The New York Observer called to ask me if I had seen that my dear friend of 25 years, Senator Cory Booker, had removed me from his memoir over my public criticism of his choice to support the Iran deal. I was vocal in calling upon Cory to oppose the genocidal Iran regime and oppose giving it $150 billion to murder innocents around the globe. Cory also chose to block any vote on the deal in the Senate after publicly promising, just two days before the vote, that he would not participate in the Democratic filibuster because a vote on so momentous a policy, he said, was vital.
I took the news in stride and told them I had expected it. Cory expected me to put loyalty and friendship first and to remain silent over his backing the Iranian regime amid its threats to annihilate the Jews.
I have supported Cory for 25 years. Made him my student president at Oxford University at a time when we were the second largest student organization in Oxford’s history.
Had him introduce our guest Mikhail Gorbachev to 3,000 students. Introduced Cory to the American Jewish leadership across the United States. Got him to speak before hundreds of Jewish audiences and facilitated his raising millions of dollars for his campaigns from the Jewish community. Helped him prepare countless speeches based on themes from the Torah and the writings of Jewish giants like Maimonides, the Rebbe, Elie Wiesel and Victor Frankl.
But this time was different. There can be no silence in the face of genocide. There can be no passivity when confronting genocidal intent.
The United States is a signatory to the United Nations’ 1948 anti-genocide convention which makes incitement to genocide a crime against humanity. Rather than being given $150b. with which to kill innocent people around the world, the leaders of Iran should have been indicted in the International Criminal Court at The Hague for their repeated promises to eradicate the Jews. Cory, as someone who promised eternal friendship to a community that made him the foremost recipient of contributions from Jewish supporters of any candidate in the United States, due to their love of Cory’s values, should have been at the forefront of condemning Iran’s promises to exterminate the nation of Israel.
His silence precipitated my outspokenness.
Public figures have to understand that criticism comes with the territory. It’s nothing personal. But genocide is deadly serious. I told the New York Observer that Cory will just have to understand my deep disappointment and get over it. I will always love him.
We will always be soul-friends. Our friendship will resume.
I am a public figure and as painful as it is to admit it, I have learned much from my admirers but even more from my critics.
And as for me, well, father Abraham reminded us that we are all but dust and ashes. And however much a friend’s actions will sometimes cause personal pain, we all have much larger things to live for, none more so than the protection of our people and defending the infinite value of human life.
True, other rabbis and Jewish leaders to whom I introduced Cory over the past 25 years chose not only silence in the face of Cory’s Iran support but bent over backward to give Cory political cover and preserve his relationship with a stunned Jewish community as Jewish support for Cory began to disintegrate. These rabbis did so in the name of political access, arguing that Cory is a powerful man and the community needs a relationship with him.
In particular, Rabbi Shmully Hecht, for whom Cory also served as student president at Yale after my imploring Cory to do so, and Rabbi Menachem Genack of the Orthodox Union, who met Cory at my home over many Shabbat meals, worked overtime to get Jewish leaders to meet with Cory in order to preserve his standing in the Jewish community.
Shmully made herculean efforts to have Cory invited to high-level meetings with Jewish and Israeli leaders where Cory was being shunned after what many saw as a betrayal.
Rabbis providing Cory with political cover in order, one presumes, to preserve their access to the Senator was all allegedly done in the name of helping Israel and the Jewish community.
But in this apparent attempt to curry favor with a lawmaker who has legitimized a regime that stones women to death and hangs gays from cranes, I was reminded of the sad legacy of Rabbi Steven S. Wise, the Reform Jewish leader during the Holocaust who categorically refused to call out FDR for inaction against the annihilation of European Jewry, his refusal to bomb the train tracks to Auschwitz, and the State Department’s unwillingness to allow Jews into the United States, all in order to preserve access to the White House. To be sure, Wise argued that the community needed the president and thus should never criticize him. His refusal to call out the president, and his efforts to provide FDR with political cover in the Jewish community, was all done in the name of God.
But history remembers it differently.
Wise’s name today lives in infamy because he put political relationships before the interests of his people. And his silence did not help even a bit. It was Peter Bergson, who strongly challenged the FDR administration in successive full-page New York Times ads, that ultimately led to the creation of the War Refugee Board and the saving of some 250,000 Jews. Bergson was soundly criticized by many as a troublemaker and nuisance.
