What killed Bobby Kennedy?

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Credit: Tristan fan, via Shutterstock

Credit: Tristan fan, via Shutterstock

On his forty-eighth yahrzeit (anniversary of his death), let us (again, or for the first time) remember why Senator Robert F. Kennedy died.

Bobby Kennedy was the first American victim of modern Arab terrorism.

Kennedy was assassinated in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shortly after midnight on June 5, 1968 — 48 years ago yesterday. It was in the wake of his victory in the California presidential primary.

Kennedy’s assassin was a Palestinian resident of Silwan in East Jerusalem, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan.

Historical note: Silwan is also called “the city of David.” It is, in fact, one of the oldest areas of Jerusalem.

Sirhan chose to kill Kennedy on that exact date because it coincided with the first anniversary of Israel’s stunning victory during the Six-Day War.

Sirhan hated Kennedy because he had supported Israel; in fact, that was exactly what Sirhan said when he testified at his own trial. He remains in prison, serving a life sentence for the murder.

Why is it important that we remember this barely-remembered historical tidbit about the death of Kennedy?

Because one man’s hatred of Israel utterly re-directed American political life and the story of the presidency.

Kennedy’s assassination eliminated the one Democratic candidate who arguably could have unified the party — a party that is still, or again, in desperate need of unification — and invigorated it with a new sense of vision.

Kennedy’s assassination led to the nomination of Hubert Humphrey and, to our lasting chagrin, ultimately to the victory of Richard Nixon.

In remembering Bobby Kennedy, let us remember not just what he lived for, but also what he died for — namely, the precious nature of the American-Israeli relationship.

Many Americans sense that Israel’s enemies and the enemies of the United States are one and the same.

Many Americans also recognize that Israel and the United States are among the only countries in the world today that were founded on ideas. Both countries share fundamental values — democracy, freedom, the rule of law — as well as the struggle to create those values and bring them to fruition. It’s why anti-Israel sentiment and anti-Americanism walk, demonically, hand in hand.

Note that I said “Arab” (but, more accurately, “Palestinian”) terrorism. I did not say “Islamic” terrorism.

Here is why.

Sirhan Bishara Sirhan is not a Muslim. He is a Palestinian Christian. The name Bishara is a giveaway. The name is related to the Hebrew word basar, which means meat — or flesh. Bishara is a common Arab Christian name that alludes to the flesh of Jesus.

And let us not be surprised that Kennedy’s killing was not perpetrated by a radical Muslim. Christian Palestinians have proven that their hatred of Israel can make them an equal opportunity destroyer — for example, the late George Habash, founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

That is what Sirhan shared with his Muslim “cousins” — a visceral, irrational hatred of Israel. It drove him to murder a man whom some still believe might have been the greatest hope of an earlier generation.

When I remember Bobby Kennedy in my prayers this week, I will remember that hope.

But more than that, I will remember why he died — and hope that his vision of Israeli-American cooperation will long survive him.