- If you asked today’s American college students when the civil rights movement began, most would say “when Rosa Parks disobeyed a bus driver’s order to give her seat to a white.” She was arrested on December 1, 1955. On December 5th, after her trial and the first day of the Black bus boycott, a meeting in the Mt. Zion AME Church organized the Montgomery Improvement Association to lead the struggle. Martin Luther King, Jr. was elected president. In 1957, after strategy differences with King, Parks left Montgomery. She worked in Detroit as a seamstress. In 1965, Democratic Representative John Conyers hired her as his Detroit office secretary. She retired in 1988.
Americans easily understand the Montgomery Improvement Association’s establishment in the Mt. Zion Church. Most Black Americans were religious. They identified with the Hebrew slaves fleeing Egypt for “the promised land.” But, beyond specialists in Black-Jewish relations, Parks’ subsequent employment by a severe critic of Israel and the later politics of the civil rights movement is unknown to today’s public. Therefore this article will focus on the evolution of America’s Black rights leaders and movement’s attitudes towards Zionism, from the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909, thru to 1994, when apartheid South Africa, Israel’s open ally, vanished into history.
The Black Struggle from 1909 to WWII
When Parks was arrested, she was the secretary of the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP. It had only one Black, W.E.B. Du Bois, on its first executive board in 1909. His politics and the NAACP’s evolved, eventually in different ways, but he was always pro-Zionist.
“The African movement means to us what the Zionist movement must mean to the Jews, the centralization of race effort and the recognition of a racial fount.”
In its early years the NAACP organized occasional protest marches but its primary arena soon became the courts. Post WW I, its place in the streets was taken by Marcus Garvey’s ‘back to Africa’ Universal Negro Improvement Association. Asked if he was imitating Benito Mussolini, he replied that Mussolini was imitating him. But men in military formations were needed in an era of anti-Black riots.
The UNIA grew to massive size until 1922, when Garvey was arrested for mail fraud re money collected for his Black Star Line, which would ultimately ship followers to Africa. Convicted in 1923, imprisoned in 1925, he was deported to Jamaica in 1927. Garvey always equated the UNIA to Zionism, even after blaming Jewish NAACP leaders for his prosecution.
Vladimir Lenin’s Bolsheviks came to power in Russia in 1917 and established the Union of Soviet (Council) Socialist Republics, based on ethnic equality. The Communist Party here made Black rights a top priority and attracted the attention of Black intellectuals. After Lenin died in 1924, party secretary Joseph Stalin converted the USSR into a personal dictatorship and the CPUSA took his commands to be holy writ. Stalin and Communist parties everywhere, including Palestine, opposed Zionism, but it was not an issue in their involvement in the Black struggle.
In 1928, the CPUSA called for a Black republic in the areas of the American south where they were the majority. This attracted some Blacks, but more important was the CP’s legal defense of the “Scottsboro boys,” nine young Blacks convicted in Alabama in 1931 of raping two white women and sentenced to death. The CP’s International Labor Defense took the case to the Supreme Court which declared that defendants are entitled to effective counsel and that no one may be de facto excluded from juries because of their race. White racist rage against “Communists” and “Jewish lawyers” served to establish the credibility of both among Blacks.
In July 1930, Wallace D. Fard Muhammad founded the Nation of Islam in Detroit. Among other things, it called for an independent Black state in America. In 1933 he established a security guard called the Fruit of Islam to defend the NOI and other Blacks against white racists.
Fard Muhammad left Detroit in 1934 and was never seen again. Before departing he conferred leadership of the NOI on one of his earliest followers, Elijah Poole, who changed his name to Elijah Muhammad. He preached that Wallace Fard Muhammad was Islam’s Mahdi and Christianity’s Messiah. The Nation and FOI were a small but visible presence in Black communities until the early 1950s, when Malcolm X, who had converted while in prison for burglary, became Elijah Muhammad’s chief lieutenant. Under Malcolm’s leadership the NOI became a mass movement and the FOI grew in every Black community.
It took the 1929 Depression, under a Republican President, to get northern Blacks to vote for a Democrat, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1932, in hope of improved economic conditions, but they had few illusions about their new party. It ruled the legally racially segregated “solid south” and many northern states where landlords and employers could discriminate or not, at their option. There were no Black Democratic convention delegates until 1940.
In 1934, Stalin anticipated a second world war with Britain, France, the U.S. and the Soviets against Hitler. Unofficially, so as not to embarrass him, the CP supported Roosevelt, putting it in tandem with Black voters. It was central in organizing the Congress of Industrial Organizations, a rival to the almost universally racist American Federation of Labor. Hundreds of thousands of workers, many Black, joined CP-led unions. By 1939 the CP grew to 90,000 members, many Jewish or Black. Singer Paul Robeson, while not formally a CP member, was royally treated in the Soviet Union and helped make the CP a major force in the Black community.
In 1938, Trinidad-born C.L.R. James, author of The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, came to the U.S. and joined the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party. In 1939, under his influence, the SWP declared that, if America’s Blacks wanted their own state in the south, they would support the demand. The SWP was very small, but James’ book made him well known to Black intellectuals, worldwide.
In 1939, after Britain and France signed the Munich pact with Hitler, Stalin reversed himself and made the Hitler-Stalin pact. Thousands of Jews quit the CP in disgust, but Bayard Rustin, a gay Black Quaker member of the Young Communist League since 1936, stayed on. In 1941 the YCL assigned him to fight against U.S. military segregation, then called off the campaign when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. He quit in disgust and joined A. Philip Randolph (1889 – 1979), president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, in calling for a Black march on Washington against racial discrimination in war industries and segregation in the military. The march was cancelled after Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, banning war industry discrimination. The military remained segregated, but the Executive Order was seen by many Blacks as a partial victory.
