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Where It All Began

Today marks forty years since Robert Kennedy was assassinated in a kitchen off a big ballroom at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He had just left the cheers of his supporters upon winning the California primary in which Eugene McCarthy and Hubert Humphrey were his opponents.

Even though Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated barely two months before, Secret Service protection for presidential candidates did not yet then seem an especially formidable obstacle to mayhem and mischief. I worked on the McCarthy campaign and, believe me, anyone with the intention and a gun could have murdered Gene easily.

Anyway, an assassin chose Bobby as his victim. The assassin's name was Sirhan Sirhan. Almost nobody picked up on the fact that his name was an Arab one and that his identity was Palestinian, Christian, as it happens. In any case, this was treated simply as the deed of a nut case.

But that was not the real case. Read an article by Sasha Issenberg in this morning's Boston Globe, entitled "Slaying gave US a first taste of Mideast terror" with the subhead, "Analysts call Robert Kennedy's death a prelude to kidnappings and attacks."

Of course, as the historically astute reporter points out, the word "Palestinian" was not in currency at the time, a fact that I remind readers again and again as evidence the Palestinians themselves aren't especially tuned into anything remotely like Palestinian nationalism. In any event, Resolution 242, which was the UN's coda to the Six Day War, never mentioned the Palestinians either, let alone Palestine.

As it happens, the 1968 campaign within the Democratic Party was mostly about the Vietnam War. McCarthy entered the race, first against Lyndon Johnson who was forced out by Gene's triumph in Wisconsin. Poaching a bit on Gene's glory, Bobby entered the race. And poor Hubert, well, being vice president put him in the difficult position of having to support the war while as a candidate having to attack it, another indignity of being Johnson's second.

Vietnam was not on Sirhan Sirhan's mind when he shot Bobby Kennedy. Israel was. Sirhan probably did not know that twenty years prior, as a young man visiting Palestine, Kennedy had written four articles for the Boston Post, a now long-defunct local daily, deeply supportive of the Zionist cause. Read them here, with a short intro by Lenny Ben-David.

What he did know was that Kennedy was a backer of Israel, that Kennedy wanted American air power to be transferred to Israel. Enough for Sirhan, as he admitted to David Frost on television. Twenty-four years old when he committed his crime, he had come to the U.S. as a teenager, and with his baggage he carried the hatreds of the old country and acted them out in America.

There's been research done on Sirhan Sirhan that fills some of the details in. It is interesting to speculate why Americans were not intrigued by the Palestinian theme in the Kennedy assassination to ferret it out at the time. But, by now, much American blood has been shed by and for the Palestinian cause. And this is where it all began.