My closest friend since his years as a Rhodes Scholar in Oxford, where he served as president of my organization The Oxford L’Chaim Society, Booker was once considered the greatest ally the Jewish community might ever have in elected office. Having spent countless hours studying Torah texts with me, he was able to dazzle Jewish audiences with his insights on the parasha, often quoting passages that we practiced together in Hebrew.
Upon his rise into the Senate, however, Booker’s support for Israel has cratered. He notoriously voted for the Iran nuclear deal, which presented a clear-cut existential threat to Israel and did so even as his senior Democratic Senator from New Jersey, the heroic Bob Menendez, led the charge against it. When it was brought before the Senate subcommittee on Foreign Affairs, Booker betrayed his moral convictions when he voted against the Taylor Force Act, a law that merely forbade the Palestinian Authority from using American taxpayer funds to finance the families of terrorists. Even as his pro-Israel support evaporated, however, some expected presidential-candidate Booker to adopt a more sympathetic approach to the Jewish State. Perhaps in his efforts to represent the entirety of Democratic America, he might finally commit to the Democratic Party’s stated approach – and his own countless promises – to be a stalwart friend of Israel.
This past Thursday, less than a week into his race, he removed all doubt as to just how firmly he would pander to anti-Israel extremists whose support he believes he needs to secure his party’s nomination. He voted against a critical federal anti-BDS bill designed simply to protect Israel from being brought, economically, to its knees. Known as the Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act (S.1), the act provides legal cover to state governments that seek to stymie the BDS movement. The law passed 77 to 23, earning yeas from every Republican except one, and with a substantial 25 Democratic senators supporting the bill.
Yet Booker voted against it. Funny thing, that. Just last December, Booker committed himself to co-sponsoring anti-BDS legislation.
“I have long and staunchly opposed the BDS movement, and support this bill,” he claimed then. Even in his own recent explanation for voting against it, he insists on his “strong and lengthy record of opposing efforts to boycott Israel.” But instead of actually keeping his word, he abandoned Israel while meting out lame excuses that add insult to injury, claiming that the law “raised First Amendment concerns... There are ways to fight BDS without compromising free speech,” he declared.
His explanation itself leaves us with two possible explanations. Either 80% of the Senate overlooked a critical threat to the First Amendment or Booker sold out America’s closest ally to align more tightly with far-Left Democrats whose heft has grown in the primaries. Considering all but one of the seven other Democratic Presidential candidates voted against the bill, that’s not a tough riddle to solve.
But Booker wants to have his cake and eat it, too. He wishes to appease far-Left anti-Israel activists whom he believes have a veto on the Democratic Party nomination, but mindful of the fact that pro-Israel contributors have been his biggest financial backers, he deflects criticism by using the “Torah thoughts” to demonstrate his kinship before Jewish audiences. However, repeating Hebrew verses I practiced with him is no substitute to standing with Israel against the genocidal onslaught from Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran.
Yet Booker has found a number of Jewish enablers – prioritizing political access before principle – who have allowed him to continue to vote against Israel while maintaining Jewish support. Like the path to hell, theirs, too, may have been well-intentioned. But, in the end, it allows him to abandon Israel’s vital security interests while continuing to raise significant sums from Jewish networks. The thought being on first-name basis with a man who might become the most powerful person on earth can be dizzying for some and intoxicating for others. For the Booker enablers, it became dangerously addictive. Which is why no matter how far he veered from protecting the nation he swore to fight for, they continued not only to forgive but to provide him with the political cover he needed to forsake the Jewish state.
Before Booker shockingly announced his support for the Iran Deal, the head of NORPAC, my friend Ben Chouake, joined me and then-governor Chris Christie at a press conference in which we implored Booker to join Senator Menendez in pressuring president Obama to negotiate a better deal with Iran. Considering NORPAC is Booker’s second-biggest lifetime source of campaign contributions, one might have expected him to pay some price for having broken with their primary purpose.
Yet despite Booker’s “yes” vote on Iran, Chouake publicly forgave him without Booker ever having condemned the mullahs’ repeated promise to annihilate Israel.
“When he saw that his vote either way was not going to make a difference,” Chouake explained, “[Booker] felt this was not one to fall on the sword for. He said, ‘I’m going to give the president a leap of faith.’ I trust his intentions.” So Chouake went from calling on Booker to oppose the Iran deal to explaining to the Jewish community why it was okay that he didn’t.
Shortly after voting for the Iran deal, Booker held a closed-door session with Jewish leaders ostensibly to explain his stance. Because only those who defended him were invited (I, understandably, was not) it seemed the meeting’s real message to Jewish leaders was that access to Booker would hinge upon a public endorsement. Further confirming this theory is the fact that Rabbi Menachem Genack, head of the Kashruth division at the OU, told a reporter from The New York Observer that he would be attending the meeting, though he was “profoundly disappointed” in Booker. This disappointment seemed odd, because Genack had helped arrange a conference call for Booker to explain his position to Jewish leaders. But even that rare moment of criticism would be exceptionally short-lived: just moments after expressing his disappointment, Rabbi Genack demanded that the reporter not publish his criticism (he did).
Other Jewish leaders would go further, allowing themselves to be entirely recast as Booker’s sycophantic apologists. In particular, Rabbi Shmully Hecht of Chabad of Yale worked tirelessly to draw Jewish leaders into meetings with Booker to preserve his standing in the Jewish community.
Interestingly, you don’t need to be a presidential hopeful to get Hecht to go wobbly on Israel – middle-Eastern dictators apparently make the cut as well. The rabbi recently leaped into the center of the Jewish community’s Qatar scandal, defending the Jewish leaders (Genack was one) who traveled to Doha to sit with the foremost funder of the Hamas terrorist organization. Hecht published a bizarre column praising Nick Muzin, the Washington swamp lobbyist who took millions to whitewash Qatar when the Emirate faced American censure for funding terrorism. Hecht has not revealed if he and Muzin have any financial relationship or why he published the obsequious column.
Most tellingly, though, is the fact that last Thursday – the same day that Booker voted against the anti-BDS bill – Hecht fawned over Booker for the Yale Daily News, calling him “truly an out-of-this-world person… and the most magnetic and charismatic person I have ever known.” Though Booker had just officially crossed into the quadrant of the Senate most critical of Israel, Hecht still felt the need to endorse him. “America,” he concluded, “would be lucky to have a president like him.”
Now comes the news that AIPAC is considering giving Booker and other similarly declared presidential candidates with flimsy records on Israel a speaking platform at next month’s policy conference. If this were an election year – as next year is – it would be vital that AIPAC show fairness and balance to all candidates, but providing a platform to those who vote against Israel on BDS sends the message that there is no price to pay for such betrayal.
That would be the wrong message for America’s most important pro-Israel group to deliver. The writer, “America’s Rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the international bestselling author of 32 books, including his most recent, The Israel Warrior. He served as rabbi at Oxford University for 11 years, where Cory Booker was his student president. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.