Martin Luther King: “anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism”

The USA is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the watershed civil rights rally in Washington DC at which Martin Luther King Jr made his famous “I have a dream” speech.

Famous for his utopian vision of a fair society where “children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” King was also a strong supporter of Jewish self-determination in the Land of Israel.

On March 25, 1968, King stated that “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.”

In an open letter, written in either 1967 or 1968, King declares that anti-Zionism “is inherently anti-Semitic.” The letter was probably inspired by a conversation King had with an African-American student who was critical of Zionism. King replied: “Don’t talk like that. When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking anti-Semitism.”

Below is the text of “Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend”:

… 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 — this is God’s own truth.

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.

“Why is this?  You know that Zionism is nothing less than the dream and ideal of the Jewish people returning to live in their own land.  The Jewish people, the Scriptures tell us, once enjoyed a flourishing Commonwealth in the Holy Land.  From this they were expelled by the Roman tyrant  the same Romans who cruelly murdered our Lord.  Driven from their homeland, their nation in ashes, forced to wander the globe, the Jewish people time and again suffered the lash of whichever tyrant happened to rule over them.

“The Negro people, my friend, know what it is to suffer the torment of tyranny under rulers not of our choosing.  Our brothers in Africa have begged, pleaded, requested — DEMANDED — the recognition and realization of our inborn right to live in peace under our own sovereignty in our own country.

“How easy it should be, for anyone who holds dear this inalienable right of all mankind, to understand and support the right of the Jewish People to live in their ancient Land of Israel.  All men of good will exult in the fulfillment of God’s promise, that His people should return in joy to rebuild their plundered land.  This is Zionism, nothing more, nothing less.

“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.  It is discrimination against Jews, my friend, because they are Jews.  In short, it is anti-Semitism.

“The anti-Semite rejoices at any opportunity to vent his malice.  The times have made it unpopular, in the West, to proclaim openly a hatred of the Jews.  This being the case, the anti-Semite must constantly seek new forms and forums for his poison.  How he must revel in the new masquerade!  He does not hate the Jews, he is just ‘anti-Zionist’!

My friend, I do not accuse you of deliberate anti-Semitism.  I know you feel, as I do, a deep love of truth and justice and revulsion for racism, prejudice, and discrimination.  But I know you have been misled — as others have been — into thinking you can be ‘anti-Zionist’ and yet remain true to those heartfelt principles that you and I share.  Let my words echo in the depths of your soul:  When people criticize Zionism, they mean Jews — make no mistake about it.