Since RFK Jr. announced his intention to run for Democratic presidential nominee, he’s been a target of several smear campaigns, some involving accusations of antisemitism.
RFK Jr.’s reputation as a friend of Jews is not limited to his marriage to Larry David’s co-star Cheryl Hines. His decades-old ties to the Jewish community and support of Israel are indisputable. It’s worth mentioning that his late father, Senator Robert F Kennedy, was assassinated by the Palestinian terrorist Sirhan Sirhan in 1968.
Since RFK Jr. announced his intention to run for Democratic presidential nominee, he’s been a target of several smear campaigns, some involving accusations of antisemitism. The Kennedy scion has been in the public eye all his life, but the charges against him amount to the following.
During the COVID closures, he compared Americans confined to their homes by health bureaucracies to the fate of Ann Frank. Although pandemic restrictions were nothing like the Holocaust, at the time many libertarian-minded Americans used the Holocaust as the example of the ultimate evil to warn about the expanding power of the state. RFK, who later apologized, was wrong to use this analogy.
Then there is guilt by association — his friendship with antisemites Ice Cube, Louis Farrakhan and Roger Wagers raised eyebrows. The Democrat presidential hopeful defended Waters’s bigoted performances, but walked back his words when he learned of musician’s Jew hate and deleted a tweet praising him.
That leaves us with the video from July 15 in which RFK discussed the origin of COVID. Headlines in major media made the charges clear. The New York Times: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Airs Bigoted New Conspiracy Theory about Jews and Chinese. Forbes: Democrats Revolt Against RFK Jr. Over ‘Reprehensible Anti-Semitic And Anti-Asian Comments’. The Atlantic: The Most Shocking Aspect of RFK Jr.’s Antisemitism. Family members condemned the man and the White House chimed in, calling the comments “vile” and “false”. But what did he say?
The full clip, embedded on New York Post under another inflammatory headline, the short monologue described a biological arms race between the US and China (my transcription):
And when you talk about bioweapons… I know a lot now about bioweapons because I’ve read [a lot of books on it] in two and a half years and, you know, technology that we now have to develop these microbes, we’ve put hundreds of millions of dollars into these ethnically targeted microbes. The Chinese have done the same thing. In fact, COVID-19, there is an argument that it’s ethnically targeted. COVID-19 attacks certain races disproportionally. The races that are most immune to COVID-19 are… because of the structure… the genetic structure… genetic differentials among different races of the receptors… of the H2 receptor… COVID-19 is targeted to attack Caucasians and black people. The people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese. And we don’t know whether it was deliberately targeted or not, but there are papers out that show genetic and racial differential of the impact of that. We do know that the Chinese are spending hundreds of millions of dollars developing ethnic bioweapons and that we are developing ethnic bioweapons and all those labs in Ukraine are about collecting Russian DNA. They are collecting Chinese DNA so we can target people by race.
RFK Jr. didn’t argue causality in the original video and certainly didn’t say that Jews are behind the illness. He made an observation that COVID affects ethnic groups unequally and that China is known to be developing of genetically targeted bio weapons. The idea that China might be engineering bioweapons to kill Americans and that COVID might have been such germ is not new. The addition of Ashkenazim, based on the findings of a single study, is. Nevertheless, as Kennedy cited that study explaining his reasoning.
Antisemitic conspiracy theories connected Jews to plagues since at least the time of the Black Death when imaginary Jewish sorcerers were accused of conjuring up the deadly malady. In the case of COVID, some antisemites accused Haredim who refused to abide by pandemic measures of spreading the bug while other Jew-haters looked for Jewish names in public health departments to blame for imposing a one-world government regime. RFK Jr.’s words could be understood as antisemitic if uttered by a person predisposed against Jews, but RFK deserves the benefit of the doubt.
The latest Kennedy to enter politics does dab in conspiracy theories. In his book Conspiracy: The Power of the Paranoid Style in History, Daniel Pipes drew a distinction between conspiracies and conspiracy theories. Conspiracies exist, and they involve all sorts of peoples. For instance, the Bolshevik revolution was a conspiracy — in the midst of the First World War, the German government sent the Marxist exile Vladimir Lenin back to Russia in a sealed train car to stir up some trouble. By contrast, conspiracy theories are often fantastic and frequently involve Jews.
Pipes’s book came out in 1997, when the US was comparatively less paranoid. Lots of trust and goodwill was lost during the COVID closures in particular both because of the physical and intellectuals restrains enacted by the government. At the time, people were kicked off social media for speculating that the virus was developed in the lab in Wuhan. Today, every conspiracy theorists feel redeemed.
In recent years, conspiratorial thinking is replacing serious scholarship, for instance, Project 1619 by Nikole Hannah-Jones of the New York Times won the Pulitzer Prize. Allen C. Guelzo described the unsubstantiated speculation that America was founded to protect slavery as a conspiracy theory. The same corporations and politicians who suppress legitimate stories promote conspiratorial thinking they find expedient. The mixture of secrecy and ignorance is not conducive to a liberal society free from antisemitism.
The Jew hate that’s penetrating American institutions has little to do with RFK Jr. He’s a celebrity running a doomed presidential campaign as a populist maverick. He got attention as a vocal opponent of pandemic closures and remained popular with certain anti-establishment types for his critical views of the Ukraine war and the endorsement of conspiracy theories. I tend to agree with the self-styled politico on both the closures and Ukraine but little else.
The most important aspect of RFK’s notoriety is that he is so out of line with the Democrat Party that the Kennedy family was quick to disown his comments and his politics. His enormous fortune and significant influence notwithstanding, at this point he is more of a one-man operation, not a movement and he doesn’t stand a chance in the tightly controlled democratic primaries.
Yet antisemitism flourishes in Democrat institutions. In recent remarks “Squad” member Representative Pramila Jayapal called Israel a “racist state”. Her comrade Rashida Tlaib called it an “apartheid state” and the AOC, who previously admitted that she’s “not an expert” on Israel voted against the resolution in support of the Jewish state. All three are Berniecrat superstars and it was recently revealed that George and Alexander Soros are maxed out Jayapal donors. The Squad members have long, high profile careers ahead of them.
Discarding friends who’d said something awkward does little to combat antisemitism. Focusing on antisemites embedded in American institutions is a better use of time. And as far as conspiracies go, journalists should be encouraged to peruse legitimate topics of inquiry because when they don’t, there will develop an environment in which conspiracy theories flourish.DONATE
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