Photo Credit: Twitter
Robert Kennedy, Jr. and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach at the event.

Embattled Democratic presidential candidate Robert Kennedy, Jr. spoke Tuesday night in Manhattan at a wild event that included the declaration of a lawsuit, an ejection of shouting protestors, a disagreement over an assassin, and jeers for a famous American rabbi praising a child of Holocaust survivors who is the CEO of Pfizer.

The event was sponsored by the World Values Network, founded by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, and was held at The Glasshouse after a previous venue was canceled by the New York Society for Ethical Culture. Boteach plans to sue the organization for canceling at the last minute without explanation.


Criticism of Kennedy arose from remarks he had made concerning the origins of Covid-19. An article by Jon Levine of The New York Post earlier this month included a video that showed Kennedy talking about bioweapons and saying, “In fact, Covid 19, there’s an argument that it is ethnically targeted. Covid 19 attacks certain races disproportionately…. Covid-19 is targeted to attack Caucasian and Black people.… The people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese. But we don’t know whether it was deliberately targeted or not but there are papers at there that show the racial and ethnic differential.”

Kennedy has claimed that the basis for this was a National Institute of Health-funded study done by the Cleveland Clinic. That study does mention Ashkenazi Jews but nothing about engineering. The Anti-Defamation League released a statement claiming the remark “feeds into Sinophobic and antisemitic conspiracy theories about Covid-19 that they [we have seen] evolve over the last three years.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean Pierre called his remarks “false” and “vile.”

Dr. Aaron Glatt, an infectious disease specialist and Orthodox rabbi, has been a key figure in advising and giving lectures for the Jewish world since the pandemic began and the most difficult of questions had to be answered.

“While it is certainly true that genetic factors play a role in how people will respond to both infectious and noninfectious illness, there is clearly no evidence that this virus was engineered with intent to harm humanity but to somehow save Ashkenazi Jews,” Glatt wrote to The Jewish Press via e-mail. “Spreading such non-scientific nonsense sends a virulent antisemitic message. Indeed, and most tragically, the Ashkenazi Jewish population was tremendously impacted by this virus, with tremendous loss of life.”

Kennedy was also condemned by two of his sisters as well as other family members as well as Jewish New Jersey Democratic Congressman Josh Gottheimer, who on Twitter called Kennedy “a disgrace to the Kennedy name and the Democratic Party. For the record, my whole family, who is Jewish, got Covid.”

Kennedy, who has been grilled by Democratic members of Congress over his remarks, told the crowd he took the situation to heart.

“The charge of antisemitism is one that cuts me,” Kennedy told the crowd, adding that he’s never said an antisemitic word in his life and has friends who are Holocaust survivors. “…I don’t want people whose lives have been touched by suffering to suspect that I in some way approve or endorse their suffering and that’s why it hurts me.”

The candidate conceded that he “should have been more careful about what I said. Because I know that anything that I say is going to be used, distorted and it’s going to be weaponized against me.”

Boteach elevated his voice like an angry preacher saying that whether Kennedy’s comments were wise or required more reflection, the situation had gone too far.

“The idea that members of my community began to libel and slander him as an antisemite after a single comment when this man at 14 was the pallbearer of his own father who died, murdered by a Palestinian terrorist!” he said. “…The idea that he was then falsely accused of being an antisemite by a community that is truly under siege – and that dare not cry wolf – because there are consequences when we falsely call people antisemites.”

Boteach recalled the night in 1968 when Robert F. Kennedy, Sr. “was gunned down by a Palestinian domestic terrorist, Sirhan Sirhan, and murdered because of his support for Israel.”

In a surreal moment, a woman stood up and said, “Excuse me, sir, why are you lying? Sirhan Sirhan is not the murderer.”

Many who booed her were likely unaware that Kennedy has stated he believes that although Sirhan shot at his father, the actual murderer was a security guard, Thane Eugene Cesar. Kennedy acknowledged at the event that Sirhan “was involved one way or another.” He has argued for Sirhan’s release from jail.

Kennedy also said that there is a narrative being taught at colleges and by some in the Democratic Party that Israel is an occupier and an apartheid state. He pledged it would be something he would speak against in his candidacy. He said Israel’s army does a great job to limit civilian casualties while the Palestinian Authority has a “pay for slay” policy where if someone kills any Jew, “you are going to get rewarded with pay for life.”

