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RFK Jr. on the people to blame for COVID: ‘We know who they were and they weren’t Jewish’

(JTA) — Speaking at an event geared toward Jewish voters on Tuesday night, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., said, “The charge of antisemitism is one that cuts me.”

Kennedy, the anti-vaccine conspiracy theorist and Democratic presidential candidate, was responding to mounting backlash against his claim that COVID-19 was “ethnically targeted” to avoid Jews and Chinese people. That remark, made without evidence at a campaign event earlier this month on the Upper East Side, led to criticism from a range of figures including Jewish leaders and Democrats in Congress. He has denied that it was antisemitic.

At the Tuesday event, Kennedy got a chance to defend his record on the Jews, courtesy of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the author and former Republican congressional candidate. 

The appearance on the Upper West Side drew hundreds of attendees, including Kennedy supporters, the Kennedy-curious and a smattering of hecklers. Boteach referred to Kennedy as a “trusted ally and friend” and offered him a platform to expound on Israel and antisemitism.

“I don’t believe they believe that I’m an antisemite,” Kennedy said about his critics. “I’ve literally never said an antisemitic word in my life. I believe that they probably think what they were doing was right, in one way or another. And I think we all have this capacity, or self-delusion, to judge ourselves on our intentions rather than our actions.”

But Kennedy also expanded on the “ethnically targeted” claim: “It would not have been engineered by Jews in any case,” he said. Referring to the people he believes are culpable for COVID’s spread, he added, “We know who they were and they weren’t Jewish.”

(There is no evidence that any ethnic groups are less vulnerable to COVID, which has killed nearly 7 million people worldwide.)

This is not the first time Kennedy has been accused of using anti-Jewish rhetoric to advance his baseless claims about medical issues. He has previously apologized for using the word “holocaust” to describe legislation mandating vaccines for children and, last year, for invoking Anne Frank at an anti-vaccine rally. He has also walked back praise of Roger Waters, the former Pink Floyd frontman and vehement critic of Israel who has been widely slammed for using Holocaust imagery during his concerts.

Kennedy, 69, said on Tuesday that he was friends with Holocaust survivors and their descendants. 

“I understand the pain of antisemitism to those people, and I do not want to contribute to that thing,” he said. At another point, he said, “I’m aware of the history of blood libels and how that kind of information is used by malicious people to drum up hatred of Jews.”

Kennedy’s statements almost prevented the event from taking place. On Monday, Boteach announced on social media that the venue that was originally slated to host the event, the New York Society for Ethical Culture, had backed out. In a statement to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, that venue said hosting Kennedy would be “inconsistent with the longstanding principles and values of the Society.” The statement did not detail its objections. 

But Boteach found an alternate space for the conversation, where he defended Kennedy from the accusations. He presented the conversation as the first in a series of events with presidential candidates put on by his organization, the World Values Network. The event was originally billed as “The Case for Israel,” a tagline that was later changed to “Fighting Antisemitism. Championing Israel.”

At another point, Boteach said two prominent Jewish Democrats, Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida and Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, “owe Bobby Kennedy an apology for calling him antisemitic and saying he’s an embarrassment to the Kennedy name.”

Gottheimer had called Kennedy “a disgrace to the Kennedy name and the Democratic Party.” Wasserman Schultz was one of the lawmakers who initiated a letter by 102 Democrats last week calling for Kennedy to be disinvited from testifying to Congress. Gottheimer also called for the invitation to be revoked.

“If you’re an antisemite, then I am funnier than Larry David,” Boteach told Kennedy, sparking some polite laughter from the crowd. 

A disruptor is escorted out of an event with presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. on July 25, 2023. (Jackie Hajdenberg)

Boteach and Kennedy also spoke extensively about Israel. Throughout their conversation, Boteach referred to the legacy of Kennedy’s father, former Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, who was assassinated during his 1968 presidential campaign by Sirhan Sirhan. Sirhan, a Palestinian, has expressed anger over the elder Kennedy’s support for Israel during the 1967 Six Day War. 