Wise said that Bergson’s criticisms of the White House had made him “worse than Hitler.” But history has vindicated Bergson as the courageous Jewish leader who put the interests of his people before relationships with the powerful.
This year on May 5, our organization, The World Values Network, will honor Bergson through his daughter Becky with fellow honorees Yoko Ono, Rev. Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr., crown prince of Iran Reza Pahlavi, mega-philanthropists Michael and Judy Steinhardt, and the world’s foremost benefactors of Jewish causes, Dr.
Miriam and Sheldon Adelson.
Cory is a good and special man. But he is served poorly by sycophants who refuse to remind him of the virtues that made him so special and brought him to national prominence in the first place.
First, there was always Cory’s graciousness and gratitude. Where did that go? How could Cory have written a memoir that barely acknowledges the vast Jewish contribution to his life and career, if at all? In Cory’s book, United, he acknowledges the influence of the African-American, Latino and Muslim communities in shaping his life, teaching him valuable lessons and supporting his political rise. The Jewish contribution seems largely to have vanished. Gone is any mention of the thousands of hours of Torah study that we enjoyed together and which helped shape his values. Lacking is any reference to how the ideas and values of Judaism, which I and other scholars studied with him, gave him inspirational material for speeches that electrified audiences.
Absent is mention of the hundreds of synagogues that opened their doors to him and gave him unconditional love. Missing also is a proper acknowledgment of the countless Jewish organizations and individuals who raised huge sums of money to support his political campaigns from the time he first ran for City Council to the time he reached the Senate.
In largely whiting out his history with a Jewish community that once adored him but became disillusioned in his failure to at least call out Iran for its promised second Holocaust, Cory undermined the incredible courage it took for an African-American Rhodes Scholar to become the head of my student L’Chaim Society organization at Oxford in the early Nineties when there still was tension between the Black and Jewish communities.
Our friendship, which was written about in the world’s leading publications and which even Barbra Streisand wanted to make a film about, inspired hundreds of thousands and Cory even pushed me to take off an entire summer to write a book about our special and unpredictable soul-friendship. Cory moved into my home and we wrote and wrote every day in my living room.
In the place of that bravery we have instead, as a friend who reviewed the book expressed it to me, the “whitewashed, homogenized, poll-tested language that is risk free and without the passion and personality that made him so interesting and dynamic.” The brave Cory that defeated Sharpe James and took over a city, embraced reform and destroyed a corrupt political machine is replaced by a more timid political personality who barely won his senate seat in the very blue state of New Jersey. The brave Cory stood up for Israel and was famously above partisanship. The whitewashed Cory stands up unconditionally for President Barack Obama’s policies on Iran and Israel and calls Hillary Clinton “the most qualified candidate for President since George Washington,” even as she takes advice on Israel from arch-Israel hater Max Blumenthal who calls Israel a Nazi state and compares the IDF to the SS.
But I do not despair. I know we will see the brave Cory again, the one that was both my pupil and inspiration at Oxford.
The time will come for the Jewish community to reconcile with our dear friend. I believe that one day soon Cory will take to the floor of the US Senate and demand that the remaining provisions of the Iran deal be frozen until Iran stops threatening a second Holocaust and ceases its support for Syrian President Bashar Assad’s wholesale slaughter of innocent Arabs in Syria.
Samantha Power exposed in her Pulitzer- prize winning book, A Problem from Hell, the many American politicians who sat idly by while genocides raged during their terms in office. She loudly criticizes the administration of president Bill Clinton and Susan Rice for its failure to stop the Rwandan genocide.
There is no excuse for silence in the face mass murder. One must speak out regardless of the political costs.
Joseph Stalin is credited with saying, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” It is just too easy for politicians to sit back and do nothing when there is nothing pressuring them to act.
Yet with all of this, and through Cory’s heartbreaking error of supporting the Iran deal, I have said over and again that my outspokenness was never personal. This was a matter of genocide, not egos, and I am sure that our friendship is strong enough to survive even this.
The author, “America’s rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 30 books, winner of The London Times Preacher of the Year Competition, and recipient of the American Jewish Press Association’s Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. He will shortly publish The Israel Warrior’s Handbook: Winning the Battle for Israel in the Marketplaces of Ideas. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.