The flowery, pro-Zionist “Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend” (see below), allegedly written by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is apparently a hoax. However, the basic message of the letter was indeed, without question, spoken by Martin Luther King, Jr. at a dinner in Cambridge, MA, shortly before he was assassinated. At that dinner, he rebuked a student who made an anti-Zionist remark, saying, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You are talking anti-Semitism.” (See, e.g., “The Socialism of Fools: The Left, the Jews and Israel” by Seymour Martin Lipset; 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). We found 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.”
The op-ed by Congressman Lewis appears below, and the hoax letter follows.
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 uncontestable.” 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.”
U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat, represents the 5th Congressional District of Georgia and worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement.
The following letter is a fabrication/hoax:
“Letter to an anti-Zionist friend”
Selections from the Writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
…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.
Antisemitism … 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 antisemitic, and ever will be so….
The antisemite 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 antisemite 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 antisemitism… But I know you have been misled — as others have been — into thinking you can be ‘anti-Zionist’ and yet remain true to these 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.
(From M.L. King, Jr., “Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend,” Saturday Review XLVII Aug. 1967, p. 76)[no such article or issue] Reprinted in “Shared Dreams,” by Rabbi Marc Shneier, preface by Martin Luther King III
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.