Rustin went to prison in 1944 for violating the WWII draft law. He could have accepted a religious pacifist civilian work assignment, but chose prison, feeling that his political opposition to war was more important than his religious concerns.
The Cold War Era
With Hitler’s defeat, Democratic President Harry Truman faced a very different enemy, foreign and domestic. The USSR was seen by many Blacks as for their rights. Many thousands of Blacks were in CP-led unions. In 1947, Randolph formed the Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service, later renamed the League for Non-Violent Civil Disobedience. Truman had two concerns. If the U.S. faced off militarily with any Communist foe, it would try to get Blacks in the segregated military to mutiny, and he was hoping to get elected in 1948.
Vice President Truman became President when Roosevelt died in 1945. In 1948, one of his opponents was Henry Wallace, his predecessor as Roosevelt’s Vice President (1941–1945). During anti-Black riots in Detroit in 1943, Wallace declared that America couldn’t “fight to crush Nazi brutality abroad and condone race riots at home.” Such politics were too left for Roosevelt and he chose Senator Truman, front man for the notoriously corrupt Kansas City, Missouri Democratic “machine,” to run with him in 1944. Every poll predicted Truman’s defeat. If he lost enough Black votes to Wallace he was certain to lose. So, on July 26, 1948, he abolished military racial segregation via Executive Order 9981.
Wallace got only 2.4 percent of the national vote, but even after 9981 and a civil rights plank in the Democratic Party platform, the first in its history, he received one third of the Black vote. Prominent Blacks supported him including heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, singer Lena Horne, Robeson and Du Bois. This led to the NAACP terminating Du Bois’ employment, but Zionism wasn’t an issue in the rupture. The NAACP’s leaders were for Truman, who raced Stalin to be the first to recognize the new Israeli state.
Wallace opposed the “cold war” and was running as the candidate of the Progressive Party, created for the occasion by the CP. It maintained Lenin’s anti-Zionist line until 1947, when Moscow suddenly declared its support for the creation of Israel. The scholarly consensus is that Stalin wanted Britain, Palestine’s Mandatory ruler, out of the Middle East. None of London’s Arab satraps were interested in rebelling against their overlord and Stalin thought Zionist success in kicking the British out would, somehow, force Britain’s Arab puppets to try to do likewise.
Until the late 40s, most Jewish men were blue collar workers. In the 30s, almost all Jewish union leaders opposed Zionism. When their bosses gave donations to Zionist charities they felt that the money should have gone to their members as wages. This changed dramatically after the Holocaust. A nationalist wave swept through American Jewry. In Manhattan, thousands of Jews and others marched and danced around the New York Times tower when its electronic sign announced the creation of Israel. That demonstration was organized by the CP and Black CPers were among the dancers.
There were two reasons why Truman overruled his “the Arabs got the oil” oriented State Department and recognized the new state in 1948. In her book, Harry S. Truman, his daughter Margaret related how “On October 6,1947, Bob Hannegan,” the Democratic National Chairman,
“almost made a speech, pointing out how many Jews were major contributors to the Democratic Party‘s campaign fund and were expecting the United States to support the Zionists’ position on Palestine.”
The other reason was the Progressive Party’s strength among Jews and Blacks in New York, the home state of Thomas Dewey, his pro-Zionist Republican opponent. Truman feared that, unless he backed Zionism, rich Jews would fund Dewey, Jewish workers would vote Progressive and he would lose the state. In fact Truman did lose it but, to everyone’s amazement, won the national election.
Two years later, in 1950, Du Bois ran for the U.S. Senate as the candidate of the American Labor Party, the Progressive Party’s New York affiliate, and received almost 210,000 votes, and 12.8 per cent of Harlem’s count.
With Stalin it was always gyrations. His own pro-Zionist politics generated enthusiasm for Israel among Soviet Jews which he equated with disloyalty to him. In November 1948 he begins a purge of “cosmopolitans,” almost always with Jewish names or with their Jewish birth name in brackets next to their later Russian name. On January 13, 1953, a group of doctors was accused of being agents of a Zionist conspiracy to poison him and other Soviet leaders. He died on March 5, 1953 and the new Soviet leadership exonerated the doctors in a March 31 decree.
Many Jews left the CPUSA, usually with their Times Tower politics and pro-civil rights feelings intact. Those still loyal after 1953 simply used the exoneration to wash away Stalin’s anti-Semitism and their zeal for him in that period. Thereafter the CP supported the Soviet Union’s alliances with Palestinian movements and Arab regimes, but it always opposed the call for a democratic secular binational state. Party members and CP-led unions continued to play important roles in the civil rights movement.
Although Black voters backed pro-Zionist candidates, Israel wasn’t a Black election issue in 1948. But on September 17, Sweden’s Count Folke Bernadotte, the U.N. mediator in the Arab-Israeli conflict, was assassinated by the Lohamei Herut Israel, Fighters for the Freedom of Israel (aka the Stern gang), and Ralph Bunche, a Black American diplomat, took his place. He worked out the 1949 Armistice Agreements between Israel and Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria, establishing the armistice line between Israel and Jordan, now known as the Green Line.
Most educated Blacks saw Bunche’s Armistice as sanctification of Israel’s existence, especially so after 1950, when Bunche won the Noble Peace Prize. This pro-Zionist spin was later reinforced when Bunche participated in the 1963 March on Washington and the Selma to Montgomery march that led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
This same period also saw a rival left involvement in the civil rights movement that produced what comes off today as amazing secular prophesy. In 1946-48, Daniel Guerin, a French Trotskyist, visited the southern U.S. In Negroes on the March, copyright 1951, he assessed the NAACP:
“In Mobile, Ala., an important industrial city, the NAACP branch numbered 2,000 members when I was there, but I could not find a single worker among them. One of the few places where I saw a branch with a relatively proletarian composition was Montgomery, Ala.; the reason for this happy exception was that the branch secretary was also a trade union official….
