WASHINGTON — Robert F. Kennedy Jr. drew strong criticism from several members of his own family on Monday for remarks he made suggesting COVID-19 was “ethnically targeted.”
The pushback began over the weekend, when video surfaced of him claiming that the COVID virus is “ethnically targeted” to attack “certain races disproportionately” — namely, white and Black people — while “the people who are most immune are Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese.” Ashkenazi Jews are Jewish people of specifically northern and eastern European descent.
The remarks, captured by the New York Post at a private event, contained multiple false claims and reference common antisemitic tropes about global conspiracies that benefit Jewish people. They sparked quick condemnation from prominent Jewish groups and others.
That outpouring of criticism included two of Kennedy’s siblings. Kennedy’s sister Kerry Kennedy, distanced her brother from the nonprofit named for their father, the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights foundation.
“I strongly condemn my brother’s deplorable and untruthful remarks last week about Covid being engineered for ethnic targeting,” Kerry Kennedy said in a statement as president of the organization. “His statements do not represent what I believe or what Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights stand for, with our 50 [plus]-year track record of protecting rights and standing against racism and all forms of discrimination.”
Another of their siblings, Joseph Kennedy II, also criticized the remarks. He is a former congressman and chair of Citizens Energy.
“Bobby’s comments are morally and factually wrong,” he said in a statement provided to The Globe. “They play on antisemitic myths and stoke mistrust of the Chinese. His remarks in no way reflect the words and actions of our father, Robert F. Kennedy.”
Former Massachusetts Representative Joseph Kennedy III also weighed in.
“My uncle’s comments were hurtful and wrong. I unequivocally condemn what he said,” he tweeted from a personal account. Kennedy III is also serving as President Biden’s envoy to Northern Ireland.
My uncle’s comments were hurtful and wrong. I unequivocally condemn what he said.— Joe Kennedy III (@joekennedy) July 17, 2023
It is not the first time his family has distanced themselves from Kennedy’s conspiracy-laden and often-debunked views, which include misleading and false statements about vaccines, that anti-depressants are linked to school shootings, and that the CIA is responsible for the assassination of his uncle, President John F. Kennedy.
Last year, multiple family members, including his own wife, actress Cheryl Hines, spoke out against him after he implied that people who oppose the COVID-19 vaccine are being persecuted more severely than Anne Frank, who died in a Nazi concentration camp. Kerry Kennedy also did so in April, when his campaign launched.
Kennedy himself tweeted numerous defenses of his comments, including that they were intended to be off the record, misconstrued, and referencing a scientific paper that analyzed theoretical genetic susceptibilities to COVID.
“This cynical maneuver is consistent with the mainstream media playbook to discredit me as a crank — and by association, to discredit revelations of genuine corruption and collusion,” Kennedy said.
Pandemic data has shown significant racial disparities in infection and death rates, primarily worse for Black, Hispanic and Native American groups—disparities that are largely attributed to socio-economic factors and gaps.
Debate remains about COVID’s specific origin, with many scientists believing it jumped from animals to humans, but some assessments pointing to an accident in a virology lab. Still, virtually all who studied it have concluded the virus is not engineered.