In New Hampshire, Sen. Cory Booker questioned on his support for Israel

2020 presidential candidate, Sen. Cory Booker faced questions on his foreign policy views at a town hall event in Portsmouth, NH, on Saturday morning. Two questions, one on Syria and military funding and the other on Israel, the Palestinians and the BDS movement, elicited from Sen. Booker rough sketches of some of his early policy positions. Below is a transcript, lightly edited for clarity, of the two exchanges.


Question 1:

Questioner (Ben): We have expanded wars, we have regime change, we’ve killed a sitting leader of a country with Libya, and Barack [Obama] said that Assad has to go; these are regime changes, they’re getting ready to do another one in Venezuela, it appears. How did you vote, yes or nay, on the latest Defense Authorization Act for $800 billion; what was your vote on that, and what will you do in the future to ensure that we’re not going to be depleting the country’s resources into the hands of Boeing…and all of the corporations that have this country well under control.

Sen. Booker: “I voted for the Defense Re-authorization Act and I’ll tell you why…If you pull back—I went recently to the border of Syria, where there are refugee camps, and this administration is pulling back funding for these refugee camps—you then create problems for this country that are going to be far more expensive to deal with, and we’re going to have to deal with them in a far more violent way. And so I believe that we need to get back to being moral leaders in this country.

It’s why things that things Obama did right, like trying to find a way to end the nuclear race going on in the Middle East, where Iran was racing to a nuclear weapon and trying to join with our allies to try and find a better way forward than bombing yet another country. We are a nation that spends an extraordinary amount on our military. More than many of our competitors around the globe combined…I will stand against over-militarization, I will stand against interventions that are unnecessary and that bleed our national treasury when we should be investing in things at home.”

Question 2:

Questioner (Noran): “My name in Noran, I’m a Palestinian-American, I live around here. Hearing what you’re saying about justice is definitely something that I value as a Palestinian-American. Hearing you speak out against the wall that Trump wants to build on the Southern border reminds me of the wall that I’ve seen in the West Bank and in Palestine that is separating entire Palestinian families, cutting through cities and forcing people to live under apartheid, where we have a system where people cannot even drive on a road because they are Palestinian. So we’re witnessing apartheid in today’s world.

I was happy to see that you voted against the S.1. that went up right after the government shutdown, which would legislate that people cannot support BDS, the boycott movement in the U.S., because that would be a violation of free speech, however I do know that you are an ardent BDS opposer, and it’s hard for me to hear that especially considering that I do like a lot of your progressive values, but like, the civil rights movement that you’ve been citing in your speech, which is so inspirational to me personally, they had boycotts going on in the U.S. We had boycotted apartheid South Africa so that we could end apartheid there and work for a better, more equitable and equal society, for both white and black South Africans. So I just want to know: How are you going to hold our allies in the Middle East accountable, if you don’t support non-violent means, where we can oppose them, because BDS comes from Palestinian civil society, calling for the world to stand [for] Palestinian human rights, and to end this unending support for the Israeli government that seems to be bipartisan on all counts and that seems to always put Palestinians at the very end. The Trump administration has waged a war against the Palestinian people, we’ve cut funds to UNRWA, the only U.N. agency, that my father, by the way, was a recipient of, and he would have never made it to the United States had he not gone to an UNRWA school in refugee camp in Jordan where he then came to this country and is now a very successful person. And on top of it, as we are talking today, every single Friday since last year, peaceful protesters in the Gaza strip have been getting shot by the Israeli military for simply demanding more human rights, so what will you do as President to hold our ally Israel accountable and to stand for Palestinian human rights.

[Applause from audience]

Sen. Booker: Alright, so, thank you for that question. So unequivocally, you’re right, I am against BDS, but I am for your rights to protest, your free speech rights. Again, this is why I have voted the way I have voted. I am against BDS because I am deeply concerned that we have roots in the BDS movement that do not have any sense for proportionality about other countries. Where is the Chinese BDS movement because of what they’re doing to the Uighurs and to other folks? But you do not hear that. Israel is a country that has a right to exist. And a right to defend itself [Applause from audience]. Israel is a country that has been attacked by five countries, deals with terrorist attacks on a regular basis. I’ve been to Israel. I’ve sat with Kibbutznik[s], folks in the Northern part who talk to me about dodging Katyusha rockets. I’ve talked to families who’ve been stabbed, who’ve had stabbings in the streets of Jerusalem. I know the fear that people have.

But you’re absolutely right. Human dignity is human dignity. And what this administration is doing to pull back resources not just for the United Nations programs that you have — I’ve voted against a piece of legislation that have tried to strip money from an East Jerusalem hospital. I’ve gone to the West Bank and met with a lot of these non-profit organizations who are just trying to get people clean water. We have to understand that there is an ugliness when you deny anybody their human rights. Whether it’s a country’s right to exist, or a people’s right to also be free and have the basic human dignity that comes with health care, with access to clean water and with the ability to take care of themselves. I believe in a two-state solution. I believe that Palestinians and Israelis deserve to have the dignity that comes with self-determination. And right now we have a difficult problem, a difficult problem [emphasis]. We have folks in the Gaza Strip who are using children as human shields. We have a tunnelling system that I’ve actually gone out to see; tunnels just so that people can be pulled into as hostages. These are the kind of things that are unacceptable— and we need to find a pathway forward to a two-state solution [where] the human dignity of both folks are elevated. And if I’m president of the United States, I’m committed to finding that two-state solution, and along the way, restoring funding to those non-profit organizations that are trying to do best to restore a sense of dignity and self-determination to the Palestinians.

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