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Cory Booker’s connection to Zionism steeped in religious fundamentalism and ties to the Jewish community

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Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and his friend Mayor Cory Booker address a 2008 AIPAC Nation Summit.

If Newark Mayor Cory Booker succeeds in his bid for the Senate, and there is little reason to believe he will not, he could become one of the most outspokenly pro-Israel members of Congress. While Booker has benefitted handsomely from the support of wealthy pro-Israel donors, according to a longtime associate named Ben Karp, the candidate’s politics on Israel derive more from his religiously inspired philo-Semitism than any gratitude to his funders.

“I’m 100 percent sure that Cory Booker’s Zionism is genuine,” Karp told me. “I don’t think these are talking points for Cory. I think he genuinely believes it. He’s more likely to generate hasbara than to recite it. It doesn’t seem strategic with him. And when he talks about Israel he gets a kind of mystical look in his eye.”

Karp added, “The idea of Israel and the Jews as a people that wrestle with God is really appealing to [Booker]. And he’s a Baptist with a fundamentalist belief that the Jews are the Chosen People.  I really believe he thinks the Jews are the Chosen People.”

Now an adjunct fellow at the Institute for Contemporary Asian Studies in Tokyo, Karp has known Booker since they both attended Yale University. In 1996, Karp formed the Chai Society with Noah Feldman, a professor at Harvard Law; Michael Alexander, an associate professor at the University of California, Riverside; and Shmully Hecht, a Chabad rabbi known for his hardline pro-Israel views. Booker, who had just completed a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford, signed on as one of the Jewish club’s founding members.

Chai, which has since been renamed the Eliezer Society, started out by hosting influential figures for lively Shabbat dinner discussions at apartments around New Haven, but eventually moved its operations into a stately brownstone purchased by the club. In recent years, Eliezer guests have included Alan Dershowitz, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and Mona Eltahawy, according to Seth Berkman of The Forward. Philip Weiss also spoke to the club at Ben Karp’s invitation last year. During the time he taught at Yale, Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren lived in Chai’s brownstone.

Booker’s charisma enabled the club to expand its recognition on campus. “His thing was to focus on the Jews who weren’t interested in Judaism at all,” Karp told me. “Cory was a feel good guy, a schmoozer, and he was able to get anyone to come [to our events]; it was like a salon and he was one of the guys behind it.”

Karp said he was introduced to Booker through Shmuley Boteach, a charismatic, infamously temperamental Orthodox rabbi who ran Oxford’s Chabad house while Booker was completing his Rhodes Scholarship. At an AIPAC conference in Chicago on October 26, 2008, Booker described his first meeting with Boteach as beshert, or preordained.

“By the end of the night, as Shmuley says, I was dancing around on tables, holding the Torah, I had my kippa on, and then he told me if I dropped that Torah he’d have to fast after 40 days,” Booker told his audience, flashing a big grin. “I never fumbled in football but I had to hand that book off.”

Under Boteach’s guidance, Booker became the co-president of Oxford’s L’Chaim Society, which functioned much like the Chai Society at Yale. “This experience planted a seed that changed my life,” Booker said at AIPAC.

Booker waxed nostalgic about his first trip to Israel, arranged by Boteach when he was 22-years old. “Only when I saw Israel did it really become a part of my being and did I understand that the nation’s security really is about land,” Booker told the AIPAC crowd. After visiting the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and hearing from his guide about the danger of Syrian missiles raining down on Israeli cities, he concluded, “We cannot allow the valley to be saturated with the blood of Jews.”

By the time Booker arrived at Yale, he was fully immersed in Jewish culture and politics. Karp recalled the first time he saw Booker address a mostly Jewish audience on campus. “I was sort of shocked,” he remarked. “It sounded like he was addressing the United Jewish Appeal — it was so genuine. He’s really in there. He seems to feel in Judaism a magical power.”

When Booker graduated and launched his political career, Karp said, “he had a natural constituency and it made sense that when he ran for office he would begin raising money from the people we knew.”

In April, the pro-Israel political action committee NORPAC raised $100,000 for Booker. And as soon as he announced his campaign for the Senate, NORPAC endorsed Booker, scheduling another fundraiser for June 16.

Hearing voices, blessings from God

Booker vaulted onto the Newark political scene in 1999 when he launched a 10-day hunger strike outside a crime-ridden public housing complex, generating sustained media coverage and eventually prompting city officials to ramp up the police presence in the area.

