Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has apologized for propagating a classic antisemitic trope, telling JNS in an exclusive interview that “it’s clear to me now that I need to be much more careful.”
The veteran conspiracy-monger and outspoken anti-vaxxer — who’s referred to Roger Waters as a “global hero,” equated Covid controls with Nazi policies that forced Anne Frank’s family into hiding, and believes that Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan did not assassinate his father, the late US attorney general and senator from New York Robert F. (Bobby) Kennedy — alleged, during a campaign event last week at Tony’s Di Napoli on East 63rd Street on the Upper East Side, that Covid-19 was formulated to attack Caucasians and Black people and to avoid infecting Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people.
“We don’t know whether it was deliberately targeted at that or not but there are papers out there that show the racial or ethnic differential of impact for that,” he added.
Kennedy’s recorded remarks have been roundly denounced — his sister, Kerry Kennedy, said, “I strongly condemn my brother’s deplorable and untruthful remarks last week about Covid being engineered for ethnic targeting; the Anti-Defamation League said Kennedy’s claim is “deeply offensive and feeds into sinophobic and antisemitic conspiracy theories about COVID-19 that we have seen evolve over the last three years,” and Liora Rez, executive director of StopAntisemitism, said “Robert F. Kennedy Jr. can no longer credibly defend himself against accusations of antisemitism. … We have no words for this man’s lunacy.”
But some right wing Jewish personalities, including JNS Editor-in-Chief Jonathan S. Tobin, have sought to mitigate the damage.
Tobin wrote that “it’s hard to have sympathy for a person … who floats an unsubstantiated theory about Jews and disease that can easily be misconstrued to justify antisemitic conspiracies, [but] it’s also true that the rush to disparage Kennedy in the corporate media is also rooted in an effort to shut down discussion about mistaken government pandemic policies and his skepticism about administration policies about the war in Ukraine.”
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach came to Kennedy’s defense during a video interview with the candidate on Saturday night.
“Bobby Kennedy and I are friends, and I like him,” Rabbi Boteach said, proclaiming him a friend of Israel. Earlier, he tweeted, “I know that in your heart you feel a great closeness to the Jewish people.”
Kennedy told JNS News Editor Menachem Wecker: “My attitude has been, if something is true, we should be able to talk about it, and then we need to be able to talk with each other and process the feeling.”
He tweeted on Saturday: “I do not believe and never implied that the ethnic effect was deliberately engineered.”
“I accurately pointed out — during an off-the-record conversation — that the US and other governments are developing ethnically targeted bioweapons and that a 2021 study of the Covid-19 virus shows that Covid-19 appears to disproportionately affect certain races since the furin cleave docking site [in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein] is most compatible with Blacks and Caucasians and least compatible with ethnic Chinese, Finns, and Ashkenazi Jews,” he wrote.
“I made an accurate statement about an NIH-funded study,” he told JNS. “I regret ever talking about that now because it’s clear that even accurate facts will be distorted and misconstrued in ways that hurt people.”
“The last thing I want to do is be hurtful to people, particularly Jewish people, who have already suffered more than any other race.”
Multiple antisemitic conspiracy theories have suggesting Jews were responsible for the pandemic. A 2020 Oxford University study found that nearly 1 in 5 British respondents believed that Jews created the pandemic.
Here are excerpts from Wecker’s report on his conversation with Kennedy.
Pro-Israel family DNA
“There is nobody in the presidential race who is going to be a stronger champion for Israel than me,” Kennedy told JNS.
“This affection, the affinity relationship with Israel, is part of the DNA of our family,” he said, referencing his father Bobby Kennedy and his uncle, Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, who supported “the sacred alliance between Israel and the United States.” Bobby Kennedy was slain by a Palestinian enraged by his pro-Israel stance (although RFK Jr. says that’s not the case and has, to the upset of his wider family, supported Sirhan’s release from prison).
Ted Kennedy “was the architect of the exodus of oppressed Soviet Jewry to safe havens” in the 1980s and early 1990s, RFK Jr. added.
When RFK Jr., now 69, was a college student, there was “pretty much universally strong support for Israel,” he said, adding that those days are long gone.
What was once “an oasis for justice and rights in the Middle East” is instead seen as an “imperial nation” that oppresses the “indigenous population of Palestinians,” Kennedy said. “There’s very little understanding of the evolution of the Jewish state, of what was happening in Palestine prior to the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate after the empire. The entire history going back thousands of years.”
Kennedy told JNS that he is aware of no other country that has Israel’s military discipline, or what he calls, its “unique moral approach” to warfare.
“My father read us the Bible every night,” Kennedy told JNS. “My favorite parts were always the Old Testament because, of course, those were always much more exciting than the New Testament.”
