April 20, 2024

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Wins Standing Ovation from Jewish Audience in New York

Democratic presidential contender Robert F. Kennedy addressed a packed venue in New York City on Tuesday evening, affirming his support for the Jewish community against antisemitism, and for the State of Israel.

Kennedy spoke in conversation with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach of the World Values Network, who had to move the event to the Glass House after the New York Society for Ethical Culture (NYSEC) canceled its participation.

The event was scheduled before a controversy in which Kennedy made comments about the coronavirus that critics construed as antisemitic, though he was not disparaging Jews and was referring to a scientific study.

He said he had received support throughout the ordeal from Jewish friends who knew he was no antisemite. Kennedy said that comedian Larry David, who works with his wife, Cheryl Hines, had joked to him: “You’re the last person in the world who should be called an antisemite, but if you use the word ‘Jew,’ you’re dead.”

Boteach asked Kennedy about that episode, and about the fact that Kennedy had once met with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Kennedy noted that the context had been his work on environmental toxins affecting children in the black community. He added that he had also met with Sirhan Sirhan, the Palestinian radical who had assassinated his father. “Everybody, ultimately, is redeemable, and we need to heal divisions,” he said.

Challenged by Boteach about the need to challenge Farrakhan’s antisemitic rhetoric, such as calling Jews “termite[s],” Kennedy told Boteach that he had raised his objections to Farrakhan’s rhetoric, albeit in private.

Kennedy went on to describe his support for Israel. He said there was a moral case for Israel, and that the county stood as a beacon for human rights. It was, he noted, the only country in the Middle East that granted complete freedom of religion to all faiths, and it was the freest country in the region even for Palestinian Arabs.

He brought up the recent Israeli military mission in the Palestinian town of Jenin in northern Samaria (the West Bank), in which Israel risked the lives of its own soldiers to confront terrorists, rather than bombing the area, as most other countries would have done. He also criticized the Palestinians’ “pay to slay” policy, under which the Palestinian Authority provides stipends to Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons, and provides post-death benefits to their families.

Kennedy then recounted the history of Israel in stark terms, noting that the term “Palestine” was imposed by the Roman empire. In the 20th century, he added, four-fifths of the original mandate of Palestine was assigned to Arab residents of the region, and only the western fifth was allocated for a Jewish state. In the decades that followed, Israel had given up more and more territory in an effort to achieve peace with its neighbors.

“Again and again the Israelis have negotiated with the Palestinians … again and again, the Israelis have offered to make giant concessions, and give back all the land [conquered in 1967], if there would be peace. And every time the Palestinians have refused. … And that brings us to where we are today. Young Palestinians are being taught to murder Jews.” He added that the current narrative within the Democratic Party was “not accurate.”

He drew applause when he noted that judging Israel by a different set of standards — one never applied to nations with far worse human rights records — was the definition of antisemitism.

Boteach praised Kennedy: “If you are an antisemitism, then I’m funnier than Larry David. If you’re an antisemite, then I’m People magazine’s ‘sexiest man alive” … I don’t think I have ever heard a major American political figure express so kaleidoscopically support for Israel, in the historical context, as what we just heard. That was unprecedented.”

Boteach called on Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), who had tried to censor Kennedy in a hearing at the U.S. House last week; as well as on his own congressman, Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ), who had slammed Kennedy as a “disgrace to the Kennedy family name,” to “repeat, endorse, or place on your own social media” what Kennedy had just said about standing up for Israel, or else to apologize for smearing him as an antisemite.

Asked whether he would ever sign a nuclear deal with Iran, Kennedy said that the regime would have to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons, and it would have to stop funding its terrorist proxies, before reaching a deal.

Boteach concluded by noting that Kennedy had kept a commitment to become a champion for Israel’s cause.

“Any American Jews who have slandered you this week, I’m asking them to do the right thing, and apologize.”

The event was well attended, despite the late cancelation of the original venue. Rabbi Boteach led several religious attendees in the traditional Jewish afternoon and evening prayers before the event officially started.

One question from the audience was on the topic of transgender treatments for children. Kennedy said he was opposed to such treatments, but also said transgender individuals should be defended and “never be shamed.”

Asked whether he could overcome the Democratic Party establishment and the “superdelegate” system, which  the party uses to block insurgency, Kennedy said that he saw multiple paths to victory. “I think more and more Democrats are going to support me,” he said, noting he expected to do well in some early primaries. He added, to laughter: “When Moses started out for the Red Sea, he didn’t know exactly how he was going to cross it.”

Boteach added that he intended to sue NYSEC for canceling the original event, noting with irony that the new Oppenheimer movie, about NYSEC graduate J. Robert Oppenheimer, was largely about how he had been censored and marginalized after leading the development of the atomic bomb for the U.S. in World War II.

The rabbi was booed when praising the coronavirus vaccine, but noted that Kennedy had not booed, even though he knew that Kennedy disagreed with his position. He pointed to that as an example of civility to follow.

A small group of anti-Israel protesters stood outside the venue, and the event was interrupted by a heckler, but the reception was otherwise warm, with Kennedy winning frequent applause and several standing ovations.

Earlier in the day, Kennedy visited the Ohel, the gravesite of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who met with Kennedy’s father when he was running for Senate in 1964. Kennedy Sr. was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan in 1968.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. His recent book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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