Hamas used previous halt in war 'to rearm, rebuild, attack'

2024 dark horse RFK Jr. questions need for Gaza truce, defends Israeli offensive

Drawing chunk of support from voters on both right and left, Kennedy says any country but Israel would have ‘leveled’ Gaza, claims to be unworried young voters could disagree

FILE - Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks during a campaign event, Nov. 14, 2023, in Columbia, South Carolina (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard, File).
FILE - Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. speaks during a campaign event, Nov. 14, 2023, in Columbia, South Carolina (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard, File).

LOS ANGELES, California (Reuters)- – Independent US presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. offered staunch support for Israel in a Reuters interview, calling it a “moral nation” that was justly responding to Hamas provocations with its attacks on Gaza and questioning the need for a six-week ceasefire backed by President Joe Biden.

Biden has also been a vocal defender of Israel since the October 7 attack by Hamas, but he has recently pressured the country to stem the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and accelerate a six-week ceasefire for hostage releases and aid delivery.

Asked if he supported a temporary ceasefire in Gaza, Kennedy told Reuters: “I don’t even know what that means right now.”

Kennedy said that each previous ceasefire “has been used by Hamas to rearm, to rebuild and then launch another surprise attack. So what would be different this time?” he said.

Kennedy, 70, spoke to Reuters in a wide-ranging interview on Monday from his office at his Spanish-style home in Los Angeles, hidden by tropical plants and hedges.

Support for Israel has become a political wedge issue inside the Democratic Party, as the death toll in Gaza tops 30,000, per Hamas health authorities, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vows to push an assault into Rafah.

Kennedy’s policy proposals, including a pledge to make homeownership easier and crack down on corporate subsidies, have gained some traction among US voters unenthusiastic about Biden, a Democrat, or his Republican rival Donald Trump in the presidential election.

FILE – US presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., speaks during a campaign event at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County, October 12, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

Kennedy is backed by 15% of registered voters, versus 39% for Biden and 38% for Trump, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll.

That level of support means Kennedy could have a significant impact on the election in November, with strategists claiming he could help Trump by pulling more votes from Biden. He will announce a running mate on March 26; names floated include football player Aaron Rodgers, who refused the COVID vaccine, lawyer Nicole Shanahan and US Senator Rand Paul.

His opposition to a ceasefire and his full-throated support for Israel could be at odds with many young voters, whom he counts as one of his strongest constituencies.

Speaking from an office crammed with bookshelves, taxidermied animals and insect specimens, Kennedy told Reuters he sees wars as either moral crusades that should be pursued or wars of choice that should be avoided.

“World War I was an immoral war. It was a war of choice. We should have never gone,” he said.

Israel did not choose this war, he said, comparing it to US involvement in World War II after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Kennedy said Hamas was to blame for Gaza’s destruction for failing to embrace a two-state solution and for firing thousands of missiles into Israeli cities like Tel Aviv.

Iron Dome intercepts rockets from Gaza above Tel Aviv just after midnight as 2023 gives way to 2024. (Times of Israel)

“Any other nation that was adjacent to a neighboring nation that was bombing it with rockets, sending commandos over to murder its citizens, pledging itself to murder every person in that nation and annihilate it, would go and level it with aerial bombardment,” Kennedy said.

“But Israel is a moral nation. So it didn’t do that. Instead, it built an Iron Dome to protect itself so it would not have to go into Gaza.”

He said Hamas gave Israeli leaders no choice after terrorists stormed into Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and capturing 253 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.

Kennedy added that he thinks a US president should be contacting leaders from Russia, Turkey and Egypt to put an end to Hamas.

Since the October 7 Hamas attacks, nearly 32,000 people have been killed in Israel’s counteroffensive in Gaza, according to unverified numbers given by local Hamas-run authorities, who do not distinguish between civilians and combatants. Israel says it has killed over 13,000 Hamas fighters, and notes that the terror group fights from within the civilian population, including in hospitals.

Palestinians visit their homes destroyed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip in the village of Khuza’a, east of Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023. (AP/Adel Hana)

A UN-backed report on Monday said famine in Gaza is likely by May without an end to fighting in the more than five-month war between Israel and Hamas in the Palestinian enclave of 2.3 million people.

Kennedy, an environmental lawyer who spent years pushing anti-vaccine messages, told Reuters that as president, he would not restrict abortion, would repeal many provisions of Biden’s signature Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), and would look to close down the southern border to immigrants entering the US illegally, while people with asylum claims will await adjudication in Mexico.

He distanced himself from Trump but said he supported a recent Supreme Court decision that allowed the former president to remain on the ballot in 2024.

“I intend to beat him in this election. I want to beat him on a level playing field. I don’t want to beat him because of a court case,” he said.

Kennedy said he considered many subsidies in the IRA “absolutely catastrophic for the environment.”

“You know, virtually all the carbon capture subsidies are really giant subsidies to the oil industry and to the carbon industry. We should not be doing that. We shouldn’t add to big agriculture… I would get rid of those altogether,” he said.

He spoke in front of a taxidermied tiger that was a gift to his late father from Indonesia’s late President Sukarno. On his bookshelves were skulls of various animals, dead spiders in vials and a stream of wooden ducks, some antique and some passed down from his father, the senator and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy who was assassinated in 1968.

The bookshelves featured photograph archives of his uncle, former president John F. Kennedy, as well as books about the US Central Intelligence Agency, and classics like Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”

Kennedy was banned from Instagram in 2021 for spreading misinformation about vaccines and the COVID-19 pandemic but was later reinstated.

Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at an event with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in New York on July 25, 2023. (Jackie Hajdenberg/ JTA)

In addition, Kennedy lost a legal bid to force YouTube owner Google to reinstate videos of him questioning the safety of COVID-19 vaccines.

He disputes the anti-vaccine tag, but chaired the Children’s Health Defense, a nonprofit organization that focuses on anti-vaccine messaging. He said as president, he would not prevent people from getting vaccines, but he did not answer a question about how he would prevent an uptick in measles cases.

His comments on COVID-19 and the vaccine have sometimes strayed into areas that have invited charges of antisemitism, such as in July, when he floated a conspiracy in July that the COVID-19 virus was “ethnically targeted” to mostly spare Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people.

He has previously apologized for using the word “holocaust” to describe legislation mandating vaccines for children and for invoking Anne Frank at an anti-vaccine rally. He has also walked back praise of Roger Waters, the former Pink Floyd frontman and vehement critic of Israel who has been widely slammed for using Holocaust imagery during his concerts.

Kennedy has denied being antisemitic, calling the charge “one that cuts me.”

Reuters/Ipsos polls show Kennedy backed by 16% of respondents aged 18 through 39, versus 28% for Biden and 26% for Trump.

Fifteen percent of respondents aged 40 or older said they supported Kennedy Jr., versus 33% for Biden and 36% for Trump.

“I’m not concerned about whether people disagree with me,” Kennedy said in response to a question on how his position on Gaza might affect his standing among young voters.

“If somebody shows me that I’m wrong about an issue, I’m going to change my opinion.”

Times of Israel staff, Michael Horovitz and JTA contributed to this report.

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