A living example of this evolution was presented to me by E.D. Nixon of Montgomery, Ala., a vigorous colored union militant who was the leading spirit in his city both of the local union of Sleeping Car Porters and the local branch of the NAACP. What a difference from the other branches of the Association, which are controlled by dentists, pasters and undertakers!”
Leftist presence in the civil rights movement automatically meant FBI spying. In June 1952, a CP informer brought Stanley Levison, a New York lawyer and realtor, to the FBI’s attention. He was supposed to be a secret major CP financier since the end of WWII. In 1955 he, Rustin and others set up In Friendship to send money to southern Black activists. Rustin introduced Levison to King in 1956 and he soon became King’s good right hand. He set up the MIA’s first mail-solicitations for funds, and helped King get the contract for his first book, Stride Towards Freedom, and wrote parts of it. On September 20, 1958, King was stabbed by Izola Curry, a mad Black woman, while promoting the book, and Levison became central to the financing of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference while he recovered.
Levison drifted away from the CP before he met King. But he refused an FBI request that he inform on the party and took the 5th Amendment when called before a Senate committee. That made the Kennedy brothers and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover think that might he still might be a covert CPer. On June 22, 1963, President John Kennedy told King that he should drop Levison. He wouldn’t abandon his confidant and, on October 10, 1963, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, violating the 1st Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of religion and speech, authorized wiretapping King. The FBI soon bugged his hotel rooms, taping his extra-marital affairs. Eventually they sent the tapes to King, hoping that they would drive him to suicide. Spying continued until his 1968 assassination.
In reality, Levison had shifted his allegiance to the Zionist American Jewish Congress and ran its Upper West Side Manhattan branch. This is understandable, given his CP involvement during its Times Tower phase. Rabbi Stephen Wise (1874–1949), founder of the American Jewish Congress in 1918, had been a NAACP national board member since 1914, but many scholars, including pro-Zionists, consider his Nazi era behavior disgraceful. According to Saul Friedlander, “In the spring of 1941, Rabbi Wise had decided to impose a complete embargo on all aid sent to Jews in occupied countries, in compliance with the U.S. government’s economic boycott of the Axis powers.” On December 2, 1942, after reports of the slaughter in the Ukraine reached the West, he wrote a letter to “Dear Boss”, Franklin Roosevelt, asking for a meeting and informing him that “I have had cables and underground advices for some months, telling of these things. I succeeded, together with the heads of other Jewish organisations, in keeping them out of the press.”
When Peter Bergson, a rival Zionist, organized a “They Shall Never Die” pageant to mobilize pressure on Roosevelt to rescue Jews, the AJC kept it out of auditoriums wherever it could. Du Bois and Randolph signed Bergson’s newspaper ads and Walter White, then the NAACP Director, spoke at his 1943 Emergency Conference to Save the Jewish People of Europe.
There is no evidence that Levison knew this when he joined AJC, or that he was its agent in the civil rights movement. On the contrary, he was King’s “agent” in getting support from the Jewish establishment. King knew that few southern Jews joined the civil rights movement, but declared that “the national Jewish bodies have been most helpful.”
The night before his murder, he famously proclaimed that he had “been to the mountaintop…. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” In fact he had actually been to Palestine.
In 1959, under the influence of Rustin and the Quakers, King went to Mohandas Gandhi’s Indian birthplace to study satyagraha, Gandhi’s resistance to tyranny through mass civil disobedience. He returned via Jordan and visited Jericho and Jerusalem‘s “old city.” It was then impossible to go to through the Mandelbaum Gate between the Israeli and Jordanian sectors of Jerusalem, and he returned home by way of Egypt and Greece, but the visit and the fact that he couldn’t go through the checkpoint remained prominent in his thinking. Indeed he referred to his traveling the road from Jericho to Jerusalem – where a Biblical Hebrew was rescued by a good Samaritan, after other Jews ignored his misery – in his last, immortal, speech.
In 1961 W.E.B. Du Bois joined the American Communist Party, became a citizen of Ghana and, still pro-Zionist, died there in 1963, only days before King’s celebrated “I have a dream’ speech. King was the greatest American orator since Lincoln, but Rustin put together the speakers list for the massive August 28, 1963 March on Washington. King spoke immediately after Joachim Prinz (1902-1988), President of the AJC, 1958–1966:
“When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned… was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problems. The most urgent… and the most tragic problem is silence.”
In reality he had been an eager collaborator with Nazism. In 1937, in America, he wrote about Germany. His article described the Zionist mood in 1933:
“The government announced very solemnly that there was no country in the world which tried to solve the Jewish problem as seriously as did Germany. Solution of the Jewish question? It was our Zionist dream! We never denied the existence of the Jewish question! Dissimilation? It was our own appeal! … In a statement notable for its pride and dignity, we called for a conference.”
On February 8, 1981, I interviewed him.
Brenner: “What made you think that you could represent the Jews in dealing with the Nazi government?”
Prinz: “Oh, we thought, in our discussions with intellectuals in the SS movement, that the time would come when they would say, ‘Yes, you live in Germany, you are Jewish people, you are different from us, but we will not kill you, we will permit you to live your own cultural life, and develop your own national capacities and dreams.’ We thought, at the beginning of the Hitler regime that such a very frank discussion was possible. We found among the SS intellectuals, some people were ready for such a talk. But of course such a talk never took place because the radical element in the Nazi movement won out.”
How did a wannabe collaborator with Hitler come to speak with King? As I was leaving, after the taped interview, he told me that “When I got to America, everything I believed in Germany sounded crazy to me.” I’ve never doubted his honesty. The 1963 rabbi was very different from the 1933 rabbi, and Rustin and King knew nothing about that rabbi. They, like most Jews and gentiles of that era, knew little of Zionism’s history.