Kennedy, who is Catholic, sees Christianity as an extension of Jewish scripture. “Jesus never stopped being a Jew, by the way,” he said. “His disciples basically opened up his ideological and religious philosophy to non-Jews. We were raised with the idea that we were kind of little brothers of the Chosen People.”
It is a “prevailing yet erroneous” view that “Israel settled in a place where they didn’t belong,” Kennedy said. “The idea that is just a distortion, a perversion of history.”
When Kennedy discussed Jordan’s role in the region’s history, JNS asked about the so-called “status quo,” which in part maintains that Jews are not allowed to pray on the Temple Mount.
“I don’t think that’s right. I think it’s a huge paradox,” Kennedy said. “Israel is the only place in the Middle East that has actual freedom of religion and freedom of worship. And the only exception to that is a law against Jews praying. It’s a paradox and is wrong.”
Kennedy was emphatic that he is not an antisemite.
“The worst two accusations that anybody can make about you are that you’re an antisemite or a pedophile,” he told JNS. “I don’t think there’s anything worse.”
The most he thinks he can do is to try to maintain his personal integrity, Kennedy told JNS.
“Ultimately, the success of this venture is in God’s hands, and the only thing I have control over is the little piece of real estate inside of my own shoes,” he said. “My biggest objective is to end this process with my integrity intact. My second objective is to get elected president of the United States.”
“I have a very thick skin, and so much of this stuff bounces off of me,” he added. “All I really need is a clear conscience. That’s my consolation.”
“As a practice, I don’t compare anything to the Holocaust,” Kennedy told JNS. “I think you lose arguments if you compare people to Hitler. But I think it’s really important that we are able to talk about these aspects of history.”
Kennedy worries about “the pervasive reach of technology,” particularly artificial intelligence (AI), facial-recognition programs, GPS and listening devices, which he sees as “turnkey totalitarianism.”
“It is very important for the population to be educated enough to recognize all the milestones of tyranny,” he said. “It’s important to be able to say, ‘What he’s doing is the same technique that was used by the Third Reich.’ Or that was used by [Joseph] Goebbels or [Hermann] Göring, and I think it’s really important to understand the history, to have a thorough knowledge of history and to be able to make those comparisons, so that we can steer clear of that kind of future.”
Roger Waters, Louis Farrakhan
Kennedy hadn’t met Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters when he publicly expressed support for the musician. He told JNS he had no idea that Waters had made anti-Israel statements. All he knew was that people would send him pictures they snapped at Waters’s concerts, during which the singer displayed Kennedy’s photo on stage.
What he did know was that Waters was an active critic of Covid protocols, as he is.
“I posted a thank you for his courage, but I was talking about the Covid. As soon as someone alerted me about his opinions about Israel, I took it down,” he said.
In 2014, Kennedy penned a book about mercury in vaccines. He wrote that multi-dose flu shots, which were largely distributed to minorities, had large amounts of mercury, while single-dose ones, which were made available to more wealthy people, were safer.
Someone in the Nation of Islam, who read the book, asked him to give a talk to leaders of the movement. “I said, ‘Yes I will.’ They have 400,000 followers. I wanted to protect the children, so I went to Chicago and I gave that talk,” Kennedy told JNS.
“I’ve never endorsed anything that Louis Farrakhan has said. I’m an opponent of his,” he said.
Kennedy had partnered for years with a Nation of Islam minister named Tony Muhammad, whom he called a close friend and who was known for brokering peace between the Crips and the Bloods. Kennedy made a documentary with him about “medical apartheid,” he told JNS.
Then an Israel woman, who was a former member of the Israel Defense Forces Kennedy hired to run a program on “radio frequency traditions of cell phones and cell towers” alerted him to Farrakhan’s positions on Israel and Jews.
Kennedy told Muhammad, “Listen, Tony. I love you, but I cannot be your friend unless you publicly disavow those views,” he told JNS. “He said, ‘I understand. I cannot do that.’ That was the end of our friendship. I’ve never seen him since. That was not something I did publicly. It was very painful for me. But at the same time, I feel strongly about it and it was something I felt I had to do.”
Criticism of Israel
“I don’t think that anybody should be called antisemitic because they criticize Israel. That’s not antisemitic,” Kennedy told JNS. “What’s antisemitic is if you’re holding Israel to a standard that you don’t hold other nations to.”
“Israel is the most democratic nation in the Middle East. It’s the only nation that has freedom of religion. It’s the only nation where it’s safe to be gay, where it’s safe to be a woman,” he added.
“If you’re going to single out Israel, you’ve got to do it in a way that’s not a double standard,” he said. “And if you’re applying a double standard, then you have to explain why that’s not antisemitic.”