Boteach criticized Congressman Gottheimer, saying, “What [he] did not reveal at the time – that he had voted for (Minnesota Democratic Congresswoman) Ilhan Omar to remain on the House Foreign Relations Committee. And sadly, Ilhan Omar is a real antisemite, not because of things that she says… She wouldn’t even go to the speech by the president of Israel five days ago, who’s a left-of-center politician… She just hates Israel. She says Jews love their Benjamins, their money…”

At that point, a large man in the crowd said: “She never said that. Stop lying, (expletive).”

Omar tweeted support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins” in 2019.

Kennedy told Boteach he would only consider a deal with Iran if it pledged not to build a nuclear bomb and stopped funding the killing of Jews.

Asked about his controversial meeting with Rev. Louis Farrakhan, (who has called Jews termites) he said it was a tough decision but believes one has to talk to people even if you share different values and said he privately criticized Farrakhan for antisemitic views. He said he believes “everybody is redeemable.”

Speaking with Boteach, Kennedy said of Covid-19, that “it was not engineered by Jews, in any case.”

Kennedy took questions from the audience. One woman claimed Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was intentionally killed by an Israeli soldier and asked Kennedy if the U.S. should be able to adjudicate the case. Boteach said Israel has said she was likely killed by a stray bullet, and Abu Akleh had reported for years without incident. Kennedy said he did not know enough about the case to make a judgment.

A young man asked why other Middle Eastern countries shouldn’t be able to have a nuclear weapon, since Israel does.

“Israel’s use of a nuclear weapon is not gonna happen unless it’s attacked,” Kennedy said.

He acknowledged the emotional pain of the assassinations of his father and uncle, the suicide of his previous wife, Mary Richardson, in 2012, and the fatal plane crash of his cousin, John F. Kennedy, Jr.

He said the tragedies have motivated him to try to help others.

He pointed to the differences between Israeli and Palestinian practices. “A Palestinian who wants to criticize his government had better do it in Israel. If he does that in [Palestinian-controlled areas] he will be tortured, killed, arrested,” he said.

Kennedy said the policy of [the U.S.] not talking to Russian president Vladimir Putin for more than a year, did not seem to be a fruitful one.

Kennedy had a few flubs, twice referring to hijabs as “habibs” and calling Chechnya, “CheChenya.” At one point, he appeared to say the Golan Heights was given back to Syria.

In January 2022, Kennedy said that “even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland. You could hide in an attic like Anne Frank did.” In 2015 he apologized for referring to giving children he believes hurt by vaccines as a Holocaust.

Boteach was booed when he said he’d once honored Pfizer CEO Alfred Bourla, a child of Holocaust survivors. Boteach said earlier that he took four vaccinations.

At another point, Boteach said to Kennedy: “If you’re an antisemite, then I really should just eat my yarmulka right now.”

Boteach challenged Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to apologize or make a pro-Israel statement similar to Kennedy’s. She had asked during a congressional hearing for Kennedy’s congressional invite to be revoked. In one exchange, Schultz asked, “Are you aware that for centuries Jews have been scapegoated and blamed for causing illnesses like Black Plague and more recently, Covid?”

“I am, those are known as blood libel,” he responded.

Aron Fridman, a 22-year-old chassidic man from Monroe, New York, said he is starting a podcast called Politidoxy and came to the event because he closely monitors politics.

He asked Kennedy a question about how he planned to get superdelegates and Kennedy said he will have to see how things play out.

Fridman said he believes critics of Kennedy are wrong.

“I don’t think what he said is antisemitic,” Fridman told The Jewish Press. “In the worst case, if we pretend what he said is antisemitic, that doesn’t make you an antisemite. People could say stuff that’s off the cuff or politically incorrect. Only a continuous behavior of saying antisemitic things makes you an antisemite. The way people hop on it and say it must be antisemitic leads me to believe the hype is a sabotage campaign by the establishment and people who hate him. He’s been very friendly with Jews in his whole career. To call him an antisemite is utterly preposterous.”


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Alan has written for many papers, including The Jewish Week, The Journal News, The New York Post, Tablet and others.