A day after Robert F. Kennedy Jr. agreed to a public discussion with Max Blumenthal on Israel-Palestine, his campaign walked back his words. RFK Jr. has pledged “unconditional support” to Israel while spouting vitriolic anti-Palestinian rhetoric.
One day after Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. agreed to comedian and podcaster Jimmy Dore’s proposal that he engage with The Grayzone’s editor-in-chief, Max Blumenthal, in a public dialogue on Israel-Palestine, Kennedy’s campaign nixed the discussion.
During an August 1 phone call with Grayzone correspondent Liam Cosgrove, RFK Jr. campaign communications director, Stephanie Spear, declared: “[Kennedy’s] not debating Max Blumenthal… He’s not gonna debate anyone. He’s running for president.”
“You’re not hearing me,” she emphasized. “We’re not gonna do it, okay?”
Hours after her call with Cosgrove, Spear contacted Blumenthal directly to explain that Kennedy would not agree to any public discussion with The Grayzone editor until Spring 2024, once the first five primaries are over.
She offered Blumenthal an off-the-record phone conversation with the candidate as an apparent consolation.
Though Blumenthal never insisted on a formal debate, but rather, a live interview such as as the ones Kennedy has granted popular media figures like Dore, Glenn Greenwald and Briahna Joy Gray, Spear repeatedly stated that the candidate would not debate anyone except the President of the United States until the first five presidential primaries are over.
“We’re hitting different demographics, and we’re also hitting on the different issues,” Spear emphasized. “So, you know, it’s really a strategy thing, and – we want to debate President Biden. He’s a Democratic candidate, that’s what we’re waiting for.”
This June, however, Kennedy enthusiastically accepted podcaster Joe Rogan’s offer to participate in a live debate with Peter Hotez, a pediatrician and one of the country’s most vociferous boosters of Covid-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates. Rogan pledged to donate $100,000 to a charity of Hotez’s choice if the doctor entered the octagon. Hotez, who provoked Rogan’s challenge by accusing him and RFK of “vaccine misinformation,” invited widespread mockery and scorn when he refused to debate.
But now, RFK is refusing to engage on an issue that he recently placed at the heart of his campaign, and which has shocked many supporters who believed he offered an alternative to the pro-war bipartisan consensus: his “unconditional support” for the state of Israel and its military’s conduct in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
During his conversation with Kennedy’s communications director, Cosgrove challenged Spear on the candidate’s sudden timidity. “RFK goes on all these interviews and says that he wants to debate people,” he stated, “so I’m a bit confused about why he says that, and you guys don’t want to debate. Is it your decision, or is it him saying that?”
“It’s the campaign’s decision, Liam,” Spear stated.
“He did not ask for a debate with Max,” she continued in an annoyed tone, “so maybe re-listen to that… We’re not gonna debate, I don’t know how many times I have to tell you that.”
Bombarded with antisemitism accusations, RFK Jr enlists in Israel’s propaganda army
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has sought to define himself as “the strongest peace and freedom candidate in two decades,” while denouncing “neocons and warmongers.” At the same time, he has zealously defended the conduct of Israel’s military and justified the country’s decades-long occupation of Palestinians – even denying that any military occupation exists.
Kennedy placed his Likudnik views on Israel-Palestine at the forefront of his campaign message after being bombarded with accusations of antisemitism stemming from comments he made at a private July 14 event in New York City. Over dinner, he responded to a question about the origins of Covid-19 by opining that “there is an argument” the virus did not affect Ashkenazi Jews and people of Chinese descent as strongly as “Caucasians and Black people.”
“We don’t know whether it was deliberately targeted or not but there are papers out there that show the racial or ethnic differential and impact,” Kennedy qualified.
When a New York Post reporter who had been present at the dinner published the candidate’s comments, a maelstrom of manufactured outrage burst forth from Kennedy’s opponents within the Democratic establishment. While the Biden White House and a host of Jewish pressure groups condemned Kennedy as an antisemite, a letter signed by 100 Democratic members of Congress likened him to Adolph Hitler.
When Kennedy arrived on Capitol Hill for July 20 testimony before the House Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government, Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz predictably blasted him as a Jew hater. He attempted to push back by deploying ultra-Zionist talking points.
