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Why Cory Booker matters to the Jews

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) speaks to the Festival of Homiletics on May 22, 2018, at Metropolitan AME Church in Washington. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

As Ricky Ricardo used to say to Lucy: “You got some ‘splaining to do!”

That is precisely what New Jersey Senator Cory Booker had to do — “‘splain” what he was doing in New Orleans, holding a sign that proclaimed: “From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go!”

A spokesman for Senator Booker, Jeff Giertz, told JTA in an email:

In one instance, amid the rush, he was posing for a photo and was passed a sign to hold – he didn’t have time to read the sign, and from his cursory glance he thought it was talking about Mexico and didn’t realize it had anything to do with Israel. He hopes for a day when there will be no need for security barriers in the State of Israel, but while active terrorist organizations threaten the safety of the people living in Israel, security barriers are unfortunate but necessary to protect human lives.

I am convinced that this was a misunderstanding — even as I am convinced that politicians, in particular, must be very cautious about the optics that they create.

Because, c’mon, folks: we are talking about Cory Booker.

Cory Booker is as close to a bonafide Judeophile as you will ever find. In fact, when he was a student at Oxford University, he (improbably) became president of the L’chaim Society. 

Senator Booker also gives a pretty good devar Torah.

But, here is why many Jews got very upset over that image.

Many Jews perceive that the left-wing of the Democratic Party is increasingly turning against Israel — or, at the very least, has become hyper-critical of Israeli policies.

Consider what we might dub “creeping Corbynism” on the left:

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democratic congressional candidate from New York, and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, who linked Israel’s response in Gaza to Ferguson, and who has criticized the Israeli “occupation of Palestine.” She subsequently admitted her lack of knowledge on the subject, and indicated her willingness to learn. That’s good news.

Cynthia Nixon, actress and New York gubernatorial hopeful. She supported an artistic boycott of the West Bank settlement of Ariel — true, not “really” BDS, but does not help her in the pro-Israel community.

And, of course, Bernie Sanders — who believes that Israel overreacted in Gaza.

There is that marvelous line in the Exodus story — which speaks of the Israelites crossing the Sea of Reeds, with the waters parting: “the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.” (Exodus 14:22)

That just about sums up Jewish political fears — the wall on the left, about Israel.

The wall on the right is about America. Those fears are about the current administration in the White House — especially, but not limited to, the fear that this administration is giving cover to a kind of Christian nationalism.

That would just be the beginning of Jewish fears — fears that many Americans share — about the direction of this country. Quite simply: many American Jews look at what is happening in this country, and they don’t see their Jewish values mirrored there.

Throw into this political cholent pot — the continuing rightward trend of the government of Israel. Nationalism, of the most problematic and exclusivist nature, is a growing international phenomenon. I’m just wondering when we will start seeing references to a new hybrid being: “Trumpanyahu.”

This trend will push Jews, especially younger Jews, away from Israel.

My answer to those Jews: I don’t like what this current American administration is doing, but I still love America. I don’t like what the Israeli administration is doing, but I still love Israel.

Come November, and subsequent Novembers, many Jews will have a very difficult political choice to make.

If they perceive that the Democrats are becoming “anti-Israel,” they will abandon the Democratic Party.

If they perceive that the Republicans are becoming too xenophobic, etc., they will not vote for Republican candidates, either.

American Jews might find themselves in political galut — exile.

My uneducated guess: even if the Democratic Party continues to move to the left on Israel, American Jews will do a political and moral calculus, and they will continue to vote Democratic.

As one of my friends said: “Israel is a strong, sovereign state. I support Israel. Israel can take care of itself. Right now, I am worried about America.”

I do not see Senator Booker’s support of Israel wavering.

But, this faux pas should be a wake up call to the Democratic party.

They have an Israel problem.

Because, at a certain level, perception becomes reality.

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.

20 Comments

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  • Here we ago again, splitting hairs and parsing syllables uttered by Democrats, making mountains out of the tiniest of mole hills, while the Groper-in-Chief continues to utter one outrageous verbal fart after another and get away with it simply by virtue of the fact that he has exhausted everyone, including the so-called “lib’rul media,” with his daily barrage of verbal filth. Well I’m not having any of it!

    Go and report on the latest un-presidential tweet if you really want to report on something important to the national interest. A single verbal mistake uttered by a single senator should hardly constitute the basis of a story, yet here it is. Hillary’s emails 2.0. Way to go, Salkin.

