Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) emerged after meetings with invited Jewish leaders in Livingston and Newark Tuesday saying the events were “absolutely not” intended to patch things up with those who strongly disagree with his intended support of the multinational agreement with Iran.
Booker met with some 100 people at Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston on Sept. 8, then later with a smaller group of leaders of various Jewish organizations in a conference room at his Newark office.
The week before, Booker had disappointed opponents of the Iran nuclear deal by saying he would vote for the agreement.
Although the media were barred from both sessions, the senator spoke with several reporters after the Newark meeting concluded.
He told the media his meetings with Jewish leaders were “part of the pattern of engagement we have had to let people know and understand what my reasoning is.”
He said the two sessions “focused largely on the work still left to be done which is the concern for the security of the region and the security of Israel and the United States.”
Asked by NJ Jewish News whether he made any political calculations about losing support in the Jewish community, Booker said, “this is one of those issues in which you could in no way let political calculations enter your thinking. There is too much at stake. There is too great of a risk. At the end of the day I had to make a decision fundamentally on what would best prevent or delay a nuclear weapon and what was best for the United States and our allies. Let the [political] chips fall where they may.”
Added Booker: “Whichever way I chose there would be many New Jerseyans who disagree with me. There are many people in the Jewish community who disagree with me, but I’ll tell you what: The Jewish community is not monolithic on this issue.”
Among those attending the Newark meeting was Mark Levenson, chair of the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations. Levenson, a partner in the Newark law firm Sills Cummis Gross, opposes the Iran deal.
“Sen. Booker is a very thoughtful individual and we have every belief that he very seriously considered the pros and cons of his agreement. He has been a friend of the Jewish community for a long time and we have a great deal of respect for him. On this issue some of us disagree,” Levenson told reporters.
Asked by a reporter if the opponents of the deal tried to change his mind in the meeting, Levenson said, “I don't know if changing his mind is the way to go. He has made up his mind and I don't think any senator who has made up his mind will change his mind.”
Levenson said that among the Jewish attendees’ concerns was the possibility of a filibuster; Democratic senators have enough votes in favor of the deal to filibuster attempts by the Republican majority to disapprove of the agreement.
“Sen. Booker told us he plans to vote against any filibuster attempts so that this can be discussed in an open Congress in public debate,” said Levenson. “We are also very concerned that there will be a qualitative military advantage for Israel going forward and that Israel retains the strong, strong support of the administration. Sen. Booker was very clear that he fully agrees with that, and that is a message we want to take to anyone who is voting for this agreement with Iran.”
State Senator Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Dist. 37) also attended the Newark meeting.
“We want to make sure Israel is protected, that we follow the letter of the law on this agreement, and we make sure there are no slip-ups,” she said. “My feeling is the leaders who came out of that room trust him to do that.”
Asked whether Booker can regain support from some in the room who are deeply disappointed with his intended vote, Weinberg said “we need Sen. Booker and others who’ve come out for the deal to be our eyes and ears and look out for our staunchest ally, Israel, protected from the day the agreement goes into effect for the next 15 years.”
In his discussion with reporters, when asked whether by supporting the agreement he is “actually voting for a state that supports terrorism,” Booker gave an emphatic “no.”
“This is a deal first and foremost about will that terroristic state have a nuclear weapon or not? They were racing toward a bomb…and what this deal did is effectively take away that threat for 15 to 25 years or more,” he said. “t made them reduce their stockpile, reduce their enriched material, and take offline two very critical reactors. People need to understand this Iran is a bad actor before this deal and a bad actor after this deal. But they could have been a bad actor with a nuclear weapon. Now there are going to be bad actor without a nuclear weapon for the next 15 years or so.”
He said if Iran were “a threshold nuclear state right now it would be a threat to Israel and a threat to the United States, but in 15 years from now we still have all of our options the table, from a military strike to reimposing sanctions with the international community.”
Booker said the United States must continue taking steps “to preventing and legitimizing” Iran’s terrorist activities, but “we have taken off for at least 15 years their nuclear treat, and that is a valuable thing for us to achieve, and that is ultimately why I am going to vote for this deal.”