Booker told the AIPAC crowd that he had begun “hearing voices” by the end of the hunger strike. One of them, he claimed, was that of Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, who intoned to him, “Jews together are strong, but Jews with other people are invincible.” Booker has cited the Meir quote as a source of inspiration before a variety of audiences over the years, including in a 2010 interview with a Fortune magazine editor.

While in the mayor’s office, Booker drew increasingly on his relationship with Boteach, perhaps the most well known rabbi in America, a frequent guest on Oprah, and the host of a relationship advice show on TLC called “Shalom in the Home.” Away from the limelight, Boteach hosted Booker for Shabbat dinners at his Englewood, New Jersey mansion. A non-Jewish Shabbat guest who accompanied Booker to one of the dinners told me that Boteach once attempted to assign him with random household chores. “I realized he was trying to use me as his shabbos goy and I was like, ‘No way!’” the guest recalled.

Booker and Boteach took their friendship on the road, teaming up for a series of speaking engagements before Jewish audiences around the country, and hiring the Greater Talent Bureau to represent them. In his official bio, Booker promoted his friendship with Boteach as “a powerful example of Booker’s strong belief in the strength of diversity and the tremendous possibilities that result when people move beyond simple racial, ethnic and religious tolerance.”

Booker and Boteach larded their public chats with Tony Robbins-style platitudes and weekly Torah readings, rarely touching on hot button political issues. In his own free time, however, Boteach pumped out one inflammatory commentary after another, assailing Israel’s critics as dangerous and deranged anti-Semites. In a column for the Huffington Post, he accused Thomas Friedman of a “straightforward blood libel.” In another, he claimed Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan was responsible for “an unbelievable blood libel” when he accused Israeli forces of killing innocent Palestinians in Gaza. Then, Boteach defended Sarah Palin for accusing her own critics of a “blood libel.”

With a $500,000 donation from Sheldon Adelson, Boteach embarked on a long-shot bid for Congress in 2012, taking on incumbent Democratic Rep. Steve Pascrell. “I have tried, argued, even threatened bodily harm to try to convince [Boteach] not to get into the world of politics,” Booker remarked at the time. “I think it, in many ways, diminishes the universality of his message.”

Boteach did his best to make Israel the friction point of the campaign, accusing his opponent of “slander” for signing a letter calling on the US to pressure Israel to ease the siege of Gaza. During the final weeks of the campaign, Boteach demanded Pascrell end his relationship with Mohammad Qatanani, a widely respected Muslim imam from Paterson, New Jersey, accusing Qatanani of supporting Hamas.

But New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie countered Boteach’s attacks with praise for the embattled imam, neutralizing the desperate, last-ditch tactic. Pascrell stood on the verge of a landslide victory, while Booker found himself in an awkward position. He endorsed his fellow Democrat, but also felt compelled to deliver a long statement reaffirming his friendship with Boteach, which he described as “difficult” but nevertheless “a blessing for which I am grateful to God.”

With the scrutiny his senate campaign is certain to invite, Booker’s gratitude may be tested all over again.

Max Blumenthal

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author.

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26 Responses

  1. seafoid on June 12, 2013, 9:34 am

    When did fundamentalism become such a force in modern Judaism? Is it all linked to the growth of the Orthodox population or is there something else behind it ?

    • piotr on June 12, 2013, 8:09 pm

      I was wondering about it and I have some conclusions. It is a bit peculiar to Jews that they have some competitive spirit concerning how Jewish they are. I stumbled upon that when a certain celebrated Israeli writer bragged that in Israel he can be much more Jewish then elsewhere. Then I started to collect such observations and I concluded that the first example was not bizarre, indeed, surprisingly many Jews care and worry how Jewish they are, and they cannot resist a certain degree of deference to those who are more Jewish. Or at least has a deference to that belief.

      So the “Choseness” fundamentalists are so Jewish that they command support from agnostic Jews who do not believe in the stuff. Mental processes of militant agnostic Zionists are pretty complex, but not without analogies among Christians etc. For example, surprisingly many people declare themselves as Christian and believers in God, but they do not believe in Hell (if you see percentages in Pew polls). So an agnostic like Netanyahu may believe in the Covenant etc.

