Booker speaks on anti-Semitism, Israel and more


This is one of series articles on what eight of the Democratic presidential hopefuls have said or done regarding Israel and other Jewish concerns. It was assembled by the staff of the JTA before the latest debate and edited by The Jewish Star for space and style. Link here for the other candidates:  Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg

Cory Booker, the junior senator from New Jersey, has been called “the Senate’s most Jewish non-Jew.” He can speak some Hebrew, knows his Torah, has a long and complicated history with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, whom he became friends with while at Oxford. Booker became president of Oxford University’s Jewish student group, the L’Chaim Society, and cofounded a Jewish group at Yale Law School.

Hebrew soundbytes aside, here’s where he stands on Jewish issues.

On anti-Semitism.

“Let me be clear,” Booker said in March. “Anti-Semitism is un-American. It is anti-American. It violates, most deeply, our commonly held values, and we must take steps on the global stage against vicious acts that target hatred.”

After the Pittsburgh synagogue attack in October 2018, his Senate account tweeted, “My heart breaks for the victims and their families affected by this senseless tragedy and horrific act of anti-semitic violence in #Pittsburgh. We must unite against this hatred, and take action to prevent future gun violence — we are not powerless to stop this.”

Booker has been criticized for having met with Louis Farrakhan, the anti-Semitic head of the Nation of Islam. In July, the senator said he would no longer meet with Farrakhan, saying he rejects “anybody who preaches that kind of bigotry and hate towards other Americans.”

What about BDS?

 “I am against BDS, but I am for your rights to protest, your free speech rights,” Booker said at a New Hampshire campaign stop. “I am against BDS because [there is no] sense for proportionality about other countries. Where is the Chinese BDS movement because of what they’re doing to the Uighurs and to other folks? But you do not hear that. Israel is a country that has a right to exist. And a right to defend itself.”

He voted “no” on a 2018 anti-BDS bill, however, saying that the legislation raised “First Amendment concerns” for him.

What’s his relationship with Jewish groups?

Booker is a regular at the AIPAC conference. In leaked audio from a private meeting at AIPAC 2019, Booker said he and AIPAC president Mort Fridman “text message back and forth like teenagers.” In that same meeting, Booker said, “Israel is not political to me. I was a supporter of Israel well before I was in the United States Senate. I was coming to AIPAC’s conferences well before I knew that one day I would be (a senator). ‘If I forget thee, O Israel, may I cut off my right hand’.” (Booker was referencing Psalm 137, about Jewish exile from the Holy Land.)

His history with AIPAC does truly run deep: even as mayor of Newark, he spoke at the AIPAC National Summit in 2008, with his pal who’s no longer his pal, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.

There were rumors of candidates “boycotting” AIPAC in 2019 — which were refuted by AIPAC — but Fridman made a point to say that when he reached out to Booker’s team, “They said obviously Cory is going to be there [because Cory] stands with the state of Israel. The moment this thing came out, Cory immediately told us he would be here. As always. He’s always been here for us. He will always be here.”

AIPAC is not the only pro-Israel group that Booker works with. NORPAC, a non-partisan Political Action Committee that works to promote U.S.-Israel relations, is consistently one of his biggest donors. According to NJ.com, NORPAC is Booker’s “second-biggest lifetime source of campaign contributions.”

What about more specific thoughts on Israel?

“I have the blessing of discovering Israel before I was a politician,” Booker told David Axelrod on his podcast. “My first trip to Israel was when I was 24 years old. I had been studying Torah for two years and discovering Israel. … The wonderful thing about Israel is its democracy and you have fearsome debates, the same way we have in our country. And I often laugh at people and say, ‘I don’t want anybody to judge my nation on Donald Trump and [in] the same way I’m not going to judge Israel by Netanyahu’.”

On solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict?

“We need to find a pathway forward to a two-state solution [where] the human dignity of both folks are elevated,” Booker said in February 2019. In October, he told the Council on Foreign Relations, “I support a two-state solution because I believe in justice and self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians.”

He has often repeated his call for human rights and a two-state solution, telling the New York Times in June 2019, “My commitment right now is in affirming Israel’s right to exist and affirming Israel’s right to defend itself against enemies, which they have virtually surrounding them, but also to affirm the dignity and self-determination of Palestinian people.” 

What about using aid to Israel as leverage?

While some other candidates have floated the idea, it’s not something Booker has discussed publicly one way or the other.

What has he said about Judea and Samaria?

When IfNotNow activists asked him about the West Bank, Booker deflected, telling them, “If that’s your issue, I would understand if you want to support somebody else, but know I am just as committed to that as you are — committed to human rights.”

Jewish fun facts

Booker’s career is full of Jewish fun facts: He spoke Hebrew on CNN. He founded a Jewish student group at Oxford. He keeps a Hebrew bible on his desk. He often opens speeches with Torah analysis. The list goes on.