Ancient animosity with religious roots flared anew this month in the brutal assassination of one of America’s most admired citizens, Robert F. Kennedy. Aside from the sheer horror of the deed, there was particular significance in the identity of the assailant, the motive, and the timing.

It happened in the city named for the angels, and it vividly recalled the eleventh-century secret order of Muslims known as the Assassins (from hashishin, a taker of hashish). The Assassins terrorized eleventh-century Christian Crusaders and other enemies while under the influence of hashish, a narcotic derived from hemp.

The history is relevant because a suspect in Kennedy’s killing was identified as a pro-Communist Arab, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, born in Jerusalem and apparently bent on revenge for the war in which his native Holy City passed from Jordanian to Jewish hands. The assassination occurred on the first anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Notes said to be Sirhan’s reportedly spoke of the “necessity” of slaying Kennedy by June 5, 1968. Kennedy, the junior U. S. Senator from New York, where most American Jews live, had expressed support of Israel, most recently in a nationally-televised debate with Senator Eugene J. McCarthy three days before the shooting.

Sirhan was brought up in a Greek Orthodox family and attended a Lutheran grade school in Jerusalem. He was brought to the United States shortly after the Suez crisis of 1956.

Kennedy died in a Los Angeles hospital named for the Good Samaritan, the rescuer described by Christ who took pity upon a victim of thieves on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. Kennedy had aspired to be an American president—the second Roman Catholic to hold that office and at 42 the nation’s youngest ...

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