Bobby Kennedy and the History of pro-Israel Candidates

We will hear predictions by those who already know that Obama/McCain will certainly be less/more friendly than President Bush. In most cases this is not a prediction - it is political spin

Shmuel Rosner
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Shmuel Rosner

WASHINGTON - Bobby Kennedy was assassinated 40 years ago last week, on the first anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War. Bobby Kennedy was assassinated because he was pro-Israel - so one could gather from a claim made by his Palestinian killer, Sirhan Sirhan, on at least one occasion. This fact has usually been downplayed, mainly because at the time of the murder, in 1968, the Palestinian issue did not top the agenda. But now the assassination is the subject of renewed interest, because of the date, and a modern interpretation - because of the situation. Kennedy, the rewritten history teaches us, was not the final victim of the tumultuous Sixties, but rather the first victim of Arab terrorism.

His pro-Israel stance was hardly a secret. At 22 he toured the Holy Land, and the newspaper columns he dispatched from there to the Boston Post, now extinct, were whipped out this month for republication by Lenny Ben-David, a former diplomat at the Israeli embassy in Washington. Several of Kennedy's bleak forecasts proved accurate: "The United States will never be able to regain the position of ascendancy she previously enjoyed with the Arab world," because it supported the partition of Palestine. But the tone favors the Jews. Kennedy warned against the influence of British policy on American administration officials, who would want "to crush" the Zionist dream. Ten years earlier, when his brother and future president John Kennedy visited Palestine, his reports were less sympathetic.

The administration's attitude toward Israel is largely determined by the political situation. The Kennedy administration was an improvement over the Eisenhower administration, even if Kennedy's early correspondence did not reveal it would necessarily be so, and even if that was not what he had in mind. It is doubtful the philo-Semitic Kennedy would have been better for Israel than the anti-Semitic Nixon - had he not been assassinated and gone on to win that election campaign. It is worth remembering all of this when perusing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's warning about the pressing political clock, because "this administration is especially friendly" and "that won't necessarily be the case with the next administration."

Olmert finds it convenient to argue that it is not his impending collapse that calls for urgency, but rather Bush's departure from the scene. Nevertheless, only two major candidates are running in America - and even the one less good for Israel is not shaping up to be a dangerous enemy to Israel. Not the kind that requires cutting a hasty and stale deal with the Palestinians. In any case, Olmert's hypocrisy is complemented by a parallel hypocrisy: The Israeli right, whose spokesmen openly laud Bush and secretly warn against a president Obama, is now the one prepared to take a risk and wait for the next president. Whoever that may be.

The long election campaign in America will bring many more groundless analyses. Predictions by those who already know that Obama/McCain will be the winner - a convenient bet, relatively speaking, since the odds of getting it right are 50-50. Also predictions by those who already know that Obama/McCain will certainly be less/more friendly than President Bush. In most cases this is not a prediction - it is political spin.

Now, as ever before. When Bobby Kennedy was running for senator in New York, in 1964, the incumbent senator, Kenneth Keating, warned that his Democratic rival - the one presented today as a big lover of Israel - is not a desirable candidate for Israel. A campaign sign for the Republican candidate announced: "Keating, Nasser's Number One Enemy, Israel's Number One Friend." If the voters had believed him, Sirhan Sirhan would have had to look for another victim.

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