Human beings are inherently imperfect, and people inevitably make mistakes. As we typically tend to be error-prone, it is important not to let the people’s gaffes come to define them and alter the way in which we perceive them.
Last week, Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) was featured in a tweet from the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, a pro-Palestinian organization that supports the BDS movement and advocates for ending U.S. support of Israel. The tweet included a picture of the senator holding a sign bearing anti-Israel verbiage.
I, like many others, was deeply disturbed by the photo. Social media was abuzz with people criticizing Senator Booker and decrying him for holding the anti-Israel sign. However, as I thought about the Senator’s history relative to Israel and issues pertaining to the Jewish community, I was perplexed as to how this could have happened. Rather than rush to judgment, I contacted Senator Booker’s office and inquired about the photo, which appeared to be an aberration.
Within minutes, I received an explanation. After Senator Booker delivered a speech (at the progressive Netroots Conference in New Orleans), the crowd swarmed around him, clamoring to take photos with him. During the chaos, someone handed him a sign, and he did not realize that it was about Israel. Hence the photo, which appeared on Twitter. His office added that the senator “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.”
While I cannot condone what happened, I comprehend how it could have occurred. I have been in situations where people converge on an elected official and desperately seek a photo. It is absolute bedlam, and I certainly can understand how mistakes could be made in the midst of the mayhem. Personally, I found the explanation plausible, the acknowledgement of the blunder refreshing, and the reiteration of the senator’s support for Israel heartening. It is not my opinion that matters, however. It is the attitude of the greater Jewish community toward someone who historically has been in our corner that is paramount.
Senator Booker has stood with Israel throughout his tenure in the Senate. He co-sponsored the U.S.-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act of 2018 and forcefully urged his colleagues to reject efforts to eliminate security assistance to Israel. He recently participated in briefings in Lebanon focused on efforts to ensure Israel’s security on its border and discussed the ongoing threat to Israel posed by Hezbollah. He co-authored a bipartisan resolution celebrating the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel and co-sponsored the Combating European Anti-Semitism Act. Senator Booker also co-wrote a bipartisan resolution condemning anti-Israel efforts at the United Nations and condemned “one-sided resolutions in the U.N. Security Council that isolate Israel in the international community.”
The senator received some criticism after he sought changes to the Taylor Force Act; his intent, however, was to augment the legislation by securing improvements that better ensured Israel’s security. Noting that the “Palestinian Authority’s prisoner payment system, which encourages horrific, unspeakable violence against the Israeli people is an inexcusable policy that must be changed,” Senator Booker took a principled stand in order to procure an amendment that he believed was necessary to prevent young Palestinians from becoming radicalized and endangering Israel further.
Senator Booker took a great deal of heat for his support of the Iran nuclear deal, but I know he grappled with an array of issues before arriving at his decision. He studied every aspect of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and carefully considered the agreement’s pros and cons. Recognizing the great need to prevent Iran from amassing nuclear weapons, he concluded that the benefits of the deal outweighed the risks, and he ultimately voted in favor of it. While I disagree with his vote, I respect him for the meticulous approach he took, and I appreciate that bolstering Israel’s qualitative military edge and being mindful of Israel’s safety were an important part of his deliberations.
With most elected officials, examining their voting record is the only barometer by which you can measure their support for Israel — or their lack of support. With Senator Booker, his legislative history is only the tip of the iceberg. It is his personal history and profound connection to the Jewish community that makes Cory Booker perhaps the most Jewish non-Jew in the U.S. Senate.
This is a man who once told me that he tries to study the weekly Torah portion, explained to me why Abraham and Moses are the two Bible heroes he admires most, and shared insights from the Torah with me. Senator Booker, the one-time president of the L’Chaim Society at Oxford University, also spoke with me about how the Jewish ideal of tikkun olam plays an essential role in his life, told me fondly how he views Judaism as “a religion that’s seeking to be a light unto nations of godliness and goodliness,” and described for me how his love of Israel comes not through his politics, but from knowing about the Jewish people, learning about the Torah, and visiting Israel. This is a man who was deeply affected by the horrific ordeal in the summer of 2014 that resulted in the tragic deaths of the three Israeli teens, and who grieved together with the Jewish community.
Is Cory Booker perfect? Of course not. None of us are. Are we going to agree with him on everything? No, certainly not. For us to allow an inadvertent error manifested in one troubling tweet to negate his robust track record on issues relating to Israel and the Jewish community, however, would be malpractice on our part. Senator Booker displays a passion and genuineness when discussing Israel and Jewish life that is palpable. We cannot be so fickle as to forsake a good friend who has been there for us the overwhelming majority of the time.
To err is human, to forgive divine.
N. Aaron Troodler is the principal of Red Apple Strategies, LLC, a public relations and strategic communications firm. He and his wife live in Philadelphia, but until recently they lived in Teaneck, which was their home for 20 years. Follow him on Twitter: @troodler