But the younger Kennedy has cast doubt on Sirhan’s guilt, visiting him in prison in 2018 and telling the Washington Post that “the wrong person might have been convicted of killing my father.”

(At one point, a woman from the crowd backed that idea, declaring that Sirhan was not the assassin. She was escorted out of the room by security, as were two more people who interrupted the event, including one Kennedy supporter.)

Boteach has praised Kennedy’s opposition to President Joe Biden’s attempts to rejoin the agreement curbing Iran’s nuclear program. They also discussed Israel’s widely reported possession of nuclear weapons, something the Israeli government, as a longstanding policy, has aimed to keep shrouded in ambiguity. 

Kennedy referred to Israel’s nuclear capabilities as a matter of fact, itself a highly unusual acknowledgement by a presidential candidate. “Israel’s use of that nuclear weapon is not going to happen unless it’s attacked,” he said. 

On Iran, COVID and a range of other issues, Kennedy’s declared policies are out of step with the Democratic Party’s mainstream. His long-shot campaign, meanwhile, has garnered praise from a number of figures on the right. Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, has reportedly advised him on Israel issues, and the ZOA recently praised what it called Kennedy’s “strong support for Israel.”

But on at least one topic, Kennedy’s views accord with Biden’s: opposition to the right-wing Israeli government’s judicial overhaul, which has aimed to sap the Supreme Court of its power and independence. The first piece of the overhaul was enacted this week amid protest.

“I’m very proud of the Israeli Supreme Court,” Kennedy said. “I don’t want to see it dismantled. I think it is a source of pride.”

The post RFK Jr. on the people to blame for COVID: ‘We know who they were and they weren’t Jewish’ appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Israel, US Blast ‘Outrageous’ ICC Request for Netanyahu’s Arrest

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Jerusalem, Feb. 18, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday issued blistering condemnations of the International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor’s demand for arrest warrants for the Israeli premier, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Hamas terror chief Yahye Sinwar.

Biden said the move by Karim Khan was “outrageous” and “shameful,” adding, “Let me be clear: Whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas. We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken added that the US “fundamentally rejects the announcement.”

In a video message, Netanyahu called the warrant application “absurd and false” and said it “was not directed only against the prime minister of Israel and the defense minister, but against the entire State of Israel and against the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers, who are fighting with otherworldly heroism against the depraved Hamas murderers who attacked us with savage butchery on the seventh of October.”

Addressing the chief prosecutor, Netanyahu continued: “With what chutzpah do you dare compare the monsters of Hamas to the soldiers of the IDF, the most moral army in the world? With what audacity do you compare between Hamas that murdered, burned, butchered, raped, and kidnapped our brothers and sisters, and the IDF soldiers who are fighting a just war that is incomparable, with a morality that is unmatched?”

In addition to Sinwar, the request also called for the arrests of Hamas’ political leader in Qatar, Ismail Haniyeh, and the Palestinian terror group’s military head, Mohammed Deif, on charges of war crimes.

Blinken called the prosecutor’s equivalence of Israel with Hamas “shameful.”

“Hamas is a brutal terrorist organization that carried out the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and is still holding dozens of innocent people hostage, including Americans,” Blinken said.

He emphasized that the ICC had “no jurisdiction” over the war, and noted that both Israel and the US are not parties of the Rome Statute, the international treaty that established the court. The top US diplomat also called into question “deeply troubling processes” by Khan, who was supposed to send a team to Israel on Monday to coordinate his own visit next week.

“Israel was informed that they did not board their flight around the same time that the prosecutor went on cable television to announce the charges. These and other circumstances call into question the legitimacy and credibility of this investigation,” Blinken said.

An unprecedented majority in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset — 106 out of 120 MKs — signed a petition on Monday afternoon against what they said was an “unerasable historical crime.”

“The scandalous comparison by the Hague prosecutor between Israel’s leaders and the heads of terror organizations is an unerasable historical crime and a clear expression of antisemitism,” the petition read. “We reject this with revulsion. Eighty years after the Holocaust, no one will prevent the Jewish state from defending itself.”