“I’m the only person that has publicly objected to that $2 billion payout that the Biden administration is now making to Iran, which is a genocidal program. I’ve fought more ferociously for Israel than anybody,” Kennedy claimed.
He was apparently referring to the $2.7 billion Iran received in gas and electric payments from Iraq – not the US – after the Biden administration granted the latter country’s request for a sanctions waiver. In other words, Kennedy was framing cross-border trade between two regional, sovereign neighbors as “genocidal.”
Kennedy escalated his warlike rhetoric during a July 23 New York City event hosted by Shmuley Boteach, a former reality show rabbi recruited by the late Likudnik oligarch Sheldon Adelson to advance the cause of Greater Israel within the United States. (Adelson was a top funder of Donald Trump’s 2016 and 2020 campaigns).
During a 20-minute-long diatribe laden with anti-Palestinian venom and ultra-Zionist propaganda, Kennedy referred to hijabs as “habibs” and pronounced Chechnya as though he had not heard of the place until moments before the event. While pledging to prevent any country in the Middle East from obtaining nuclear weapons as president, the candidate seemed unaware that Israel possessed a secret nuclear arsenal.
As Shmuley nodded along, Kennedy launched a full-throated defense of the Israeli army’s brigade-sized invasion of the occupied Palestinian city of Jenin, during which it bombed buildings with fighter jets and ran bulldozers through the middle of its refugee camp. He referred to the entire city as “a bomb factory,” justifying the invasion because, in his words, “virtually one hundred percent of the people there are supporting terrorism.”
According to Kennedy, “everybody [in Jenin] is involved in bomb making” – there are no civilians there at all, therefore all are legitimate targets. He did not seem to know that the Palestinian campaign of suicide bombing ended well over 15 years ago, or that Israel’s primary concern in Jenin was with the proliferation of armed militias defending their territory from settler and military incursions.
The half-baked hasbara escalated from there as Kennedy cited Richard Kemp, a former British army officer who subsists on Israel lobby speaking fees, to claim “the conduct of the IDF, the Israeli defense forces when they go into Palestinian territories, is beyond anything in the world.” He even insisted that Israel’s policy is to “avoid civilian casualties,” ignoring the moonscapes it created out of entire neighborhoods from Gaza to Beirut.
As should have been expected, Kennedy’s militaristic rhetoric on Israel-Palestinian alienated large swathes of the US antiwar community, including media personalities who had previously expressed support for his candidacy.
Among them was Jimmy Dore, one of the country’s most popular political podcasters.
Max Blumenthal’s “reporting on Israel – it needs to be questioned”
During his live August 1 interview with Kennedy, the comedian challenged his “unconditional support” for Israel. “You don’t even give America unconditional support,” Dore reminded the candidate.
Kennedy responded with a recitation of the same Zionist talking points he spouted while seated next to Shmuley. Among the litany of easily debunked claims Kennedy rattled off was that the US-funded Palestinian Authority, which coordinates directly with the Israeli government, pays “bounties” for the killing of Jews anywhere on the planet.
Next, during a clichéd and clumsy attempt at chronicling Israel’s “miraculous” survival, Kennedy falsely claimed that following the 1967 war, “Syria got the Golan Heights and Sinai” back once it recognized Israel’s “right to exist.” In fact, the Golan Heights is still illegally occupied by Israel, and is the home of a settlement, Trump Heights, named for the US president who pledged to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the area.
As for the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt liberated its territory from Israel’s occupation through a surprise military campaign in 1973.
Later in the interview, Dore displayed a tweet by Blumenthal that featured video of Israeli fighter jets bombing Gaza’s Shorouk Tower, an office building that housed studios of local and international media outlets. When Dore read the tweet, in which Blumenthal explained that he had conducted several interviews inside the building and collaborated with Palestinian colleagues who worked there, Kennedy questioned The Grayzone editor’s credibility.
“I love Max Blumenthal,” the candidate began, “but I do not think he’s objective on Israel. His reporting on Israel – it needs to be questioned.”
Dore responded, “Ok, here’s what I would ask: just like Peter Hotez ducked you and Joe Rogan, I would love – because Max is the guy to talk to about this, not me. Would you do an interview with Max? Because he would be able to talk to you about this way better than I can.”
“Yeah, I would love to talk to Max,” Kennedy said in a seemingly sincere tone.
Within 24 hours, however, his communications director was frantically explaining why no such conversation could take place.