(August 8, 2018 / JNS) In May of 2015, Sen. Cory Booker was the keynote speaker at a Bergen County yeshivah’s annual scholarship reception in New Jersey. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach introduced him, as was their shtick at the time. The rabbi and the senator; they had a little act.
There was no doubt the senator was a true pro with chutzpah. He slung around Yiddish phrases like “tachlis,” acting like he’d had borscht instead of milk in his baby bottle. He told the assembled crowd of 400 yarmulke-wearing Jews and their spouses that he was going to share a d’var Torah (words of Torah) with them, and paused for the expected laughter and applause, which he most certainly got. He clearly relished his I’m-African-American-but-I-speak-Jewish act. He’d done it all a hundred times before.
Rabbi Boteach looked on proudly. The student had become the master. Only the student is leaving his mentor behind, and with a now-checkered voting record on Israel appears to be espousing views that are not as well-aligned. As he mulls a 2020 presidential run, he is increasingly reaching out to groups whose raison d’être is decidedly not supportive of Jews or Israel.
Booker’s entree into the Jewish community famously began in 1992, when he happened upon a Simchat Torah event at the L’Chaim Society at Oxford, the year he was a Rhodes Scholar. Boteach, then a Chabad-Lubavitch associated campus rabbi and not the celebrity co-author he is now, was there to greet him.
Years later, Boteach introduced him to the crème de la crème of the New Jersey Jewish community, certainly lining the coffers for Booker’s election as mayor of Newark, N.J., where few Jews live today. Winning the Senator seat was then but a piece of cake. Booker had become one of the single largest recipients of pro-Israel financial support in U.S. history.
In fact, NORPAC, a pro-Israel lobby based in New Jersey, has given Booker more money than only one other entity, and more than double the funds he received from Goldman Sachs, Disney, Prudential, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley and many others: $158,871 in a single campaign cycle, according to Open Secrets.
But all the lights on the proverbial electric menorah abruptly flickered out with Booker’s vote in favor of the Iran nuclear deal in September of 2015—a vote taken to stark objection of the majority of the pro-Israel community.
Fast-forward to last week.
There were no Borscht Belt-style jokes on Aug. 3, when Booker served as one of the opening keynote speakers at Netroots Nation, a progressive conference hosted by Daily Kos, a liberal online community. The event was a haven for activists from such organizations as Planned Parenthood, NARAL, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Emily’s List, Radical Dharma, The Indivisible Project and others that identify as part of the progressive “resist” movement.
The list of some two-dozen exhibitors at the event also included the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, an organization aligned with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and that funnels funding, according to Tablet Magazine, to a coalition of “resistance” movements that includes Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine—all considered terror groups by Israel, the United States and Europe.
It was a sign held up by Booker and tweeted by the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, that made headlines. “From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go,” the sign read. Booker, through a staff member, denied that he even read the sign or knew what he was doing.
However, possibly even more interesting in the Booker photo was the person standing next to him. On his left was Leah Muskin-Pierret, government affairs director for the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, who previously served as a Tufts University campus organizer for National Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace. Her T-shirt read “Palestine is a Feminist/Queer/Refugee/Racial Justice Issue.” Boteach seemed to almost have fun ripping apart that nonsensical moral equivalency between progressivism and the Palestinian narrative.
NORPAC’s Dr. Ben Chouake told The Jewish Insider he hopes Booker will hold a press conference to express his views on Israel and his opposition to the BDS movement to reassure the Jewish community about his commitment to Israel. He added, however, that Booker is one of 44 senators not signed on as a co-sponsor of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act.
Chouake didn’t add, though certainly knows, that Booker also infamously voted against the Taylor Force Act in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Booker told the Associated Press afterwards that “he was swayed by indications that Israeli officials did not support the measure, fearful that it could squeeze P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas, with whom Israel cooperates in the West Bank on security matters.” Cold comfort for the families of those murdered by terrorists; terrorists whose own families have laughed straight to the bank from P.A. terror payouts.
As a Democrat with presidential aspirations, it is understandable that Booker wishes to present his bona fides to the rising left-wing of the party. But the senator took the bait when he (wittingly or not) endorsed the pairing of anti-Israel and human-rights causes; The intersectionality argument is deeply flawed, and Booker should know that causes progressives believe in are not even remotely tolerated in Arab and Palestinian society. Perhaps by witnessing the shock and concern by the Jewish community, the senator will think carefully about who, and what, appears in his next photo op.
Elizabeth Kratz, a JNS contributor, is associate publisher and editor of The Jewish Link of New Jersey and The Jewish Link of Bronx, Westchester and Connecticut.