he tried very hard to strike a careful balance. He did not opine on anything without giving it thought, and thanks to the wiretaps of his associates and advisers, we know that on this issue, too, he weighed all the pros and cons.

Olin said...

And by the way, I did not “rely” on Peretz’s testimony. I relied on Lipset’s statement and the corroborating archival evidence for the event. At the same time, Peretz hosted the dinner, and he is still very much alive. I could not fail to approach him, just as I could not fail to approach Andy Young. I agree that memory alone is not enough, but neither is it worthless. (If it were, the entire Palestinian narrative would disappear.) If Andy Young had replied to me, confirming or contradicting my other evidence, I would have reported that too. I am not afraid of where an inquiry will might me. Are you?

Olin said...

where an inquiry might lead me...

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

You continue to read in my words what I actually don't say. I'm not saying I have evidence for any other dinner given for King at Cambridge. I'm just saying that because Lipset didn't give any concrete details, his readers had no reason to think he meant that dinner. In particular, his readers who were also Peretz guests that night would likely think "I don't recall King saying this, but then Lipset may be referring to another dinner." You seem to posit that such a reader would go to the archives to see if King was indeed invited to another dinner at Cambridge, but this is not likely.

When we analyze first-hand testimony, a healthy dose of skepticism is in order. You seem to believe Lipset can't have been astute enough to refer to a dinner that did take place but report words that were never uttered or, more likely still, slightly misrepresent them as to give them a complete new meaning. You have archival evidence for one event, but all your evidence for the quote is the testimony of two men with an agenda. This testimony has exactly zero value. (At this point, I must add that even an Andy Young endorsement of the quote would have little value. The quote has gained such currency that Young's memory would likely steer towards the conventional-wisdom version of the event.)

I think your comparison with the Palestinian narrative is in part accurate, but in part unfair. I don't believe personal, first-hand testimony from Palestinians (such as: "this key here used to open the front door of my house.") I have heard them tell unbelievable stories and repeat ages-old myths, canards and blood libels. But in the case of the Palestinians, there exists a body of evidence corroborating their collective narrative of dispossession. Maps, pictures, statistics, government reports, all point to the existence of Arab villages that were razed. They don't depend very much on this or that testimony or statement.

The Jews, on the other hand, have used catchphrases to such an extent that it is worth to try and determine if there is any truth to them. You won't deny the enormous power phrases like "the British commander said, we don't take orders from the Jews; we give orders to the Jews" have exerted over the collective psyche. How could one not support the Jews in the face of such rampant British antisemitism? Except that there is no independent confirmation. The case of the King quote is very similar.

Olin said...

Well, I think that at this point, we are talking across one another's arguments, and are not addressing one another directly. Ultimately, any charge that Seymour Martin Lipset was a flagrant fabricator will be judged in light of his overall reputation. Go here.

Gert said...

What seems to be forgotten here is that even if Dr King had uttered this claim that still doesn’t make it true.

Both Peretz (bweurk!!) and Olin rely on the ‘authority fallacy’: that Mr King’s importance in the fight against racism somehow imparts veracity on the fallacious claim that ‘anti-Zionism =antisemitism’. That’s why the Peretz and the Kramers of this world will forever try and defend the claim that Dr King made this statement. No other reason. Of course they could try and get their own [Zionist] house in order with regards to racism but as long as AIPAC consorts enthusiastically with racist fascistoid pr*cks like John Hagee, you known that that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

Anonymous said...

Really! Who cares if MLK said those words or not. Israel exists because the will of its population not because of the words of a civil rights leader - no matter how iconic.

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walk tall hang loose said...

He could have said it more than once.

Anonymous said...

MLK(alleged): “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism!”

Me: No.

POD: anti-Semite n. person who is prejudiced against Jews. anti-Semitic adj. anti-Semitism n.

POD: Semite n. member of the peoples said to be descended from Shem (Gen. 10), including esp. the Jews and Arabs. [Greek Sem Shem]

Me, 1: "anti-Semite" is misleading, since Semites = Jews AND Arabs. Further, anti-Semitism is a form of racism.

POD: racism n. 1 belief in the superiority of a particular race; prejudice based on this. 2 antagonism towards other races. racist n. & adj.

POD: Zionism n. movement for the re-establishment and development of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel. Zionist n. & adj.

Me, 2: Contentious here is "re-" - my research (mostly wiki) returns: 80% of 'modern' Jews are descended from Ashkenazim[1], who a) trace their origin via 'certain areas along the Rhine,' (i.e three cities along the Rhine: Speyer, Worms and Mainz, say) who b) ~1000 years ago constituted only ~3% of all Jews, and c) on top of that, ~50% of modern Jews are or are descended from converts[2], so any allegation of 'racism' towards Jews should be 'possibly ~50% racist.' But that's not all; let's say a) ~50% of Jews live in Israel, now IF any 'original' Jews had some claim on Palestine (hence the claimed "re-"), the descendants of ½ of ½ of the ~3% = 0.75% of originally wandered-away Jews (plus 'converted' fellow-travellers) are now evicting approaching ~100% of the Palestinian natives, themselves descended ~100% from natives who stayed put - all the while claiming "G*d promised it to us!" Haw. So much for "re-".

Me, 3: “When people criticize Zionists, they ...” are (mostly) criticizing *what Zionists do*, which is murder for spoil, here soil (then lying about it).

Paraphrased: It's not directed at *whom* so much, as what they *do*.

Since 'they' are ½ of all Jews, but ½ of those are converts = only a ¼ may be of some race, possibly 'Semites;' IF it was criticism of 'them' THEN it could possibly be maximum ¼-racist, but it's actually the Zionist *crimes* that count.

Ergo: Criticising Zionist crimes is *not* anti-Semitism; IF MLK said so, THEN MLK was wrong.


1. "Although in the 11th century, they composed only three percent of the world's Jewish population, at their peak in 1931, Ashkenazi Jews accounted for 92 percent of the world's Jews. Today they make up approximately 80 percent of Jews worldwide."

2. "The widespread popular belief that there was a sudden expulsion of Jews from Palestine in 70 CE that led to the creation of the Diaspora is not correct, and scholars argue that modern Jewish ancestry owes about as much to converts from the first millennium to the beginning of the Middle Ages as it does to the Jews of antiquity."

Steve said...

In light of the confusion and misinformation on the Internet regarding this quote (particularly after the Electronic Intifada article of 2004), I contacted Prof. Martin Lipset via email on April 6, 2005 and asked about it. He was seriously ill at the time and could not respond directly, but his wife Sydnee answered, "When I asked Marty about this dinner party with Dr. King, he said it was at the home of Martin Peretz."