Israel will likely lobby the US Congress to pursue sanctions against the ICC. Several Republican senators last month warned against issuing warrants, saying they would push for sanctions against Khan including barring entry to the US.

One of them, US Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), said on Monday he will “feverishly work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle in both chambers to levy damning sanctions against the ICC,” adding that “Prosecutor Khan is drunk with self-importance and has done a lot of damage to the peace process and to the ability to find a way forward.”

Former US national security adviser John Bolton also called for the US to impose sanctions on the ICC, saying the Hague court had proved its “fundamental illegitimacy.”

“To aid our ally Israel, the US should take steps both in Congress and in the White House to condemn the ICC and impose sanctions,” he wrote on X/Twitter.

The ICC action also received strong criticism in Europe.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala called Khan’s decision “appalling and completely unacceptable.”

“We must not forget that it was Hamas that attacked Israel in October and killed, injured, and kidnapped thousands of innocent people,” he wrote on X. “It was this completely unprovoked terrorist attack that led to the current war in Gaza and the suffering of civilians in Gaza, Israel and Lebanon.”

Other European leaders, however, supported the ICC move.

“Crimes committed in Gaza must be prosecuted at the highest level, regardless of the perpetrators,” Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib wrote. “The fight against impunity wherever crimes occur is a priority for Belgium.”

The call for arrest warrants “is an important step in the investigation of the situation in Palestine,” she added.

The post Israel, US Blast ‘Outrageous’ ICC Request for Netanyahu’s Arrest first appeared on

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Republican Jewish Coalition Unveils $50,000 Ad Buy to Woo Jewish Voters Ahead of 2024 Presidential Election

US President Joe Biden speaks at a Detroit Branch NAACP annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner in Detroit, Michigan, US, May 19, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) will purchase $50,000 worth of digital ads in key battleground states with the purpose of targeting Jewish voters ahead of the 2024 US presidential election, according to a statement released by the group on Monday.

The RJC, an organization that seeks to build support for the Republican Party among Jewish voters, claimed it would release new ads underlining what it described as the deteriorating relationship between Israel and the United States during the Biden administration. The ads suggest that US President Joe Biden has undermined Israel’s military campaign in Gaza against Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that launched the ongoing war with its Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.

As antisemitism spikes to record highs and America’s relationship with our ally Israel continues to reach new lows, the Jewish community is more energized than ever to turn the page from the failures, broken promises, and betrayals by Joe Biden,” RNC chair Norm Coleman and CEO Matt Brooks said in a statement.

The two ads will be deployed in states considered critical in the 2024 presidential election: Pennsylvania, Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Michigan. Both ads swipe at Biden over his decision to pause offensive arm shipments to Israel and suggest the president has “stabbed Israel in the back.” They also accuse Biden of not being “strong” enough to guarantee Israel’s security and urge voters to support Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president.

“Biden is siding with Hamas, Iran, and Hezbollah over Israel at the most crucial time, a blunder of historic proportions that will lead to more death and destruction,” one of the ads says. 

Biden expressed strong support for Israel following the Oct. 7 onslaught, and since then the US has sent significant amounts of munitions to the Jewish state for its war effort against Hamas. In recent weeks, however, he has adopted a much more critical posture toward Jerusalem, culminating with his decision earlier this month to withhold sending certain weapons to Israel due to disagreements over Israeli military operations in Gaza.

In the months following Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attacks on Israel, Republican politicians have attempted to capitalize on the growing tension between Democrats and Jewish voters. On May 9, Trump lambasted Jewish supporters of Biden.

“If you’re Jewish, and you vote for him, I say shame on you,” Trump said. 

Ammiel Hirsch, a rabbi of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week warning Democrats not to take Jewish voters for granted. 

“American Jews increasingly feel politically homeless. Liberal Jewish voters consider President Biden a longtime friend. At the same time, they are troubled by the growing influence of anti-Israel forces in the Democratic Party,” Hirsch wrote.

