Dr. Reverand Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American clergyman, activist and prominent leader in the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's. He was also an outspoken advocate on behalf of Israel's security and against anti-Semitism, especially among the African-American community.
Speaking at the annual convention of the Rabbinical Assembly in 1968, Dr. King said:
He is also attributed with having said, "When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You're talking anti-Semitism," in response to a student who had attacked Zionism during a dinner event with Dr. King in 1968.
While it remains unclear when the efforts at bringing Dr. King to Israel began, the first evidence of the correspondence is an August 1962 letter from then-Israeli consul in Atlanta, Zeev Dover, to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.
During 1966 Dr. King's assistant, Andrew Young, visited Israel and Jordan in order to plan a trip to Israel for Dr. King with Israeli government officials. After a few months, in early 1967 the plan to visit the Holy Land was announced by Dr. King at a press conference and reported soon after by national newspapers including The New York Times. The goal of the trip was not political in nature, and the organizers hoped to attract at least 5,000 people to make the pilgrimage to Israel with Dr. King in order to raise money for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The trip was slated for November, but in mid 1967 The 6 Day War broke out and shook the trip planner's confidence. Influential friends of Dr. King were determined to push forward with the trip however, and exploratory visits to Israel were made by Dr. King's aides and advisors in order to assess the situation. When they returned they brought positive news and told Dr. King that people in Israel were buzzing about his visit. Despite the news of positive response to the prospect of his visit, Dr. King held a conference call with his advisors on July 24 1967 in which he expressed great doubt and concern about the ramifications of himself visiting Israel. Dr. King told his confidants on the phone:
Following this phone call he decided to still consider going and did not immediately cancel the trip out of respect for the people who had put time, energy, and money into planning the trip for him. Soon after however he became certain that making the trip would be a bad choice, and in September 1967 Dr. King penned a letter to the president of El Al Airlines (who were to be handling the flight package) Mordechai Ben-Ami, in which he expressed his apologies but stated that he must cancel the trip. King wrote to Ben-Ami:
Listed below are a series of letters released in 2013 by Israel's State Archives that document some of the correspondence between Dr. King and members of the Jewish and Israeli leadership who were instrumental in the quest to bring him to Israel during the 1960's:
Sources: Israel State Archives (2013); I. L. Kenen, Israel's Defense Line, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY: 1981, 266; Seymour Martin Lipset, “The Socialism of Fools—The Left, the Jews and Israel,” Encounter, (December 1969), p. 24; YouTube; Martin Kramer, "Why Martin Luther King never visited Israel", January 13 2013;