Although the March was massive, Malcolm X called it a “farce.” On October 11, 1963 Malcolm spoke outdoors to thousands at the University of California’s Berkeley campus. The NOI’s representative had nothing good to say about the racially integrationist civil rights movement. But after the rally, with the microphone off, two men went up to the podium. I heard one say, in accented English, “Minister Malcolm, we think your talk was very good. But we are from Iran, a Muslim country. There is nothing about race in the Koran or Islam.” Malcolm looked at them, without moving or saying a word, for over a minute, until a U.C. official took his arm and led him off the podium.
On November 22, President Kennedy was assassinated. On December 1, Malcolm was asked about it and declared it “chickens coming home to roost” and Elijah Muhammad ordered him silent for three months. During that period Malcolm heard rumors about Muhammad’s extramarital affairs with young secretaries. On March 8, 1964, he announced his break from the NOI, claiming Muhammad confirmed the rumors. He converted to Sunni Islam, and set up the Organization of Afro-American Unity, a secular Black nationalist movement.
On March 26, he met King at a Senate debate on the Civil Rights bill outlawing unequal voter registration requirements, racial segregation in schools, workplaces and public accommodations. They were photographed warmly smiling and shaking hands.
In April he went to Mecca, saw those Iranians were correct, visited several Arab and Black African countries and returned to the U.S., eager to work with all races for worldwide human rights. The SWP asked him to speak at its New York Militant Forum and he did so three times. He and the SWP discussed having its Young Socialist Alliance organize a national college tour for him. Then, on February 21, 1965, he was assassinated by members of the NOI at a public OAAU meeting.
America’s Blacks were outraged. The Harlem NOI mosque was torched and NOI members were attacked in other places. Tens of thousands viewed his body before his funeral. Rustin and Andrew Young from SCLC, John Lewis from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, were among many civil rights leaders at the televised wake. Actor Ossie Davis delivered an acclaimed eulogy for “our shining black prince.” King telegrammed Betty Shabazz, expressing sadness over “the shocking and tragic assassination of your husband. While we did not always see eye to eye on methods to solve the race problem, I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had a great ability to put his finger on the existence and root of the problem.
After his death, the SWP’s Pathfinder Press published many of Malcolm’s speeches and their evaluations of his development. They saw his strengths and weaknesses:
“At a press conference held on the day of his return to New York…. he was also asked if he still thought Negroes should return to Africa…. Malcolm X replied that after speaking to African leaders he was convinced that ‘If Black men become involved in a philosophical, cultural and psychological migration back to Africa, they will benefit greatly in this country.’ He compared this to the benefits that Jews had derived from their identification with Israel.” Editor George Breitman cited “overgenerous remarks Malcolm made about Prince Feisal, who had shown Malcolm extraordinary courtesies in an emotionally tense period during his trip to Mecca…. Malcolm did fail, on occasion, to differentiate sufficiently between revolutionary and non revolutionary African, Arab and Asian leaders.”
But Breitman was correct. “The Last Year of Malcolm X” was indeed “The Evolution of a Revolutionary.” His trip to Mecca converted him into an intense personal cosmopolitan and he realized that the SWP, a central element in the anti Vietnam war movement, had a lot to teach him re the political side of that world view.
Martin Luther King, Black Power, Black Panthers and Zionism
That leftward evolution didn’t stop with Malcolm. Growing out of a February 1, 1960 Greensboro, North Carolina, Woolworth’s sit-in, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, (SNCC, pronounced “snick”) played a central role in the sit-ins, freedom rides and racially integrated voter registration drives over the next years. Its Chairman, John Lewis, prepared to make the most radical speech at the 1963 Washington march, including
“Kennedy is trying to take the revolution out of the streets and put it in the courts. Listen Mr. Kennedy, the black masses are on the march for jobs and for freedom, and we must say to the politicians that there won’t be a ‘cooling-off period.’”
The Kennedy administration put pressure on Rustin and this statement was deleted from his speech but it reflected SNCC’s ever growing radicalism.
On the West Coast, Huey Newton heard me speak during the 1963 Cuban missile crisis. On October 16, 1964, he introduced himself to me in Oakland, California, in jail. Over four days we spent two hours discussing America, the civil rights movement, Marxism and Vietnam, but didn’t discuss Zionism. However, his Black Panther Party, founded on October 15, 1966, was anti-Zionist and worked with left Jews and other whites inside the Peace and Freedom Party. They called themselves Panthers from the ballot logo of SNCC’s Alabama Lowndes County Freedom Organization, in 1966 known for “Black Power” and anti-Zionism.
It was Trinidad-born Stokely Carmichael, SNCC’s chair after Lewis, who converted it into a Black organization and put “Black Power” into America’s political lexicon in a June 16, 1966 speech in Greenwood, Mississippi, but he always said he wasn’t the one who converted SNCC to anti-Zionism.
Born in 1941, he came to the New York at 11, after his mother proved that she was born in the Panama Canal Zone when it was governed by the U.S. He graduated from the world’s best high school. In his posthumous book, Ready For Revolution, he told us that
“At Bronx Science, I attended study camps with the Young Socialists and Young Communist groups. Here I learned to sing ‘Hava Nagella’ and to dance the hora. During the fifties, these young-left groups were unquestioningly pro-Zionist. Stalin had given arms to Zionist factions in 1948, and Israel was said to be progressive. End of story. There was no discussion at all of the rights of the Palestinian people. None.”
