Martin Luther King, Jr. possessed a remarkable clarity of vision and purpose. He complemented these attributes with a sound, empathic understanding of the history of human oppression. Dr. King's unequivocal renunciation of anti-Zionism reflected his consistent, courageous opposition to all manifestations of bigotry. Against the backdrop of resurgent Jew hatred worldwide, epitomized by the hypocritical September 2001 Durban Conference on "Racism", Dr. King's candid, thoughtful reflections on the true nature of anti-Zionism are particularly edifying.
Shortly before his death, Dr. King had the moral courage to confront the burgeoning Jew hatred of both extreme leftwing Black organizations, including the Black Panthers and the radicalized Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, as well as the Black Muslims. For example, during a 1968 appearance at Harvard University, he stated bluntly:
"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. ].
King immediately recognized anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism- Judenhass - refusing to indulge what he believed was simply another manifestation of the same hatred confronting Blacks. As Georgia Congressman John Lewis, who worked closely with Dr. King during the civil rights movement, observed last year on Martin Luther King Day,
"He knew that both peoples [i.e., Blacks and Jews] 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."
(San Francisco Chronicle, Monday, January 21, 2002)
Historically, 20th century black intellectuals prominent before Dr. King had regarded the Zionist movement favorably because of their own strong impulses for self-determination. W.E.B. DuBois in 1919 wrote, "the African movement means to us what the Zionist movement must mean to the Jews.." In 1941, DuBois elaborated that Palestine was, "the only refuge that harassed Jewry has today". During Israel’s War of Independence, Menachem Begin recalled that Dr. Ralph Bunche, Jr. conveyed to him, "I can understand you. I am also a member of a persecuted minority." Dr. King’s empathic awareness revealed a profound understanding of both the Jews complex embrace of Zionism, and the thinly veiled Jew hatred inherent in anti-Zionism,
"After 2000 years of exile, the Jewish People has emerged traumatized. The source of that trauma has been the constant insecurity and fear that characterized most of the Diaspora, in most parts of the world. It is a product of landlessness, massacres, periodic expulsion and flight, persecution by tyrants and abuse by the Church and Mosque who encouraged antisemitism to satisfy their own insecurities and political desires. …Physical security for the Jews has traditionally been improved in a number of ways: usefulness, mobility, bribery and assimilation. Psychological responses to this insecurity and trauma are well known: self-hatred and blame, identification with and appeasement of abusers, obsessive fantasy of a future paradise on earth. These solutions and responses are so integrated into the Jewish psyche that they have been passed down from generation to generation, displaying themselves even in relatively free societies, even in America and the recently liberated homeland, Israel….Despite its significance to the Jewish Nation, the State of Israel has failed to alleviate most of this trauma, and has not reduced the levels of antisemitism - it has simply allowed antisemites to masquerade themselves under the new banner of "anti-Zionism". We cannot expect antisemitism to disappear - Jewish existence and Jewish philosophy will always be threatening to its children: Christianity, and Islam... The trauma and insecurity, on the other hand, is within our power to diminish - should we decide to do so…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 antisemitism….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'!..."
Dr. King’s deep historical, theological, and social understanding are sorely missed. But there are hopeful signs. The influence of shrill, shallow demagogues such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, may be waning. Their hypocritical agenda has been exposed: A perverse "Third Worldism", where jihad terror against a democratic Israel is rationalized, while the slaughter, enslavement, and mutilation of tens of thousands of Black African South Sudanese Christians and animists during a jihad campaign waged against them by the Islamist Arab Khartoum government, is ignored. The indifference of Reverends Jackson and Sharpton notwithstanding, Dr. Charles Jacobs, an Orthodox Jew and founder of the American Anti-Slavery Group, helped forge an extraordinary coalition with Congressional Black Caucus members, as well as various Christian and Jewish organizations, that lobbied successfully for the passage of the Sudan Peace Act. Columnist Nat Hentoff summarized the salient features of this legislation as follows
"…The Sudan Peace Act authorizes $300 million to aid the blacks in the south over the next three years for humanitarian purposes and ‘to prepare the population for peace and democratic governance.’ Under the law, the president is to certify every six months that the Khartoum government and the [South] Sudan People's Liberation Army are negotiating in good faith. If he finds that they are not, sanctions go into effect. As described, for example, by the [Human Rights organization] Freedom House, if there is evidence of ‘continued bombing of civilians, slave raids, and bans on relief flights,’ the United States will oppose ‘international loans and credits to Khartoum,’ and among other punitive actions, seek ‘a U.N. Security Council Resolution to impose an arms embargo on Khartoum.’.. ."
It is reassuring to see the direct, lasting impact of Dr. King’s noble legacy on this contemporary struggle for human rights: as an impressionable college student, Dr. Jacobs stood on the Washington mall listening to the "I Have a Dream" speech.