By Ze’ev Portner and Amit Oz
The last day of October saw Cory Booker sworn in as the new Senator for New Jersey. This was a historic event as he became the first African-American to represent New Jersey, but it could also turn out to be quite a significant event in American politics as well. A number of senior political pundits have predicted that Booker will one day become President of the United States and they see his elevation to senator as a stepping stone to the holding of that great office. Indeed, his friend Ben Karp recalls that: “Cory was someone who was identified early on as someone who could become the first Black President.” In 1999 when they discussed this possibility Booker in the course of the conversation, identified Barack Obama as the leading candidate to take this crown.”There is this guy in Chicago and his name is Barack Obama and he is super talented and he will more than likely become the first Black President of the USA,” Booker said.
Booker has consistently denied to journalists that he intends to run for president in 2016, but so did President Obama in 2006 and ‘circumstances’ do cause people to change their minds. The dream ticket for the Democratic Party at the next presidential elections would be Hilary Clinton running for president and Booker for Vice president, but should Hilary not run, it is almost given that Booker would be very tempted to throw his hat into the ring. He is a favorite of the Hollywood set and in his senate campaign received very strong financial and political support from Hollywood stars such as Eva Longoria Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Oprah Winfrey, and Barbara Streisand, all have identified him as a rising star of the Democratic Party; a larger than life figure who oozes charisma. Hollywood loves to back a winner.
Booker has a tremendous knowledge of the Jewish faith; a faith he says that has deeply enriched his life and is special part of it. During his campaign to become the Democratic candidate for New Jersey, the electors of New Jersey were extremely surprised to wake up one morning in June to read an article written by the pre-eminent American journalist J.J Goldberg in Bloomberg News with the headline asking ‘whether Cory Booker is too Jewish to be a senator?’ This was news to the voters of New Jersey as no one had assumed he was a member of the tribe. Booker is in fact a Christian. The headline was derived from the fact that for over 20 years, since his time as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University where he met and befriended Rabbi Shmuel Boteach. He has studied Torah on a weekly basis with Chabad Rabbis. Indeed he takes immense pride and great fulfillment from giving Divrei Torah at Jewish events and to the wider community. “Judaism teaches us this concept of Tikkun Olam that everyone has this responsibility of healing our world, doing justice, doing righteousness, doing goodness. I have found that so inspiring that I have continued to study on a weekly basis the parsha of the week with Rabbis,” he said in a radio interview just days before his election to the US Senate. Indeed, whilst at Oxford, Rabbi Boteach asked Booker to become co-President of his L’Chaim Society,’ the only time in history’ Booker jokes ‘that a non- Jew has been President of a Chabad House.’
Booker has made it clear that he intends to be a strong advocate for Jewish causes, issues and values as a Senator, both in Congress and outside the walls of power.
Booker’s political career started with his election onto Newark council in 1998. In 2002, he ran for mayor against the longtime incumbent Sharpe James in a campaign that he narrowly lost and which became the subject of a documentary called Street Fight, which was nominated for an Oscar. The campaign itself was marred by dirty tricks against Booker and had anti-Semitic undertones as Booker was called a Jew by his political opponent and anonymous leaflets were circulated in Newark that stated that he was planning to take over Newark with the help of the Jews implying that he was a tool of the Jews. He was also accused of being a Republican and receiving support from the white supremacist group the KKK.
In 2006 he stood against and trounced Sharpe James’s nominated successor and was elected as Mayor of Newark; was re-elected in 2010, but relinquished his post once he was elected senator. One of his biggest achievement as Mayor was persuading Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to invest 100 million dollars into Newark’s education system. Mayor Booker has developed a reputation as a super mayor, joining the police on patrols in areas rife with drug dealers and gangs, and rescuing a woman trapped in a burning building. He was also known as America’s social media mayor, boasting over 1.4 million twitter followers
Booker has visited Israel on three occasions, and he strongly supports a two state solution. “The Jewish state of Israel living in peace side by side by a Palestinian state, but that state should not be a vehicle for the launching of attacks against Israel,” and “we must do everything in our power to ensure real security for the Jewish state of Israel. This is very important to me and drives a lot of my thinking in terms of the Middle East situation,” Booker has said.
In terms of domestic politics he is a strong supporter of gun control, gay marriages and he refused to officiate at any weddings in Newark as mayor until gay marriages became legal in New Jersey. His time In Britain convinced him that America needs a more extensive healthcare system akin to Britain’s National Health Service. He strongly supports charter schools and supports the use of education vouchers, a position generally associated with the Republican Party. One of Booker’s selling points is his ability not only to reach out to Democrats, but also to moderate Republicans and that is why he is regarded as such an electoral asset for the Democratic Party.
Only time will tell whether Cory Booker will become the first Rhodes scholar to make it all the way to the White House since President Bill Clinton, but one thing is certain as J J Goldberg has pointed out, Senator Booker knows more about the Torah than any of the Jewish senators and on that basis alone, he should be asked to help form a minyan in Congress. To quote former British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher; “He is one of us” and should definitely be made an honorary member of the tribe.
—Ze’ev Portner is an attorney; Amit OZ is an attorney and freelance journalist.