Bobby Kennedy was on top of the world. He had just won the California Democratic primary and was feeling confident heading into the 1968 convention. Worries about how he would manage to win delegates from Hubert Humphrey and Eugene McCarthy could wait for another day. Tonight, at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, he was in the mood to celebrate. But then...
The assassin was Sirhan Sirhan, a 24 year-old Palestinian immigrant with Jordanian citizenship, who burned with anger at what he believed was rampant Israeli oppression of his people. He told officers who arrested him at the scene “I can explain, I did it for my country.”
A year to the day earlier, on June 5th, 1967, Sirhan watched as Israel launched airstrikes in the start of the Six-Day War. His anger exploded into a murderous rage, and he decided that he would take revenge on Israel by killing one of its supporters; a man he supported and admired but believed turned his back on his downtrodden fellow Palestinians—Robert Kennedy.
Just days before the assassination, Kennedy campaigned in Oregon and pledged to send 50 American fighter jets to the Israeli government if elected President.
In his diary, Sirhan wrote, "My determination to eliminate R.F.K. is becoming more and more of an unshakable obsession...Kennedy must die before June 5th."
In the moments after he shot Kennedy, just after midnight on June 5th, police allegedly found a newspaper column in Sirhan’s pocket. It was about Kennedy’s pledge to send the fighter jets to Israel.
Years later, Sirhan gave an interview to David Frost on Inside Edition in which he discussed how Kennedy’s support for the country he hated so much drove him to murder.
In that same interview, Sirhan reiterated that the creation of Israel itself ultimately led him on a path to assassination.
Today, Sirhan would have been tried for terrorism—his motive a hatred of Israel that drove him to kill. Today, though, as America reflects on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, that motive is all but lost to history; Sirhan’s motivation explained away as the rantings of a crazy person and not a dedicated terrorist who hated Israel so much that he killed one of its perceived champions. Worse yet, that same hatred of Israel that burned in Sirhan Sirhan—that same belief that Israel is nothing but an oppressor that must be destroyed—also burns within untold numbers of people.
Make no mistake, it was that hatred that killed Robert F. Kennedy. And it is that same hatred that still kills today.