June 17, 2020 — New York
U.S. Senator Cory Booker, addressing the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Virtual Global Forum, declared that “silence is complicity” when fighting for racial equality in the United States and combatting assaults on Blacks and Jews.
In the conversation with Julie Rayman, AJC’s Washington-based Deputy Director of Policy and Diplomatic Affairs, Senator Booker discussed longstanding issues that have come to the forefront in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd.
“There will always be obstacles in the way of freedom, justice, and righteousness, but you just cannot give up,” said Booker. “We have to have an awareness growth in our country. Anyone who stands in the way of justice has to feel the consequences.”
Ensuring awareness of enduring inequities in American society is, in the view of the legislator, of paramount importance. “We’ve become too comfortable with injustice in this country,” said Booker, who cited as a primary example the nation’s prison system. The U.S. criminal justice system is “way out of whack with the rest of inhumanity,” said Booker. “We are the mass incarceration nation.”
Reflecting on past landmark achievements, Booker offered perspective and context. “I have to remind myself when I feel frustrated how long it took to pass civil rights legislation, voting rights legislation,” he said. “People don’t realize that the workers’ rights we take for granted really took the demands of millions of people, in diverse coalitions, that ultimately created the atmosphere to make changes.”
In this regard, Booker expressed optimism about the mounting numbers of people mobilizing. “We see now, across this country, people protesting in the streets, in all 50 states, thousands of cities. It is a wonderful thing that you see such diverse groups of folks who are confronting the injustices in our times,” said Booker.
The Senator pointed out that Jews are very much involved now, as they have been over many decades in the struggles to achieve equality and justice.
“All of us have an obligation to speak out, especially because we are bound together in destiny,” said Booker. “Black and Jewish communities who have known so much targeting and suffering, and horrific murders and death, are bound together in many ways through experience to have a role as a conscious of this country. I am grateful for Jewish leaders like yourself and others who understand that role.”
Extolling the Black-Jewish alliance, Booker warned against giving credence to those who speak ill of Jews or call for delegitimization of Israel. “Don’t let a few individuals ever steal away from the enduring truth of incredible alliances between blacks and Jews in this country,” said Booker. “Right here, right now, is testament to this truth. I look at the people protesting now, and I see people of different religious backgrounds and Jews leading many of the calls for justice.”
“AJC has been an extraordinary champion for justice,” said Booker, who has addressed AJC audiences many times as Senator, and previously as mayor of Newark. “Getting consciousness raised is the thread that ties together all the issues I know you hold to your core – justice, equality, end to racism, antisemitism, bigotry of any kind.”
Booker recalled Joachim Prinz, a rabbi who fled Berlin in 1937, moved to New Jersey, and was one of the five people who spoke before the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King at the 1963 March on Washington. “Joachim Prinz’s speech was all about silence in the face of injustice, inaction in the face of injustice, calling on all Americans to understand that you are complicit in injustice if you are doing nothing about it,” said Booker.
On antisemitism, Booker said that silence in the face of “a 50 percent increase in antisemitism over the past two years in our country” is unacceptable. Before and after the 2018 fatal attack at a Pittsburgh synagogue, “we did not talk enough about rising antisemitism in our country,” said Booker. “Silence is complicity.”
Booker also pointed out that “this is the first time in American history that we have three African Americans serving in the Senate at the same time.” Together with Senators Tim Scott and Kamala Harris, Booker has introduced legislation that would criminalize lynching. “Most people are not aware that lynching is not a hate crime,” said Booker, who expressed optimism that, after decades of failed attempts in Congress to address the issue, the bill is closer than ever to passing.
The AJC Global Forum is the global Jewish advocacy organization’s signature annual event. Originally scheduled to take place this week in Berlin, Germany, the venue was changed to an online meeting due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 8,000 people have registered for the AJC Virtual Global Forum, June 14-18. Booker spoke at the Leonard Greenberg Forum for Domestic Policy Issues session.