Five Decades After Robert F. Kennedy Was Assassinated, His Legacy Is Attacked… By Democrats
It’s possible to assassinate a great man twice — once while he lives, once when what he stood for is trampled upon. Fifty-one years ago today, in Los Angeles, hours after he won the California presidential primary, Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated by Sirhan Sirhan, a Jerusalem-born Christian Arab who had three motivations: hatred of Israel, hatred of Jews, and hatred of Senator Kennedy, who was a good friend of both.
In what seemed like an attempt to destroy a piece of RFK’s legacy 51 years after his death, the California Democratic Party’s State Convention Resolutions Committee considered six vicious resolutions that were overtly anti-Israel and some antisemitic. It rejected them only after a protracted, headline-grabbing debate.
One resolution accused Israel of genocidal “settler colonialism.” Another urged California’s elected officials not to visit Israel unless they spent equal time visiting “Palestinian villages.” A third demanded the Palestinian “right of return” to Israel, which would be a death warrant for the Jewish state. Two more urged return of the Golan Heights to war criminal and mass-murderer Bashar Assad. The last resolution brazenly linked Israel with the murder of 11 Jewish worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue last October. Jewish state legislator David Mandel alleged that the “Israeli government, along with some of its US backers … welcomed support from Christian fundamentalist and ultra-right groups in the United States and abroad, dangerously ignoring their deeply rooted antisemitism while aligning with their virulent Islamophobia.”
The moving force behind this sickening verbiage was the Arab American Caucus of the California Democratic Party, whose chairman Iyad Afalqa a few months ago demonized Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Facebook, labeling him a “shmuck,” a “traitor,” and a member of the “fascist Israel lobby.” Mandel said the set of resolutions were a “team effort,” praising colleagues Chris Yatooma, Kari Khoury, Yassar Dahbour, Murad Sarama, and Afalqa.
Mandel’s resolutions parallel other overtly antisemitic and anti-Israel actions by Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. What better way to slander the multi-ethnic Jewish state than to compare it with Apartheid South Africa and accuse American Jewish leaders of aligning themselves with American “white supremacy.” No greater libel can be imagined in the wake of the Pittsburgh and Poway synagogue murders.
Only those with long memories will recall how today’s atrocious libels recall those invoked in 1968 to justify Senator Kennedy’s murder. Sirhan’s zealous defender, M.T. Mehdi, secretary-general of the Action Committee on American-Arab Relations, insisted the assassin had acted in “justifiable self-defense,” because “Sirhan was defending himself against those 50 Phantom jets Kennedy was sending to Israel.”
It may be hard to believe, given what RFK and the Democratic party once stood for, but according to a new Pew poll only a third of self-identified “liberal Democrats” today sympathize with Israel more than the Palestinians.
This time, against the backdrop of furious protests from the Jewish community, the California Democratic Party watered down four of the anti-Israel resolutions and two were withdrawn. This caused Mandel and his allies to withdraw their sponsorship of the substitute resolutions, implying that they had been victimized by some sort of “plot.”
Andrew Lachman, president of Los Angeles Democrats for Israel, thanked Mandel for having “made some valid points,” even while cautioning: “We don’t stand for the right of return without a peace agreement. We want to see the people of Gaza provided with security and solve the humanitarian crisis, but part of that has to do with dealing with Hamas, not just Israel.”
While Lachman must choose his words carefully, it’s extremely troubling that California’s Democrats could not muster a single stand-alone pro-Israel resolution. This failure leaves many pro-Israel Jewish Democrats again wondering whether there’s any room for the legacy of the likes of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luthor King in their party, or indeed for themselves.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Historian Harold Brackman is a long-time consultant for the Center.