Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is very Jew-ish. He’s “the Senate’s most Jewish non-Jew,” in the words of one columnist. He knows his Bible stories, can speak some Hebrew, studies Torah, has a long (and sordid) history with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, became president of Oxford University’s Jewish student group, and co-founded a Jewish group at Yale Law.
Why is Cory Booker — a Baptist — so Jewish? We’re not sure we’ll ever be able to answer that, but what we can tell you is where he stands on Jewish issues. Ready? Let’s go.
What has Cory Booker said and done on anti-Semitism?
“Let me be clear,” Booker said in March 2019. “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.”
In February 2019, Booker talked about the rise in hate crimes — including anti-Semitism. “We have seen painful realities surge in our country, a rise in anti-Semitism, anti-Islamic attacks. We’re seeing just a vicious, horrific, cruel violence that’s motivated by bias and hate. We need to do more to protect all Americans and make sure all neighborhoods and communities are safe.”
After the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, 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.”
On his @CoryBooker account, he wrote a slightly different message: “My heart is broken over the horrific anti-Semitic acts in Pittsburg [sic] and for all affected by the evil shooting at The Tree Of Life Synagogue. We must counter this hate with love and love’s public face which is justice – tireless work for justice and peace.”
What has Cory Booker said about BDS, the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel?
At Tufts University in 2019, Booker said, “I am against BDS, but I am for your rights to protest, your free speech rights.” He explained why: “I am against BDS because I am deeply concerned that we have roots in the BDS movement that do not have any 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.” (We’ll get into his positions on Israel later on.)
He voted “no” on an anti-BDS bill, however, because the legislation raised “First Amendment concerns” for him.
What’s Cory Booker’s relationship with Jewish groups like?
Besides the one he co-founded at Yale?
Ha. Yes, besides that one.
Booker is a regular at AIPAC; 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.'” (Yes, that is Booker referencing Psalm 137, about Jewish exile from the Holy Land.)
There were rumors of candidates “boycotting” AIPAC in 2019 (not really true), but according to the Jerusalem Post, 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 of Corey [sic] 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 promoting US-Israel relations, is consistently one of his biggest donors. According to NJ.com, NORPAC is Booker’s “second-biggest lifetime source of campaign contributions.”
So, let’s turn to Israel… how does Cory Booker feel about Israel?
All the feelings!
“I have the blessing of discovering Israel before I was a politician,” Booker told David Axelrod on his podcast. “And you know this, a lot of times the first trips people take, often when they’re running for office — they run over to Israel, and they should, to learn about foreign policy. My first trip to Israel was when I was 24 years old. I had been studying Torah for two years and discovering Israel for me, and the people of Israel and the authenticity and the grit … Some of the harshest criticisms of Israeli policy right now are Israeli Jews and the wonderful thing about Israel is its a 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 the same way I’m not going to judge Israel by Netanyahu.’”
So how does Booker feel about Netanyahu?
He actually hasn’t said anything explicitly criticizing Netayahu.
Where does he stand on solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict?
A two-state solution! “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.
He repeated his call for human rights, 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. I believe that we can get back to the kind of policies that affirm that two-state solution, affirm human rights, and that America can be a force to accomplishing that in Israel.”
Cool cool. What about using aid as leverage?
It’s not something he’s discussed publicly thus far, one way or the other.
What has he said on settlements or annexation of the West Bank?
Again, not much. 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 fact?
Literally everything about Cory Booker’s career is a Jewish fun fact. He spoke Hebrew on CNN! He founded a Jewish student group! He gives Torah sermons! He used to be BFFs with a rabbi who has a book called Kosher Sex! More relevant reads: Cory Booker’s Rabbis (The Daily Beast, 2013) and The Ultimate Cory Booker Jewish Supercut (Tablet, video, 2013)
Image of Cory Booker by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images; design by Grace Yagel.