The Corner

Israel and the Death of JFK

Another disappointment in the collected letters of JFK: Close to the end of the book, which is only 352 pages long, the editor devotes eight pages to an exchange between President Kennedy and Israeli leaders on Israel’s nuclear-weapons program, which the U.S. president viewed as a threat to world peace. Editor Martin W. Sandler introduces the section as follows:

In March 1992, Representative Paul Findley of Illinois, wrote in the Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs, “It is interesting. . . . to notice that in all the words written and uttered about the Kennedy assassination, Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, has never been mentioned.” Two years later in his book Final Judgment, author Michael Collins actually accused Israel of the crime. Of all the conspiracy theories, it remains one of the most intriguing.

No, it doesn’t. It’s not one of the most intriguing theories about the JFK assassination; it’s one of the crankiest, craziest, and nuttiest. (Though I reserve final judgment on the question of whether it is the crankiest, craziest, and nuttiest until I read GOP political consultant Roger Stone’s forthcoming book alleging that LBJ was responsible for the assassination.) Let me lay my cards on the table: Owing to an accident of my biography, I developed a passionate interest in the Kennedy assassination when I was a boy, and have been reading books — conspiracy books, and Oswald-was-the-lone-gunman books — about this event all my life. It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that, even today, I know more about this subject than any sane person I have ever met. (Which conveniently excludes the sort of people who go to conspiracy conventions.) And I can tell you that just about every other conspiracy theory on JFK I’ve ever heard has more evidence lending it plausibility than that one does.

FWIW, for most of my life I agreed with the majority of Americans that there was probably a conspiracy in the JFK assassination: I would have put the odds at about 85–15. But when I finally visited Dealey Plaza, last summer, my belief in that probability was reduced substantially. When I saw how small the buildings were, and how close together, I realized that if there had been other gunmen, they probably would have been seen or heard by more witnesses than actually did claim to have seen things that didn’t conform to the official Warren Commission version. (If you see the Book Depository and the grassy knoll in pictures or on TV, they grow in your imagination into monumental, symphonic spaces. In physical reality, they are more like an intimate chamber piece.)  There will always be conflicting eyewitnesses to an event; what’s strange here is how relatively few there were. I’d say that my belief in the probability of a conspiracy sank to 50–50, or even 45–55. (According to Gallup, the majority of Americans who believe in a JFK conspiracy is shrinking, too: It’s 59 percent of Americans today, down from 75 percent in 2003. But that may be just a function of the reduced numbers of my JFK-saturated Boomer generation — i.e., it’s not that former conspiracy-believers changed their minds, it’s just that a new generation of Americans have arisen who aren’t interested in things that passionately engaged their elders.)

In any case, if there does someday, per impossibile, emerge evidence proving a conspiracy, just about any of the other alleged culprits — Johnny Rosselli and the Mob, pro-Castro Cubans, anti-Castro Cubans, etc., etc. — are more likely to have been the ones behind it than the Mossad.

(Incidentally, the author of the book alleging that the Mossad killed JFK is named Michael Collins Piper, not Michael Collins. Getting the name wrong was an error of fact on the editor’s part; lending plausibility to this theory was an error of judgment.)


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