  2. Chu on June 12, 2013, 10:15 am

    These scoundrels need exposure, for they are the corrupt underbelly that perpetuates Israeli intransigence and illegal settlements, they act as a satellite outpost for Israeli interests inside the US. Booker is a dreamer that should convert if he is such a believer – I’ve seen him get a glassy eyed on Charlie Rose about change in Newark, I mean -what a hero rescuing people from burning buildings (watch for that in his commercial adverts for senate). He presents himself as a putty-like doe-eyed champion, but with a charlatan like Boteach as your tightest friend, I wonder what really motivates him? It must be the spirits of Judaism.
    And Boteach is one of the greater swindlers in the mainstream news today. His Michael Jackson tapes revealed he would sell out any one to make a buck and raise his media stake, as he was called his spiritual advisor, lol – sadness. Then, his failed bid for congress and then his Huffington Post article had me laughing at what a pathetic attempt to divide and conquer New Jersey with his Pro Israel television commercials. He forgot about New Jersey for that moment, and wound up losing in a landslide. I forgot that Christie helped to clear the air in that election.
    Booker is not what you see on the surface. He wants to be the big hero of the poor, but he is playing with a shady crew of Israeli Zionists. Why the mainstream media is scared to expose these clowns is the big question that remains.

  3. American on June 12, 2013, 11:31 am

    ‘Booker told the AIPAC crowd that he had begun “hearing voices” by the end of the hunger strike.”

    Inmates really are running the asylum.
    Most people that ‘hear voices’ get shipped off to the looney bin.

    • on June 13, 2013, 7:16 am

      Booker is an ambitious careerist who would sell his mother down the river to obtain a senate seat. Period.

  4. Cliff on June 12, 2013, 11:34 am

    Oh look use of ‘Chosen’ here again in connection to Zionism and land-stealing, settler colonialism.

    And liars […] keep pushing the nonsense that non-Jews are antisemitic for basically saying what Zionist Jews are, regarding ‘Choseness’.

    I also recall some heckler who followed Shlomo Sand around during his book tour in the UK, haranguing him with the same talking points regarding this ‘Choseness’ line.

    Zionist Jews are antisemitic and regularly push antisemitic memes but if we point it out, we being non-Jews or not-really-Jews (antizionist Jews), they pounce on us (using, ironically, the cynical identity-politics conception of antisemitism).

    Israel in American politics is straight from TV with all the simplistic tropes you can expect. It’s not complex *at all*. It’s sensationalistic because Zionist Jews are sensationalistic.

  5. German Lefty on June 12, 2013, 12:01 pm

    Cory Booker: “What is this large black man doing here?”
    Huh? Large black men can’t be Jewish?

  6. Obsidian on June 12, 2013, 1:30 pm

    Cory Booker is ten times more than man than you, Max.
    You wheedle him down to make yourself look bigger.

    • Cliff on June 12, 2013, 4:21 pm

      He need no ‘wheedling down’. He comes pre-whittled by the Israel Lobby.

    • Ron Edwards on June 13, 2013, 8:04 am

      Is someone else posting under your handle? This is dumb whereas you’re usually clever and at the very least, literate.

      What’s meant by “man” here, and what does that have to do with anything? On what basis is it compared with Max’s?

      “Whittle.” You’re welcome.

  7. ramzijaber on June 12, 2013, 2:07 pm

    Another zio-nut! Is there an endless supply of this species in the USA???

  8. chet on June 12, 2013, 2:21 pm

    Booker is a politician.

    Ergo, until the contrary is proven, he is presumed a liar.

    • TwoRedDogs on June 13, 2013, 4:10 am

      Exactly. At a young age he was smart enough to figure out the surest way to get ahead was to kiss up to the ‘leaders of the community’. Now, chew on what that spells for the average American.

  9. PeaceThroughJustice on June 12, 2013, 2:32 pm

    Good reporting, Max. But knowing what we know about our own TokyoBK, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that he was going to claim Booker’s Zionism was the outpouring of a heartfelt and genuine philosemitism. (I mean, it wouldn’t simply be pandering to the rich and powerful, since everyone knows Jews don’t have any power.)

  10. Leper Colonialist on June 12, 2013, 3:28 pm

    Being taken under the wing of Rabbi Boteach to the extent that Booker has, does that make Booker a Judean-Samarian Candidate in the mold of the late Senator Moyhihan?

    And, in the spirit of the late Budd Shulberg, the rest of us have to wonder: What Makes Cory Run?

    I hope Mayor Booker has a great sense of humor, as he is soon to be a massive object of ridicule of a type unseen since the golden days of Sarah Pslin’s VP run.

    In fact, here’s a suggestion for a Mondoweiss contest: just as the UK has a Booker Prize [for literature] this site could issue a Booker Prize for the most nonsensical and self-debasing pursuit of support from the pro-Israel crowd in the USA. No doubt that the readership of this site could dredge up no end of “worthy” nominees.

    • philweiss on June 12, 2013, 3:36 pm

      That’s funny.