His transition to anti-Zionism “was due almost entirely to the work of one courageous activist sister.” To protect her from retaliation, he never named her, but scholars say it was Ethel Minor, SNCC’s communications director. After college,
“she met Palestinians…. She began to investigate the issue…. she followed Malcolm into the Organization of Afro-American Unity. After his assassination, the sister joined SNCC, where she organized a study group on the question…. We found, to my surprise, that a great deal of the most incisive and persuasive critical writing was by Jewish writers,”
His biggest shock “was discovering the close military, economic, and political alliance between the Israeli government and the racist apartheid regime in South Africa.”
He related how “war was declared on SNCC” when the press reported a SNCC anti-Zionist position paper:
“No other civil rights organization had a position on the Middle East, and there were clear reasons for that. A good deal of their financial support came from mainstream liberals, quite often from progressive elements of the Jewish community…. So obviously there would be a price to pay…. But as Dr. King said, ‘There comes a time when silence is tantamount to consent.’” 
King said that in 1967, re the Vietnam war. But in 1966 he was among the civil rights leaders who denounced the notion of Black power, calling it “an unfortunate choice of words.” And he only agreed to speak at an April 15,1967 anti-war rally at the U.N. if Carmichael wasn’t allowed to speak. The organizers accepted his condition and then invited Carmichael, who spoke and led a marching group carrying Vietcong flags. By then King was so anti-war that, according to Murray Friedman’s 1995 What Went Wrong: The Creation and Collapse of the Black-Jewish Alliance, they went to Harry Belafonte’s home, where the three “exchanged views on future plans.” We don’t know more about what they discussed, but Friedman and subsequent scholars understood that future joint public appearances would have served to further legitimatize Carmichael’s anti-Zionism, regardless of King’s personal opinion re Israel.
“Black Power” made Carmichael so famous that, three decades later, the Times reported his cancer diagnosis. This generated a 1996 letter from Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman:
“Re your laudatory news article on Kwame Toure, formerly Stokely Carmichael (March 1): While working for civil rights is admirable, there is another side to Mr. Toure’s career that the article did not convey. Mr. Toure is an unabashed racial separatist and anti-Semite who often uses the slogan ‘the only good Zionist is a dead Zionist.’ His visits to college campuses have been followed by acts of anti-Semitism and violence.”
I wrote the paper a letter, accompanied by an article by Carmichael. The Times called me. “Thank you very much for your letter.” It ran on March 16:
“As a Jewish leftist who worked with Mr. Toure against the Iraq war, I insist that he is not anti-Semitic. Mr. Toure’s nuanced position was expressed in the May 1991 Anti-War Activist newsletter…. ’Africans must transform the anti-war movement to an anti-capitalist and anti-Zionist movement…. The Zionists tried to chastise [Nelson] Mandela for his support for the P.L.O…. They control our community’s politicians. Look how they work harder for Israel than for Azania-South Africa! We must properly distinguish between Judaism and Zionism.’”
Mr. Toure’s hatred of Zionism, not Judaism or Jews is justified. Nathan Perlmutter, Mr. Foxman’s predecessor at the Anti-Defamation League, has written about why the organization would not join the group Trans-Africa in its demonstration against apartheid:
‘I cannot ignore the fact that the [African National] Congress’s literature is anti-Israel, highly sympathetic to the P.L.O. cause and tolerate of cooperation with the South African Communist Party. The lesson for us as Jews is not to engage our emotions in indignation about evil empires like South Africa. I think we too have a responsibility to determine whether or not that which stands in line to replace a current regime is better for the Jews or worse for the Jews’.”
Did the Times caller’s “thank you” speak for its editors? No, but he certainly spoke for many of its readers, relieved that a civil rights icon hadn’t become anti-Semitic. In any case, the Times 1998 obit, “Stokely Carmichael, Rights Leader Who Coined ‘Black Power,’ Dies at 57” heaped criticism on him, including King’s “an unfortunate choice of words,” and threw in a few praises: “Tall, slim, handsome…. Carmichael was arrested so often as a nonviolent volunteer that he lost count after 32…. a spellbinding orator,” but the obit said nothing re his anti-Zionism.
The Times may not have known of the Belafonte meeting. It certainly didn’t know of their last meeting. In 1968, the Washington Post warned King that Carmichael would turn the Poor People’s Campaign into rioting. But, in 2003, Ready For Revolution told us that
“When Dr. King came into D.C., I went to see him. Of course I assured him that I and SNCC would never do anything to… jeopardize the campaign. He said, ‘Stokely, you don’t need to tell me that. I know you.’ I told him that Washington SNCC would organize the local community, the street people and youth gangs – to make sure they were cool. He said he’d appreciate that…. As I was leaving, he held onto my hand, looking worried. ‘Stokely, please be extra careful now. Avoid any unnecessary risks. Promise me.’ I recall laughing…. King repeated his warning…. Very soon I’d have reason to remember his mood at our last meeting.”
Attorney General Eric Holder spoke at SNCC’s 50th year reunion in 2010. Knowing that Israel’s alliance with apartheid until its end is known to many Blacks, Holder didn’t utter a word against Carmichael.
In 1967, Noble Peace Prize winner King signed a Times ad just before the June “six-day war,” calling on the U.S. to back Israel. But, according to Friedman,
“In a conversation with Levison and his other New York advisers the following day, King admitted to being confused. He had never actually seen the ad before it appeared, he told them. When he did, he was not happy with it. He felt it was unbalanced and pro-Israel, although he observed that it would probably help with the Jewish community….his advisers, even the Jewish ones, suggested in effect that King carry water on both shoulders. Since war settles nothing, as Levison put it, King could adapt a peace position without taking sides. While agreeing that the territorial integrity of Israel and its right to be a homeland were incontestable, King should urge a peace position without taking sides. King should urge that all other questions be settled by negotiations. Such a position, said Levison, would serve to keep the Arab friendship and the Israeli friendship. King agreed to it.”
