I received an email over the weekend from a woman in northern New Jersey who says she was “shocked” to see Senator Cory Booker’s name on the list of Democratic senators who are backing AIPAC over the president on the issue of Iran sanctions. “I don’t get it. He has been a friend of Muslims during his entire career. Why did he change?” The answer is simple: he didn’t. His support for the local Muslim community has nothing to do with his position on matters AIPAC cares about: the Israeli-Palestinian issue and Iran. As far as the lobby is concerned, Booker can march 24-7 in front of the FBI building to protest profiling of Muslims, so long as does not deviate an iota from Netanyahu’s line on Israel, Palestine or Iran. In fact, being good on Muslim civil rights serves as a good cover for being terrible on Middle East matters.
Booker is a more complex case than, say, Chuck Schumer, Lindsey Graham, or Bob Menendez. They are obstructionists on Iran and Israel entirely for the campaign funds. For Booker, that is a large part of it. Remember how, back in the 2012 presidential campaign, he publicly broke with President Obama on whether or not Mitt Romney’s work at Bain Capital — buying up and then dismantling companies — was a legitimate campaign issue? Obama thought it was because it showed Romney not as a job creator but the opposite. But, just as the Bain issue was getting traction in the polls, Booker went on Meet The Press and called the Obama’s use of it “nauseating” and “ridiculous,” damaging Obama but delighting Booker’s own Wall Street donors.
So there can be no doubt that Booker goes where the money is. But there is more to it than that in this case.
Back in July, Peter Beinart devoted an entire piece in Daily Beast to Cory Booker’s unique relationship with ultra-right wing Judaism (specifically the Chabad Lubavitch movement). Read it here.
The bottom line is that Booker (a Christian) has been a student of two very conservative Chabad rabbis for decades. One, Shmuely Boteach, who Booker calls his best friend, ran for Congress in 2012 as a Tea Party Republican, mainly focusing on the incumbent Democrat’s failure to support the Gaza blockade. The other Shmully Hecht is just as rightwing on Israel, interrupting a Tom Friedman lecture by bellowing that the Times man is an enemy of the Jewish people for criticizing the occupation.
In short, everything Cory Booker knows about Judaism (and, granted, it’s a lot) comes from a far right Jewish cult, one that is as alien to most Jews as Opus Dei is to most Roman Catholics, one that has credibly and repeatedly been accused of racism and which was instrumentalin making Netanyahu prime minister. There is no way that Booker would be caught dead associating with Chabad’s Christian equivalents. Rightwing Christianity is off-limits for Democrats; its embrace limited to Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz type Republicans. But, due to its gift for PR and the media’s fear, Chabad (and Booker) get a pass.
So Booker, unlike most other AIPAC acolytes in Congress, may have come to his rightwing views on Israel honestly. It may not be only for the money but the money sure rolls in anyway And Booker does his part to help the lobby raise the money that it can later use to help him. Here is a typically over-the-top 2 minute video where Booker lays it on thick at an AIPAC fundraiser. (There are dozens of these on line, with Booker pitching for this or that Israel organization). It took Joe Lieberman years in the Senate to get to where Booker is today: a nationally recognized advocate of every AIPAC position who is well-compensated for it. In fact, he is far more valuable to the lobby than Lieberman ever was because (1) he is a non-Jew and (2) he is black and (3) he is perceived to be progressive.
Again, the question. Is Booker sincere? Or is he in it for the money? I think the answer is both. He is a true believer and one who is well-compensated for his beliefs. Either way, he represents nothing but trouble. His central role in opposing President Obama’s effort to normalize relations with Iran is just Booker’s first such move. He is a young man. He will be AIPAC’s main man for a long long time.
So stop being “disappointed” in Cory Booker and start being angry. His rightwing stance on Israel and anything related to it is a large part of who he has always been. You might as well be “disappointed” in Alan Dershowitz.