Newark Mayor Cory Booker told a predominately Jewish audience at a Livingston synagogue Sept. 29 he is “not convinced” that the United States should use American military power in Syria.
“The use of force should be the last option possible,” he said. “I am happy that we see now that if the president had acted earlier we would have lost this chance to negotiate about chemical weapons in Syria.”
But the mayor, campaigning as a Democrat to replace the late Frank Lautenberg in the United States Senate, told the audience of 250 at Temple B’nai Abraham he was a bit less optimistic about diplomatic efforts regarding nuclear weapons in Iran.
“We must have on the table a credible threat of military force. Period. If America flinches, we could create a reality where Iran gets the bomb and creates not just a threat for Israel and America, but a lot of other countries would be determined to get nuclear weapons as well. It would be a destabilizing force in the Middle East that could draw us into unimagined bloodshed,” he predicted.
Booker said he was “very hopeful” that talks between American and Iranian leaders would be successful, even as he insisted that “we must keep all options on the table, including the credible use of force.”
Former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, the Republican candidate, was scheduled to speak at the temple on Sunday morning, Oct. 6. The events are being held in collaboration with the Community Relations Committee of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
Booker’s foreign policy statements came during a question-and-answer session near the end of the 90-minute appearance at B’nai Abraham, where he has spoken frequently during his seven years as mayor.
In response to a question about the wrangling over the federal funding bill and the Affordable Care Act, Booker called it “absolutely unacceptable to me that there are people threatening to shut down the government.”
Referring to “the pain it is going to cause,” the mayor said, “We should not be playing brinksmanship…. There is no right or left here. These things hurt the overall economy of the United States.”
Booker described his opponent, Lonegan, as a “radical Republican.”
“He said Social Security is a ‘Ponzi scheme’ and we should privatize it,” Booker said. “I believe we should improve Social Security. He wants to abolish Medicaid and Medicare. I believe we should improve Medicaid and Medicare.”
Dressed casually in a sport jacket and without a tie, Booker stepped away from the bima and paced up and down, occasionally using the intonation of a Baptist preacher as he spoke of Jewish themes.
“This week is one of my all-time favorite Torah portions,” he said. “It just ended my favorite holiday in Judaism, Sukkot,” the weeklong celebration — which this year fell Sept. 18-26 — that culminates with Simhat Torah. “It is the most joyous holiday of the Jewish calendar because of the completion of the Torah.”
The talk was part of the Varied Voices Lecture series, dedicated to the memory of Rabbi Barry Friedman, who served as associate rabbi and then senior rabbi from 1968 to 1999. B’nai Abraham moved from Newark to Livingston in 1973.
Booker said “creative coalitions” in Newark have reversed downward spirals in the city’s population and business community. He cited successes in the building of new hotels and office towers, the creating of alternatives to incarcerating nonviolent offenders, and starting parenting programs for young men and women.
Booker also praised Jewish and black cooperation in the civil rights movement. He spoke of “blacks and whites who came together” to end discrimination in housing and employment.
“At that moment, we were connected with that spirit that binds us together,” said the mayor. “We may be separate individuals, but we share one common destiny.”