A month later he proposed “a pilgrimage of blacks and whites to the Holy Land. He worried “that the Arab world, and probably Africa and Asia too, would interpret the action as endorsing everything that Israel had done and he did have doubts.” Andrew Young “chipped in that he felt it important that King develop a strong point of view and personal contact with the Middle East situation since the Arab position had never had a hearing in this country, Levison agreed.”
Months later King wrote “a four-page letter to the president of the American Jewish Committee.” He had spoken at a Chicago New Politics convention. “Jewish agencies asked King to disavow the malevolent language” after he left. “He indicated that had he stayed he would have reiterated the SCLC stand… Israel’s right to exist as a state was incontestable.”
King’s public statements pleased Zionists, and rabbi Abraham Heschel was on the podium when King gave his powerful April 4, 1967 New York Riverside Church anti-Vietnam war speech. But rabbi Marc Schneier’s Shared Dreams: Martin Luther King, Jr. & The Jewish Community, tells us that King’s oration created a problem for
“major Jewish organizations. Though most disliked the war, they were extremely cautious in their public opposition to it, since President Johnson had warned them that any anti-war stands from them would jeopardize American support for Israel.”
Schneier writes that
“Johnson liked having things his way. If you disagreed with him, he was likely to find a sore point to which he could apply the pressure until you complied with his wishes. For Jews, Israel was that sore point. Never saying it outright, Johnson strongly implied to several key Congressional and Jewish leaders that Jewish opposition to the war could trigger cuts in American military and economic aid to Israel. It was a trump card.”
King’s April 4, 1968 assassination came at a crossroad in his relations with Washington and American Zionism. He was publicly pro-Israel but met with Carmichael against Johnson’s war and for King’s Poor Peoples Campaign, as the Zionist establishment silently moved from him towards Johnson. They didn’t identify with his Poor People’s Campaign aimed at bringing poor blacks, whites, Indians and Hispanics to Washington. The establishment wasn’t helping him in Memphis, Tennessee when he died supporting black sanitary workers, striking for higher wages and racially equal treatment. “The most important thing that I learned… was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problems. The most urgent… and the most tragic problem is silence.” That’s what Prinz said in 1963, but they were silent about that strike.
The murder generated Black riots across the U.S. and Johnson, who loved listening to tapes of King’s sex, had to declare him a martyr. Since then the Zionist establishment has loudly publicized its marching with him in 1963, even while, as Zionist John Rothman reports, “For some Jews, Nixon’s support for Israel was the litmus test. Yitzhak Rabin actively campaigned for him in 1972, when Nixon got 37 percent of the Jewish vote, up from 19 percent in 1968.”
‘King loved Israel, Israel loved him’ propaganda has reached enormous proportions. Israel has an official ML King day and forest. Schneier, chair of the World Jewish Congress’s American Section, tells of “an article that appeared in the Saturday Review two months after the  war ended.” According to Schneier, King wrote:
“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 the Jews — this is God’s own truth. Anti-Semitism … 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….”
Schneier’s gives his source as “King, ‘Letter to an Anti-Zionist Friend,’ Saturday Review, 47 (August 1967), 76. Reprinted in King, This I Believe: Selections from the Writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York, 1971), 234-235.”
Except that this writer and Harlem’s Schomberg Library couldn’t locate the Letter or “This I Believe.” At my request, The Journal of Palestine Studies and the Library of Congress also sought and couldn’t discover them. On March 15, at a public meeting in New York’s Queens University, I asked Schneier to locate the Letter for me. “Contact my office.” I emailed his Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, waited, then phoned: “We got your email. We’re not supposed to talk to you.”
Off the record, Hoover had told some Congress Representatives and others about Levison and King’s sex life. After King’s April 1968 assassination, a journalist revealed that Robert Kennedy, then running in Democratic primaries to replace Johnson, had authorized wiretapping King, but there wasn’t much public focus on this. Then, on June 5, Kennedy was shot by Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian Christian.
Except for the usual conspiracy buffs, his jailers and today’s scholars agree that he did it on his own. But the assassination drew the public’s attention away from the tapping of King, and turned Kennedy into a Democratic martyr. With time, details of the wiretapping emerged, but today perhaps the best example of the party’s hypocrisy is its simultaneous iconic treatment of King and the two villains who spied on him.
After King’s slaying, Black movement splits deepened. John Lewis, Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson and others went into Democratic politics, hoping to get practical if limited reforms. But Stokely became the Black Panther “honorary Prime Minister” in 1968. He tried to make them into a community movement. He visited Newton, waiting a trial in jail. Huey thought the party would become a Northern SNCC, however Stokely told him
“That was not very likely if their most visible community program remained armed patrols monitoring police behavior in the streets…. We agreed that this image would only isolate the party out in front of the community, whereas, where they needed to be was deep inside the day-to-day fabric of the neighborhoods.”
Then the party’s leaders forbade more visits to Newton. In 1969, he and his wife, South African singer Miriam Makeba, moved to Guinea-Conakry. In July he publicly rejected the Panthers. Stokely saw “the youth gang culture,” unsalable to “anybody’s aunt or the deacon board of the local church.” He also disliked white lefts hailing the Panthers, thereby convincing themselves (and the FBI) that they were revolutionaries.
The Black Democrats and the Zionist-Apartheid Alliance
With Stokely in Africa, the disintegration of the Panthers in the 1970s, and federal enforcement of legal equality, the Black masses stopped demonstrating in the streets and voted southern Black Democrats into the House of Representatives. In 1977, Georgia Representative Andrew Young was appointed U.N. Ambassador. Then, on August 15, 1979, Young, who stood next to King when he was murdered, resigned over a secret discussion with the Palestine Liberation Organization after a U.S. promise not to talk to the P.L.O. until it recognized Israel.
