Martin Luther King Jr. on anti-Zionism

Many college campuses across America were closed last Monday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which presented me with a good opportunity to think about the Reverend’s views on Zionism and Jews and how they are still relevant. Dr. King was a strong advocate for Jews worldwide and for an independent Israel. Shortly before his assassination, Dr. King attended an event at Harvard University and gave the following response to a statement by an anti-Zionist student: “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism.”
Dr. King‘s prophetic quote continues to resonate with students on US campuses where not much has changed since 1968 in regard to the connection between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, many students over the years have often continued to feel too intimidated to speak out in support of Israel during certain classroom lectures and extra-curricular events. The reason for this is that Israel’s core legitimacy has been continually challenged in ways that cause discomfort and intimidation for pro-Israel students who would like to vocalize their opinions.
One example took place at Brooklyn College last semester at the event, “Breaking all the Rules: 62 Going on 63” sponsored by the Palestinian Club of Brooklyn College. At the event, a number of speakers were brought in to speak about Israel and its supposed violations of international law. The title of the event promoted the perception that Israel’s creation, in and of itself, was illegal– a truly ridiculous notion, which displays the group’s complete intolerance and ignorance regarding Israel’s existence.
Or consider the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus where a class entitled, “Refugees & Exile: The Palestinian Experience - Nakbah, Oslo & Beyond” is offered. This is an example of a class that completely strips away Israel’s legitimacy. Although to some, it may seem like a minor point to use the word “Nakbah”, this word in Arabic refers to Israel’s creation and can be translated as “catastrophe.” What makes the use of the term more inappropriate is that there is substantial evidence that proves the “Nakbah” narrative is largely a fabrication of historical events framed to delegitimize Israel.
In consideration of academic freedom, it is reasonable for this class to exist. At the same time though, it would make sense to offer an alternative course for students who would either like to learn a different viewpoint on the topic or who feel too uncomfortable to enroll in the “Nakbah” class where there would not be much room for discussion. This is an injustice to academia and also to any students who are looking for a well-rounded experience in gaining an understanding of the history and current issues facing the state of Israel and surrounding neighbors.
On a positive note, after six years of hard work by the Zionist Organization of America, along with the support of Members of the U.S. Congress and other Jewish organizations, America celebrated a victory in getting Jewish students legally protected under Title VI of the U.S. Department of Education’s Civil Rights Act of 1964. For 46 years, Jews were not protected under the act, but this all changed on October 26th, 2010.
Currently, Jewish students on college campuses who feel threatened or intimidated by campus anti-Semitism may now invoke Title VI. Under Title VI, if universities are found to be turning a blind eye towards anti-Semitic events or providing federal funds to sponsor them, they could face consequences, including the loss of financial support. This is a huge step in the right direction for the Jewish people and for all Jewish students on American campuses who have had to deal with anti-Semitic incidents and intimidation labeled under the term “anti-Zionist.” Furthermore, it is a step in the right direction for students who are concerned with justice and pursuing a balanced account of history through facts instead of falsehoods. When thinking about Dr. King and his profound wisdom, I believe that he would be pleased about this progress in support of human rights.