About five years ago, I was writing an article for Jewish World Review and quoted parts of the famous Martin Luther King Jr. Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend. Just as the article was about to run I got an e-mail from Editor-in-Chief Binyamin Jolkovsky that the letter was a hoax, sending me this link from CAMERA as evidence.
The bad news is that Binyamin was correct (he usually was). The good news is that Dr. King was a supporter of Israel and the Jewish people. And the famous line from the letter “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism.” was uttered by Dr King, just not any letter. As you read the probable posts containing the letter, remember, while mostly it does not contain the words of the great Civil Rights Leader, it does contain his sentiments.
CAMERA ALERT: Letter by Martin Luther King a Hoax We must inform you that “Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend” allegedly written by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is apparently a hoax, although, the basic message of the letter was indeed, without question, spoken by Martin Luther King, Jr. in a 1968 appearance at Harvard, where he said: “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism.” [ from “The Socialism of Fools: The Left, the Jews and Israel” by Seymour Martin Lipset; in Encounter magazine, December 1969, p. 24. ]. We were initially doubtful of the authenticity of the “Letter to an anti-Zionist Friend” because the language in the first paragraph seemed almost a parody of language used in Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech. Additionally, we could find no reference to the “letter” prior to 1999, which was odd because the text is such a dramatic denunciation of anti-Zionism — one that would have been cited widely. However, we then found the “letter” in a reputable 1999 book (“Shared Dreams,” by Rabbi Marc Shneier) whose preface was written by Martin Luther King III. Since the King family is known to be extremely careful with Dr. King’s legacy, we assumed they must have verified the accuracy of the book before endorsing it. Additionally, we found that quotations from the “letter” were used on July 31, 2001, by the Anti-Defamation League’s Michael Salberg in testimony before the U.S. House of Representative’s International Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights. The same “source” (Saturday Review, August 1967) for the “letter” that was mentioned in the Schneier book was also cited in the testimony. Since many in the Anti-Defamation League had actually worked with Martin Luther King, Jr in the civil rights struggle, we assumed again they would be very knowledgeable about King’s work and would have thoroughly checked anything they chose to read before Congress. However, because we do not ordinarily rely on anyone else’s research, we decided to double-check, by searching back issues of Saturday Review (Rabbi Shneier’s book had referenced the “letter” as being published in the August 1967 Saturday Review). Lo and behold, there is no such letter in any of the August issues, nor do the page and volume numbers cited conform to those actually used by that publication. CAMERA also checked with Boston University, where Dr. King’s work is archived. The archivists too were unable to locate any such letter. We can only conclude that no such letter was written by Dr. King. (Please note we are not implying that the apparently bogus “letter” originated with Rabbi Schneier.) Since the message of the letter (anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism) was one Martin Luther King, Jr. had indeed articulated, we can understand why the King family and the ADL did not feel the need to verify the “Letter to an anti-Zionist friend.” This episode is a reminder of the importance of verifying the authenticity and accuracy of sources, even when they appear to be solid. Below is a January 21, 2002 op-ed by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, who worked closely with Dr. King. In the op-ed, he shares Dr. King’s views on Israel, views which stressed Israel’s democratic nature and Israel’s need for security. And he also relates that Dr. King said, “When people criticize Zionists they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism.” This quotation has been confirmed, so you should feel assured that you can use the quotation in letters. Just be sure to mention that it came from Dr. King’s 1968 Harvard University appearance, so that no one will think it is from the debunked “letter.” The op-ed by Congressman Lewis appears below. Monday, January 21, 2002 (San Francisco Chronicle) “I have a dream” for peace in the Middle East King’s Special Bond with Israel by John Lewis THE REV. MARTIN Luther King Jr. understood the meaning of discrimination and oppression. He sought ways to achieve liberation and peace, and he thus understood that a special relationship exists between African Americans and American Jews. This message was true in his time and is true today. He knew that both peoples were uprooted involuntarily from their homelands. He knew that both peoples were shaped by the tragic experience of slavery. He knew that both peoples were forced to live in ghettoes, victims of segregation.He knew that both peoples were subject to laws passed with the particular intent of oppressing them simply because they were Jewish or black. He knew that both peoples have been subjected to oppression and genocide on a level unprecedented in history. King understood how important it is not to stand by in the face of injustice. He understood the cry, “Let my people go.” Long before the plight of the Jews in the Soviet Union was on the front pages, he raised his voice. “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.” During his lifetime King witnessed the birth of Israel and the continuing struggle to build a nation. He consistently reiterated his stand on the Israel — Arab conflict, stating “Israel’s right to exist as a state in security is incontestable.” It was no accident that King emphasized “security” in his statements on the Middle East, On March 25, 1968, less than two weeks before his tragic death, he spoke out with clarity and directness stating, “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.” During the recent U.N. Conference on Racism held in Durban, South Africa, we were all shocked by the attacks on Jews, Israel and Zionism. The United States of America stood up against these vicious attacks.Once again, the words of King ran through my memory, “I solemnly pledge to do my utmost to uphold the fair name of the Jews — because bigotry in any form is an affront to us all.” 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.” King taught us many lessons. As turbulence continues to grip the Middle East, his words should continue to serve as our guide. I am convinced that were he alive today he would speak clearly calling for an end to the violence between Israelis and Arabs. He would call upon his fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner, Yasser Arafat, to fulfill the dream of peace and do all that is within his power to stop the violence. He would urge continuing negotiations to reduce tensions and bring about the first steps toward genuine peace. King had a dream of an “oasis of brotherhood and democracy” in the Middle East. As we celebrate his life and legacy, let us work for the day when Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Muslims, will be able to sit in peace “under his vine and fig tree and none shall make him afraid.”