Every sector of Black leadership was outraged. White diplomat Milton Wolf previously met the P.L.O., no resignation. Why then did Jimmy Carter accept his Black appointee’s resignation “with deep regret”? Was it Zionist pressure? Over time Young said no, the issue was his repeated undisciplined public statements, etc., and he stayed loyal to the Democratic Party. Most leaders felt it was Israeli pressure but also stayed solidly Democratic.
Jesse Jackson, who dashed upstairs after the King shooting and appeared in a bloody shirt at the following press conference, ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988. On February 13, 1984, the Washington Post reported that “In private conversations with reporters, Jackson had referred to Jews as ‘Hymie’ and to New York as ‘Hymietown.’” On February 19 he lied: “It simply is not true,” On February 26,1984, he apologized in a synagogue.
Neither before nor after the Hymietown affair was Jackson ever against a Zionist state. In 1984, with the Zionist-apartheid alliance before the world’s eyes, he was for no more than a weaponless sheep pen Palestinian Bantustan in the West Bank and Gaza. By 1988 he even announced that he would not, as President, meet with Yasser Arafat, then the P.L.O.’s leader, and babbled about understanding “the pain of the occupier.”
Many years later, in 2008, the New York Post reported that
“Jackson believes that, although ‘Zionists who have controlled American policy for decades’ remain strong, they’ll lose a great deal of their clout when Barack Obama enters the White House.”
Obama’s campaign immediately disassociated itself from Jackson’s comments. Indeed, as he was also recorded threatening to castrate the then Senator, Jackson’s evolution certifies the thesis that closeness to King at any point doesn’t necessarily justify anyone’s further activities.
All scholars see Rustin as the most pro-Zionist of the Black civil rights Democrats. After his break with Stalinism he joined the Socialist Party and then, over time, he and the S.P. went into the Democratic Party.
Norman Thomas, the S.P.’s leading figure, developed a celebrity media reputation, running for President six times, 1928-48. He joined the Progressive Party, then quit over its obvious CP domination and ran his 1948 campaign to offer left of center anti-Stalinists an alternative to Truman and Wallace. He was very friendly with the anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism, but by then the public didn’t care what he thought about anything (139,569 votes, 0.3%).
Post 1953, Thomas secretly started taking money from Central Intelligence Agency Director Allen Dulles, who he knew from their college days. When did Rustin learn of this? Perhaps before February 22, 1967, when the Times ran an article, “Thomas Upholds CIA-Aided Work.”
The S.P. was minuscule and without influence until the mid-1950s, when Rustin linked up with King. In 1958, Max Shachtman, an SWP founder who broke with Trotsky in 1939, joined the S.P. and became Rustin’s mentor. Moving ever rightward, they were intensely anti-Stalinist and for the S.P. entering the Democratic Party. Getting anti-Stalinist AFL-CIO support for the southern struggle became their top priority.
Again, we don’t know exactly when Rustin learned that the AFL-CIO was working internationally with the CIA, but presumably it was before Tom Braden, former CIA foreign operations director, published “I’m Glad the CIA’s Immoral,” in the May 20, 1967 Saturday Evening Post. He proudly wrote of using the AFL-CIO to fund “strong-arm squads in Mediterranean ports, so that American supplies could be unloaded against the opposition of Communist dock workers.”
Later in 1967, after the Israeli-Arab “six-day war,” S.P. national secretary Irwin Suall, skeptical regarding Israel, went there and came back so pro-Zionist that he was appointed fact finding director of the Anti-Defamation League. ‘Fact finding’ translates into spying on “anti-Semitic” anti-Zionists, leftists, etc.
Rustin’s Vietnam war hawk stance took him away from dove King. The war debate also broke up the S.P. In 1973, Rustin and Suall, still for the Vietnam war, set up Social Democrats USA, with Rustin as National Chairman.
After the U.S. defeat, Rustin focused on Israel. In 1975 he set up a Black Americans in Support of Israel Committee, with heavy Black Democratic support and Zionist funding. Young signed up, as did David Dinkins, later mayor of New York, but it had no popular following with Israel’s alliance with apartheid South Africa before American Blacks’ eyes. Even Rustin had to voice a “deep sense of concern and disturbance” when Israel brought South African Prime Minister Johannes Vorster to the Wailing Wall in April 1976. Yet his zealotry for Zionism continued. In 1984, he appeared as a character witness for Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon when he sued Time Magazine for libel for a 1983 article saying that Sharon urged the Lebanese Phalangists to avenge leader Bachir Gemayel’s death by the September 1982 Sabra and Shátila massacre of hundreds of Palestinians. To put Rustin’s testimony into perspective, readers should know that the Israeli government’s own Kahan Commission later found Israel indirectly responsible for the event and compelled Sharon to resign as head of the Ministry.
Rustin’s later-day pro-Zionism was looked upon as apostasy by many civil rights activists as they morphed into anti-apartheid fighters. To this day Reverend Matt Jones, the second most arrested civil rights era campaigner, will not sing at any demo on any issue unless he is allowed to denounce Israel. Elombe Brath, New York’s prime anti-apartheid organizer, routinely had this writer and other anti-Zionist Jews speak at anti-apartheid rallies. The word got out to the broad community. Typically, a Jewish civil servant told me of how pleased her Black colleagues were when they complained about the apartheid alliance and discovered that she was anti-Zionist. But rank and file Black anti-apartheid activists focused on what Israel was doing to Africans via the alliance, rather than on what Zionism did to Palestinians and, after apartheid’s downfall, most didn’t continue on in the anti-Zionist movement.
On the electoral level, John Lewis and the Black Congressional Caucus talked against apartheid, but Michigan Democrat John Conyers went further and critiqued Israel’s alliance with apartheid. The other Caucus Democrats generally evaded the alliance, concerned about Zionist campaign contributions. But not talking about the alliance de facto meant not mobilizing the community, which would have asked about the collaboration, putting them on the spot re party funders. Conyers could talk about Israel because Michigan was the one state where Arabs were a significant proportion of the vote.