  • Salkin isn’t a reporter, he’s an opinion writer and he has written about Trump and his policies on many occasions. This piece isn’t really about Booker, politicians have to take pictures with thousands of people and you can’t vet everyone in a matter of minutes. His support of Israel is not questioned. The article is about Jewish anxiety concerning the Democratic Party’s leftward tilt on Israel/Palestine issues, and it’s spot on. Considering the possible erosion in Jewish electoral support, the Democrats should be equally concerned. I am not as certain as Salkin that the electorate will remain Democratic if there is a perception of an anti-Israel bent. Obama possibly got knocked on this, losing 9 percentage points in the Jewish vote from 2008 to 2012. Considering that Hillary did only slightly better than 2012 Obama, and that Trump is perceived (wrongly in my opinion) as being “pro-Israel,” it can be expected that he will do better among Jewish voters in 2020.

  • “If they perceive that the Democrats are becoming “anti-Israel,” they will abandon the Democratic Party.”

    It is not an inkling that those who support the Dems are anti-Israel for the most part. It is plain fact. There are too many groups who are so skewed in their thinking about Israel, coupled with the low information liberals who do nothing that I personally find them anti-Israeli.

    Since the inception of such groups as BDS, those who believe Israel is an apartheid state, and all the other like minded that have cropped up in the last 10 yrs, we can see that when a Dem is in office they will do nothing about the false information and abandon Israel at the drop of a hat. How many other christian groups have now allowed themselves to see their lopsidedness and have dropped the recommendations of these radical groups. The UN is also not capable of being unbiased with regards to Israel.

    This voter is not voting Democrat this election because they still have not learned anything nor changed their tone. I think this country needs another 4 yrs for the simple reason of soul searching and realizing that their narrative is not accepted by a vast majority of voters.

  • I believe our electected officials should first represent America, not another nation, and absolute moral values second, not a relative morality based on taking sides. Otherwise, we get caught in the tribalism trap whose seductive siren song so captivates many who think about the conflict between Israel and the Palestininians.

    That tribalism song has us singing the praises of one side while chanting the condemnation of the other. In reality, both sides are guilty of atrocities and both have legitimate human rights and concerns.

    Finally, to call a nation whose identity and laws revolve around one specific ethnic group a democracy because they have elections is missguided, it is from the Jeffersonian perspective

  • I read RNS regularly. Jeffrey Salkin is repeatedly offered your platform to espouse the viewpoint of Israeli Jews and the Israel lobby in the US. When will RNS have a post that offers a view from the Palestinian/Muslim perspective? I am a proud non-zionist Jew. There are a lot of us and we would appreciate some balance from RNS.

  • One thing not working well with Republicans on the “We are the only ones looking out for Israel” front is their wholesale appropriation of white supremacy as a main political platform. Its tough to say you support Israel when you are cozying up to Nazis.

    https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/03/14/the-gop-is-americas-party-of-white-nationalism/
    https://newrepublic.com/article/146683/trump-fox-news-mainstreaming-white-nationalism
    http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-trump-david-duke-20160928-snap-story.html

  • Why not? Netanyahu and his administration are cozying up to Nazis in Europe and cozying up to Trump (who also supports the Nazis in Europe)

  • Both of you, are the exact ones I mentioned, low information, people. The Repubs do NOT support the WS nor are they Nazi’s. You fell for the same propaganda. It’s so tiring to have to continue to read the same junk over and over, and that is why I will not vote dem even though I support in theory most of their ideals.

  • “Netanyahu and his administration are cozying up to Nazis in Europe”

    Not too sure of that part.

    “Trump (who also supports the Nazis in Europe)”

    No question about that.

  • I understand you like your “facts” best. You might try going beyond Fox and other far rightwing sources. Spuddie is one of the few people on this comment list who seems well read.
    Bannon is now the unofficial Republican ambasador to the right wing fascist and Nazi parties and governments in Europe. If your really not afraid of facts, checkout the references I gave to Spuddie above.

  • America’s true interests should always come first when dealing with any other country. Any American who puts another country above the US is not a patriot. While many Americans have some sentimental attachment to an ancestral homeland or their tribe’s homeland, you need to remember you are in the US and not back there. Those old countries are not always in the best interest of the US.

  • I’m not Jewish and I’m reluctant to wade into this, especially with the recent rash of antisemitic posts on this site. But it does need to be said that support for the Palestinian people, who have suffered tremendously in recent decades, is not the same as opposition to Israel.

    If America is truly to be an honest broker in the Middle East, which both sides want and need, we’ve got to steer clear of entrenched rhetoric. Smart politicians understand that.

  • I’d say Palestinians are the main cause of Palestinian suffering.
    An internal matter, too which I need not be informed.