Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. defended himself Friday from accusations of antisemitism while repeating unfounded claims about Covid-19 and vaccines.
In an interview with CNN’s Kasie Hunt, Kennedy, an avid opponent of Covid-19 vaccines and public health policies that were intended to reduce the spread of the virus pushed back on the notion that his previous remarks about Covid-19 that mentioned Jewish ancestry and history were antisemitic.
Asked about his comments from July in which he said Covid-19 was “ethnically targeted” to spare Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people, Kennedy acknowledged that some people could be “disturbed” by the comments. But he said he believed “they certainly weren’t antisemitic.”
“I wish I hadn’t said them, you know. What I said was true,” he said. “The only reason I wouldn’t talk publicly about this … is that I know that there’s people out there who are antisemitic and can misuse any information.”
Ashkenazi Jews trace their roots to Central and Eastern Europe and represent a majority of the US Jewish population. While there are disproportionate rates of Covid-19 illness and death across different demographics, this has not been attributed to genetics or religion.
Kennedy also defended his comments from 2022 in which he compared the Covid lockdowns to Nazi Germany, arguing that “even in Hitler’s Germany, you could cross the Alps into Switzerland.” At the time, Kennedy’s wife, actress Cheryl Hines, condemned his remarks as “reprehensible and insensitive.” Kennedy said his wife was wrong to criticize the comments and blamed the media for taking his remarks out of context.
“She is not right, but it was something that needed to be said at that time,” he said.
“I understand why people are upset with your interpretation of it, your mischaracterization,” he told Hunt.
Kennedy rejected the label that he’s “anti-vaccine” despite his long history of spreading misinformation about the efficacy of vaccines. When presented with a prior interview in which he said that “there is no vaccine that is, you know, safe and effective,” Kennedy argued that his comments were meant to advocate greater research of vaccines while conceding that his previous remark was “a bad use of words.”
“I can say right now there is no medicine for cancer that’s safe and effective. It doesn’t mean I’m against all medicines. I’ve been fighting for two years to get mercury out of fish. Nobody calls me anti-fish,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy has been a leading proponent of vaccine misinformation through his organization Children’s Health Defense and has spent years wrongly suggesting that many vaccines are not safe. He falsely said that hepatitis B vaccines are “causing more problems than they’re solving” and stated he would be against schoolchildren being required to be vaccinated “for any vaccines.”
Kennedy, the son of former US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, launched his campaign for the White House in April. He initially sought to challenge President Joe Biden in the Democratic primary but announced in October that he would run as an independent, saying he wanted to fight against the two-party system.
He said Friday that he believes Biden fairly won the 2020 presidential election. But he suggested that there are “questions with our election system” while noting that he had “not gone into detail to examine” claims of election fraud.
“What I’ve said is that if people who say that there’s things that are broken with the election system, [they] should not be punished. They shouldn’t be derided. They shouldn’t be characterized as undemocratic,” Kennedy said.
Asked whether that included former President Donald Trump’s claims that he won the election, Kennedy distinguished Trump’s claims from those of ordinary Americans by noting the former president’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.
“I think Donald Trump did something different, which is to deliberately try to fix the election, to get people to change things that they knew to be true,” Kennedy said. “But in terms of people on the street, who asked about the legitimacy of the election, do I think that they should be dismissed as crazy people? No, I think their questions should be answered. They should be allowed to produce evidence.”
“We all should be allowed to debate it. And we should be debating it without vitriol. You know, there are questions with our election system,” he continued.
There is no evidence of widespread election fraud despite repeated claims from Trump and others.
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