Wednesday, January 21, 2009

My father once heard MLK denounce Israel

My father once heard Martin Luther King denounce Israel. As a young immigrant to the US in the 1960s, he would attend MLK's rallies because he understood that what was good for the blacks also had to be good for the Latino community. At one of those rallies, MLK said, as reported by my dad:

Israel has grabbed land which belonged to the Palestinians, with the same self-granted right with which the slavers grabbed the black people in Africa: the right of a master race dealing with a downtrodden people.

What! You don't believe me? Oh, yes, you must have read somewhere that famous MLK quote. The one in which King says that those who criticize the Zionists actually mean the Jews and are, thus, antisemites.

The problem is that there is as much evidence to prove that my father heard him denounce Israel as there is to confirm that he equated anti-Zionism to antisemitism. Below is the passage familiar to all of us:

Shortly before he was assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr., was in Boston on a fund-raising mission, and I had the good fortune to attend a dinner which was given for him in Cambridge. (...) One of the young men present happened to make some remark against the Zionists. Dr. King snapped at him and said, "Don't talk like that! When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You're talking anti-Semitism!"

But, who reported this? An independent observer, with unimpeachable credentials as a nonbiased reporter?

Er no. It happens to be a very partisan source, namely Dr. Seymour Martin Lipset, a former chair of the National B'nai B'rith Hillel Commission and the Faculty Advisory Cabinet of the United Jewish Appeal who died in 2006. The quote comes from the article "The Socialism of Fools: The Left, the Jews and Israel" which was published in the December, 1969 (page 24) edition of Encounter magazine, and was reprinted in other publications. Encounter was a neoconservative publication avant la lettre, which was initially funded by the CIA.

In other words, Lipset was a member of an institution that raised money for Israel's wars writing in a magazine closely allied to the US government. The details he gives are extraordinarily vague: "shortly before he was assassinated" (exactly when?) King went to a dinner in Cambridge (exactly where?) where he admonished a black student (exactly who?). But if it wasn't true, couldn't Dr. King have protested to the magazine? No, he couldn't; he died the year before the article was published.

Do we have further details from other sources? Well, yes; CAMERA claims that King's words were pronounced "in a 1968 appearance at Harvard." Is that so? Er no. On the day of his death, the Harvard Crimson (the university's students' paper) reported:

The Rev. Martin Luther King was last in Cambridge almost exactly a year ago--April 23, 1967.

So that CAMERA is wrong on this (which, by the way, debunks the often-made claim "CAMERA may be biased but it's always factually correct"). All other references to the King quote are either explicitly based on Lipset's article or verbatim transcriptions without attribution.

The evidence being so flimsy, a few years ago someone had the brilliant idea of manufacturing a complementary "Letter to an anti-Zionist friend" by King, which "appeared" in an August, 1967 edition of Saturday Review, and "ratified" King's views on Zionism and antisemitism. Only, those people weren't properly trained on how these things are done. They provided a detail that gave them away; Tim Wise took the trouble to examine all issues of Saturday Review from August, 1967, and found not a hint of a King letter to anyone. Lipset had been much wiser, giving what seemed to be a lot of information on the background to the King quote, but without providing a single concrete, verifiable detail.

And thus are created the Zionist talking points. No, the British commander at the King David never said "I don't take orders from Jews; I give orders to them." And no, never were orders for Arabs to leave Israel broadcast on Arab radio in 1948! But those are subjects for further posts.

So, what do you say? Do you believe Lipset or my father? Or me? Or none?


Anonymous said...

I would be interested in knowing if MLK denounced Israel before the six-day war and on what grounds.

Anonymous said...

Chuck Fager might be a person to talk to. (bio)

I have heard him speak. He worked as a body guard for MLK jr. He would walk, unarmed, in a random fashion in front of King, hopefully taking any bullet meant for king. He has been arrested with King and spent overnight in jail with him.

He has a fascinating story about eating king's dinner, unfortunately the link does not work. To remove a bit of the mystery, King was a follower of Ghandi, and would begin each time in jail with a fast.

Ah - he published a book by that name. Can't find the story online. Your loss.

Anyway Chuck Fager currently works at Quaker House counseling people on their rights as soldiers and how to leave the army.

Want to know what King thought of Israel? Ask him. He just might know something.


Anonymous said...

The famous MLK comment in which he purportedly claimed to be a Zionist is utterly bogus and it's great you point that out.

I wrote a short expose about this on similar lines some months ago - see King Hoax - Something Special. The corrected meme is getting around :-)

Unknown said...

Mel Gibson said "my father wouldn't lie to me" in reference to the other "hoax." Dr. King did say "When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You're talking anti-Semitism" It's not a hoax. I'm sure your father wouldn't lie to you either. 1968 and Vietnam seem like yesterday and the term "Palestinian" was unheard of and not uttered by MLK.

Steven Wynwood Lewis
Hollywood, Fl