On June 5th, 1968, New York Senator Robert Francis Kennedy was shot and killed by Sirhan Sirhan, an Arab terrorist angered by Kennedy’s support for an arms deal to Israel.
The assassination, which took place in the midst of the tumultuous 1968 Democratic primary season, came just two months after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. and less than five years after the killing of Kennedy’s older brother, President John F. Kennedy.
Often lost in the larger story of RFK’s assassination, however, is his pro-Israel legacy and the centrality of his pro-Israel views in Sirhan’s motive.
On Saturday, Robert Kennedy’s daughter, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, spoke with Israel’s Channel 1 about her father’s support for Israel, the ‘special bond’ his assassination forged between her and the Jewish state, and her personal views on Israel.
In the interview, which was broadcast on Sunday, Townsend described Israel as "extraordinary", calling it an example to the world.
A former Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, Townsend inherited from her father not only a desire to pursue a career in politics, but an interest in Israel as well – something which was inspired by her uncle’s support for the Jewish state as well.
"As you may know, my father, Robert Kennedy, was here in 1948 as a journalist. He covered the war in 1948,” Townsend explained.
“He wrote about the courage of the Israelis and how they were determined to build a new country, and that they would build this country, and that they had seen such horror in Europe, and that they would build a country of courage, of democracy, of values, and that he realized when he saw the Israelis that the United States had a special relationship with this country and needed to make sure that that relationship stayed firm. And as you know in 1968 he was fighting for the 50 jets that would be given to the Israeli army and he was killed because of his support."
The sale in 1968 of 50 F-4 Phantom fighters to Israel was a landmark in Israel-US relations, cementing the two as strategic allies.
But the sale of modern US fighter jets to the Jewish state also became the prime motivation in Sirhan’s desire to murder Senator Kennedy, whose strong support was central in securing the sale.
"He was killed for his support for Israel, so I feel a very special bond to Israel because of my family,” said Townsend, adding that her uncle, President Kennedy, had been an early supporter of Jewish statehood.
“And you may know that my uncle, John Kennedy, came here in 1939 and called for a two-state solution and said that Israel will be very strong. He saw in 1939 the type of strength that the Israelis had. It's hard to believe - wherever you look there are more cranes. You're building this amazing country. More buildings, more technology, more jobs. Everywhere around the world could look to Israel as an example of people who are determined to make something work. It's fabulous.”