    • German Lefty on June 12, 2013, 4:36 pm

      the most nonsensical and self-debasing pursuit of support from the pro-Israel crowd in the USA
      Yes. That’s precisely what I thought when I watched his speech. I have seen Cory Booker a few times on MSNBC and some entertainment shows. He seemed rather likeable. Now, I have a totally different impression of him.

    • Citizen on June 13, 2013, 5:36 am

      More nominees: Scoop Jackson? Sarah Palin? Michelle Bachmann? Glen Beck?

  11. atime forpeace on June 12, 2013, 3:58 pm

    from feb 2007 in the jewish forward.
    “In the beginning of the Iraq war they talked about the neocons‚ as a code word,” Hoenlein said. “Now we see that code words are no longer necessary.” He warned that the United States is nearing a situation similar to that of Britain, where delegitimization of Israel is widespread.

    “This is a cancer that starts from the top and works its way down,” he said. “It poisons the opinions among elites which trickle down into society.”

    According to Hoenlein, such critics tend not only to delegitimize Israel but also to “intimidate American Jews not to speak out.” He called on American Jews to take action against this phenomenon, saying that Christian Zionists seemed at times more willing than Jews to fight back.”

    I contend that the Christian Zionists were cultivated by Israel-AIPAC, just look at it’s history and how Dora Gold, Netanyahu and a whole panoply of Israeli’s were paraded on Christian tv to firm up the image of poor suffering Israel to the Christian sheep. It is a deeply emotional message that is easy for a bible believer to cling to.

    I saw this first hand, I was one of those bleating sheep who was weaned listening to that message at one time. I saw it also in the messianic jewish congregations in the city of Philadelphia at congregation Beth Yeshua on Haverford, they practice the same methods, they parade Israeli’s who to me seemed more like propagandists for Israel than Christians.

    Cory Booker is the poster child and we see who his handlers are by reading the article above.

    • Truthbug on June 16, 2013, 11:32 am

      “I contend that the Christian Zionists were cultivated by Israel-AIPAC…” I agree wholeheartedly. This is why I contend that, if the Israel lobby consists of a Jewish Lobby and a Christian Right component, it’s still orchestrated, over all by the Jewish component. I don’t think we can hope to correct the US government’s biased actions in favor of Israel unless we somehow convince the broader US Jewish community to change their view on the role Israel plays in Judaism.

  12. yourstruly on June 12, 2013, 9:52 pm

    so will the n.j. senate race come down to who’s the most pro-Israel of them all? But how will this sell in Newark? Sure would like to see one candidate take on Booker for his Israel-Firstness.

  13. Donald on June 12, 2013, 10:23 pm

    Booker is unpopular with liberal Democrats because he’s very close to Wall Street–last year he came to the defense of Romney and Bain Capital and attacked the Obama Administration for its criticism of Romney’s record at Bain (not that Obama isn’t in Wall Street’s pocket, but he was at least pretending to be critical during the election year). If there is any chance of stopping him this is going to be more important than his moronic position on Israel, since unfortunately it’s just taken for granted that most politicians will take moronic positions in favor of Israel.


    • Donald on June 13, 2013, 12:47 pm

      And here’s another link to some Booker-bashing regarding his ties to Wall Street. I found this link at another liberal blog, “Lawyers, Guns, and Money”–


      So again, a lot of liberals will be rooting against him because of this.

  14. Citizen on June 13, 2013, 5:44 am

    Here’s Booker in ’09, saying he thinks all religions are useful, valuable, and that the good fight is all about justice here and now, not pie in the sky:

  15. Keith on June 13, 2013, 4:32 pm

    I didn’t comment on this post yesterday, but it stayed with me, so here goes.

    Let us begin with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. What chutzpah to compare American Black persecution with American Jewish persecution. Forget Nazi Germany, US Jews only experienced a relatively short period of discrimination, and now occupy the highest levels of power. American Blacks, however, live the legacy of slavery, lynching, and ongoing discriminatory bias. There is no comparability.

    Rabbi Boteach’s examples of Cory Booker’s ‘qualifications’ were interesting. Two times Schmuley asked for Corry to accommodate him at great expense to Booker. Hardly the requests of a friend. Two times Booker honored the requests (demands?). Message? The boy knows his place and is reliable. He can go far with Jewish support, and we can reliably expect him to support our agenda.

    As for Corry Booker, Jeez, not another Ivy League plus Rhodes Scholar lawyer with the ambition to become the Black face of white corporate/financial power. Neoliberal in the extreme. He’ll probably go far with his obvious ambition and backing.

  16. Hamishe_Sabz on June 14, 2013, 11:20 am

    Thanks for the wonderful video… :)

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