What Should We Learn from this History?
What must we learn from these decades of Black rights leaders’ thinking about Zionism, first as an idealistic notion, then as Israel, an on the ground political fact? The civil rights struggle was successful. Millions of Blacks gained legal equality. But King’s assassin killed the mind behind the Poor People’s Campaign. After his death, it organized one badly planed encampment in Washington, then vanished. Now King’s birthday is a legal holiday, but millions of Blacks and others still live in poverty. In 2010, America’s first Black President commemorated King’s birthday by going to a soup kitchen and feeding some poor. Did that traditional charitable gesture honor King? Of course not. That Black President then went right back to bailing out the rich.
The best way to honor the founder of the Poor People’s Campaign is to study his political strengths and weaknesses and then use that knowledge to help abolish poverty in America and injustice around the world. Studying his politics includes, among other things, dealing with his public pro-Israel statement, his off-the-record concerns about it, and his last two meetings with Carmichael, a proud anti-Zionist.
What would King have done had he lived thru years of open alliance between Zionism and apartheid? He would have been 82 in 2011. What would King say, today, when Israel is the only country in the U.N. that doesn’t condemn the U.S. embargo on Cuba, whose 41,000 soldiers were the decisive force defeating South Africa’s army in the battle of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola in 1987-88. That defeat convince apartheid’s leaders that it was time to hand over power to the African National Congress. Do you, dear reader, need a “weatherman” to know what King would have said, today, about Cuba, the U.S and Israel?
Lenni Brenner is a veteran political activist living in New York City. He can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 – Manning Marable, W.E.B. Du Bois: Black Radical Democrat, Twayne Publishers, Boston, 1986, p. 100.
2 – Margaret Truman, Harry S. Truman, Morrow, New York, 1973, p. 386.
3 – Daniel Guerin, Negroes on the March, 1951, Rene Julliard, Paris, [English edition, updated Oct. 9, 1954, published February 1956], pp. 116, 179.
4 – Scott Shane, “To Investigate or Not: Four Ways to Look Back at Bush,” New York Times,www.nytimes.com/2009/02/22/weekinreview
5 – Saul Friedlander, The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945, Harper Collins, New York, 2007, p. 304.
6 – Eliyahu Matzozky, “The Responses of American Jewry and its Representative Organizations, November 24, 1942 and April 19, 1943,” unpublished Masters Thesis, Yeshiva University, app. II.
7 – Sarah Peck, “The Campaign for an American Response to the Nazi Holocaust, 1943-1945,” Journal of Contemporary History, April 1980, p. 374.
8 – Marc Schneier, Shared Dreams: Martin Luther King, Jr. & The Jewish Community, Jewish Lights Publishing, Woodstock, Vt., 2009, p. 45.
9 – Joachim Prinz, “America Must Not Remain Silent,” Congress bi-Weekly, October 7, 1963, p. 3.
10 – Joachim Prinz, “Zionism under the Nazi Government,” Young Zionist, London, November 1937, p. 18.
11 – Joachim Prinz and Lenni Brenner, “Excerpts from an Interview, February 8, 1981,” 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration With The Nazis, Barricade Books, Fort Lee, NJ, 2002, pp. 104-105.
12 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malcolm_X.
13 - http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/documentsentry/telegram_from_martin_luther_king_jr_to_betty_al_shabazz/.
14 – George Breitman, The Last Year of Malcolm X: The Evolution of a Revolutionary, Pathfinder, New York, 1967, pp. 63, 92.
15 - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/March_on_Washington#Controversy_over_John_Lewis.27_speech.
16 – Stokely Carmichael with Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), Scribner, New York, 2003, p. 557.
17 – Ibid, p. 558.
18 – Ibid, p. 558.
19 – Ibid, pp. 560-561.
20 – Michael Kaufman, “Stokely Carmichael, Rights Leader Who Coined ‘Black Power,’ Dies at 57,” New York Times, November 16, 1998www.nytimes.com/1998/11/16/us/
21 – Murray Friedman, What Went Wrong: The Creation and Collapse of the Black-Jewish Alliance. Free Press, New York, 1995, pp. 248-249.
22 – Abraham Foxman, “Black Activist Disparages Jews,” New York Times (Letters), March 11, 1996, p. A 16.
23 – Lenni Brenner, “Anti-Zionism Doesn’t Equal Anti-Semitism,” New York Times, (Letters), March 16, 1996, p. A20.
24 – Michael Kaufman, “Stokely Carmichael, Rights Leader Who Coined ‘Black Power,’ Dies at 57,” New York Times, November 16, 1998
25 – Carmichael, pp. 647-648.
26 – Friedman, p. 252.
27 – Schneier, pp. 142, 182.
28 – John Rothman, “Nixon’s Israel support cannot excuse his anti-Semitism,”www.jweekly.com/article/full/4734/nixon-s-israel-support-cannot-excuse-hi
29 – Schneier, p. 178.
30 – Ibid, p. 213.
31 – Carmichael, pp. 661-662.
32 – Robert Weisbord and Richard Kazarian, Jr., Israel in the Black American Perspective, Greenwood Press, Westport, Ct., 1985, p. 122.
33 – Rick Atkinson, “Peace with American Jews Eludes Jackson, Washington Post, Feb. 13, 1984, p.186.
34 - http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2008/10/obama-camp-resp.html.
35 – “Thomas Upholds CIA-Aided Work.” New York Times, Feb. 22, 1967, p. 17.
36 – Tom Braden, “I’m Glad the CIA’s Immoral,” Saturday Evening Post, May 20, 1967, pp. 10-14.
37 – Weisbord and Kazarian, p. 94.