In his final statement before passing away earlier this year, former US Senator and Democratic Party vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman similarly warned Democrats and Biden about the political danger of turning against Israel.

“We are here to say that you can no longer simply count on our vote just because Jews traditionally have voted Democratic. We are here to say you must earn our vote,” the joint statement read. “We want to continue to support Democratic candidates, but you need to know that if you abandon Israel in order to garner the support of anti-Israel extremists within the Democratic Party, it will be difficult for us to support Democrats who are on the ballot this November.”

Lieberman, an ardent supporter of Israel, was the first Jewish candidate on a major party presidential ticket in the US.

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Pro-Hamas Encampment at Drexel University Pushes School Into Lockdown

“Gaza Solidarity Encampment” at Drexel University. Photo: X/Twitter

A “Gaza Solidarity Encampment” was erected suddenly at Drexel University in Philadelphia over the weekend, forcing school officials to lock down the campus to protect it from a flood of non-students who joined the demonstration.

“This demonstration has already proved intolerably disruptive to normal university operations and has raised serious concerns about the conduct of some participants, including distressing reports and images of protesters subjecting passersby to antisemitic speech, signs, and chants,” Drexel University president John Fry said on Sunday in a letter to the campus community. “These kinds of hateful and intimidating acts must be condemned, and they cannot and will not be tolerated.”

Fry added that “it has become increasingly apparent that most of the encampment participants are outside individuals who are unaffiliated with Drexel.”

The group responsible for the demonstration, Drexel Palestine Coalition (DPC), is demanding that the school adopt the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and “terminate” its Hillel and Chabad chapters.

“These organizations must be replaced by non-Zionist Jewish ones that in no way support the ongoing genocide, occupation, or apartheid in Palestine,” DPC said in a statement posted on social media.

DPC also wants the university’s police force to be abolished, amnesty granted to any protester charged with violating school rules, and a “60 percent” reduction in Fry’s salary, the savings of which would be invested “into local community efforts such as affordable housing, co-ops, land trusts — specifically towards Black Bottom residents — and the rebuilding of Palestinian institutions such as hospitals and universities.”

Footage of the demonstration shows some aggressive behavior, including the protesters’ dismantling police barricades. According to the latest reports, there have been no arrests.

“Hillel continues to be grateful to have partners on campus who believe that a university experience should be filled with opportunities to engage thoroughly and thoughtfully around issues where there is both deep investment and deep disagreement while recognizing that a prerequisite for any such conversation is a demonstrated commitment to the safety, well being, and shared sense of belonging of all of the students, faculty, and staff who call our university home,” Drexel Hillel said on Sunday in a statement issued about the encampment.

The protesters’ demands are not the first assault on Jewish organizations at Drexel University this academic year.

Last month, the Raymond G. Perelman Center for Jewish Life was vandalized, with the culprits removing large channel letters spelling out Perelman’s name from a brick structure near the entrance to the building. The disturbing act, which occurred amid an explosion of antisemitic hate crimes across the US, was filmed by surveillance cameras, but the persons responsible cannot yet be identified because they wore masks.

“It bears repeating that vandalizing centers of Jewish life and learning, defacing property with antisemitic graffiti, or ripping mezuzot off doorposts in residence halls does not constitute any legitimate form of protests,” Fry said at the time. “Such acts are antisemitic in their intent to disrupt Jewish life and intimidate our Jewish communities, and have no place at Drexel or in our democratic society.”

Drexel University joins the list of over 100 schools where anti-Zionists have taken over sections of campus and refused to leave unless school administrators agree to condemn and boycott Israel. Other demonstrations timed to coincide with the end of the academic year petered out earlier this month, but at Drexel, which uses the quarter system, classes do not end until June 8. Because of this, the encampment there could last as many as three weeks.

In the interim, the school remains locked down, and on Monday, Fry ordered that all classes be conducted virtually.

“We will continue to provide updates regarding this situation or any changes to the university’s operations,” Fry said in Sunday’s letter. “I ask for everyone’s patience and understanding as we work toward ensuring that our campus can soon return to normal.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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