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Using a Black Icon to Sell Apartheid

Hucksters for Israel attempt to make up for in chutzpah what they lack in facts.

On opening night of the eighth annual Israeli Apartheid Week at NYU — at an event featuring Omar Barghouti and Noura Erakat, leading Palestinian figures in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign — apologists for Israel’s crimes showcased one of their more curious myths. Defenders of Israel repeatedly argued in the Q & A section that America’s foremost Black icon, Martin Luther King Jr., was an arch defender of the Jewish state.

Let’s explore the evidence.

Pro-Israel Web sites, politicians and campus activists often reference the source of their claim about MLK’s defense of Israel by citing King’s “Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend,” supposedly published in an August 1967 edition of  the Saturday Review. Here’s the quote they cite:

“… 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… 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.”

This quote even made its way into an excellent exposé of Israel’s deadly decades-long relationship with apartheid South Africa, Sasha Polakow-Suransky’s  The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South AfricaIn fact, I repeated part of the quote in my own review of the book, much to my regret. Later I discovered that the MLK letter was a hoax.

Antiracist activist Tim Wise published an article on Znet in 2003, “Fraud Fit for a King,”  in which he documents the fact that no such letter appears in any of the 1967 issues of the Saturday Review.

The alternative source provided by Zionists for this apparently nonexistent letter is a nonexistent book by King, This I Believe: Selections from the Writings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. According to the authors of Electronic Intifada’s 2004 piece that further details this bamboozle, “Israel’s Apologists and the Martin Luther King Hoax”: ”No such book was listed in the bibliography provided by the King Center in Atlanta, nor in the catalogs of several large public and university libraries.”

Electronic Intifada goes on to discredit another “patchwork of plagiarism” attributed to King, this one by Dr. Andrew Bostom, a Brown University medical professor who wrote an article for Front Page Magazine in 2003 citing yet another fictitious quotation from King.

In fact the only credible statements made by King regarding Israel are recounted as hearsay in the San Francisco Chronicle by former civil rights activist, Congressman John Lewis. Lewis, who was friends with King, writes  in his 2002 op-ed that a few days before MLK’s assassination in 1968 King defended Israel at an appearance at Harvard, saying, “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.”

Here again, stubborn facts get in the way. As the Harvard Crimson reported in April 1968,  “The Rev. Martin Luther King was last in Cambridge almost exactly a year ago — April 23, 1967.”

Setting aside the pesky historical record of fabricated quotes from imaginary speeches and phantom texts, what if MLK really did support Israel back in 1968?

What if at a dinner in Cambridge, as has been suggested, King did defend Israel  decades before the first and second intifadas, before the 1982 massacre at Sabra and Shatilla, before the construction of hundreds of miles of apartheid walls with militarized checkpoints, before Israel’s soldiers who killed 1,400 Palestinians in Operation Cast Lead were even born, before the murder of 9 unarmed civilians on the humanitarian aid flotilla and before contemporary, irrefutable documentation by human rights organizations of Israel’s racist apartheid practices?

If King did say or write anything to the effect that Lewis recounts, then King — who never claimed to be a Middle East scholar — was ill-informed. What’s more, he not only lived in an era before widespread exposure in the U.S. of Israel’s crimes, but he was organizing in the context of domestic disputes about multiracial, Black and Jewish organizing in the civil rights movement. Might he have had a totally separate question in mind when commenting on Jews and a Jewish state?

Notably, statements attributed to King about the Arab world go unremarked upon by Zionists. For example, this snippet also cited by Congressman Lewis:  “At the same time the great powers have the obligation to recognize that the Arab world is in a state of imposed poverty and backwardness that must threaten peace and harmony.”

Surely the man who called the U.S. “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” might be referring here to the American Empire, if not its Israeli vassal, as one of the entities imposing “poverty and backwardness” on the Arab world.

And finally, is it conceivable to any but the most blinkered defenders of Israel that MLK, who gave his life fighting inequality, would stand by a nation that has turned 69 percent of its indigenous population into refugees? No one but a craven ideologue for the indefensible would insist that King could cheer on Israel’s system of separation, discrimination and domination.

It appears that defending ethnic cleansing and Israel’s genocidal policies in the wake of Occupy and democratic Arab upheavals is not the cakewalk it once was. The question of justice for the world’s 11.2 million Palestinian people, according to latest census figures, is no longer the third rail of American politics among a growing swath of the population, including greater numbers of Jews. That some apologists have turned to fabricated quotes and pure slander of an icon to justify the unjustifiable is yet another sign that leading Zionists are desperate liars.

After all, they see the writing on the wall. Though Israel openly frets about the growing Palestinian population as a “demographic threat,” the rising numbers of Arab-Americans, Jews and others who are adhering to the spirit of King’s call for civil rights by joining together in the BDS movement are the real demographic threat to apartheid Israel.

Sherry Wolf is the author of Sexuality and Socialism. She blogs atSherry Talks Back.


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