At last week’s Netroots Nation conference, the annual gathering for progressive activists, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker found himself red-faced after accidentally posing in a photo with a sign reading “From Palestine to Mexico: All the Walls Have Got to Go”. The sign, given to him by a Palestinian rights activist attending the conference, accurately compares the construction of a militarized border wall between the United States and Mexico on land physically confiscated from Mexico to Israel’s construction of border walls, including the illegal West Bank barrier, built on land stolen from Palestinians.
Like so many other Establishment Democrats, however, Cory Booker sought to square support for immigrants in America against Trump with unfettered support for racism and nativism by Israel. Booker’s aide quickly dismissed the photo, saying Booker hadn’t properly read the sign. More interestingly, however, the aide added: “[Booker] hopes for a day when there will be no need for security barriers in the State of Israel, but while active terrorist organizations threaten the safety of the people living in Israel, security barriers are unfortunate but necessary to protect human lives.”
Two people who have explicitly agreed with the comparison between American walls and Israeli walls are none other than US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That the Prime Minister of the Israeli government itself has explicitly agreed with the comparison that Booker sought to disavow should settle any ambiguity about the comparison.
President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel's southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea 🇮🇱🇺🇸
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) January 28, 2017
The astounding hypocrisy has been noted — and not just by progressives. Conservative writers like Scott Morefield, a regular contributor to nativist and pro-Israel websites like Breitbart News, asks why Cory Booker’s security rationale for walls in Palestine doesn’t also apply to the United States: “In other words, [border] security for me, but not for thee…Ironically, Booker cites the presence of ‘active terrorist organizations’ that threaten the safety of the Israeli people as a reason for their border wall, conveniently forgetting that MS-13 and, well, pretty much any criminal or terrorist group that wishes to can currently waltz across the US – Mexico border at will.”
Morefield’s exaggerated description of threats to Americans and Israelis is unhinged. But it is entirely reasonable to ask why those who use fear-mongering about terrorism to justify Israeli walls would suddenly disagree when right-wing authors in America list threats against Americans — from MS-13 to ISIS sleeper cells to creeping Sharia law — to justify building a wall here. Why don’t Americans deserve the same protection from exaggerated or imaginary threats that Israelis enjoy?
One explanation for Booker’s hypocrisy is that he just happens to like Israel too much. Another could simply be the influence of donor money. Maybe the issue is that he has more Latin-American immigrants in his district than he does Palestinians, Eritreans, or Sudanese.
But I think the explanation is simpler: Democrats like Cory Booker have never cared about protecting people from the archaic violence of imposed colonial borders, and like the Democratic Establishment, his support for migrants in North America, as strident as it may sometimes appear, is feigned.
Given the opportunity to address the question of border violence in another context that carries less domestic political cost, Booker can let his true feelings out: he agrees with the far-right that it is reasonable to violently restrict the movement of other people based on their national origin or their religion, and the existence of those people in their entirety is conflated with the threats of terrorism, violence, or other social ills.
Indeed, the Democrats have consistently dropped the ball in spite of their claimed support of immigrant rights in America. Only last year, the Democrats threw the DREAMers under the bus in their negotiations with Trump. Before that, Hillary Clinton unabashedly told CNN that she believed in deporting small children during the 2014 spike in immigration from Central American countries. In the eight years preceding Trump, the Obama Administration deported 3 million people — comparable to the numbers of people displaced by major armed conflicts. Obama and Clinton both voted to build a fence (though not a wall) in 2006. And of course, the mass crackdown against migrants that has become a fact of life for millions of people living within US borders began with measures imposed by Bill Clinton. And despite claiming outrage over Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims, it was a Democratic president who issued immigration restrictions against seven predominantly Muslim countries — that then became the targets for Trump’s Muslim ban.
In fairness to Booker, he has opposed each and every one of these moves as a public official, whether through letters to Obama or legislation to stop the worst abuses. But words, like legislative proposals likely to be defeated, are cheap — especially when they are not paired with principles.
Under successive Democratic administrations, we have watched immigrants suffer — and with the increase in their suffering, the bar has been lowered for what constitutes supporting them. As the climate for migrants in North America continues to change for the worse, we cannot trust Establishment Democrats to protect the weak and should not wait for them to sell out migrants here as they have done with refugees and migrants in and around Palestine.