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NEWARK, N.J. — Cory Booker delivered a message of love and unity at his campaign’s “hometown kickoff” on Saturday, but the New Jersey senator’s speech was interrupted by pro-Palestinian activists shouting “Justice for Palestine.”
The event was the launch of a two-week “Justice for All” tour in the city where he served as mayor from 2006 until 2013. Booker has framed his campaign around an emotional and optimistic pitch to voters. He maintained that tone as he outlined some of his core policies, including lowering the age of Medicare eligibility and establishing a “baby bonds” program to provide low-income children with a nest egg when they reach adulthood.
“We’re here today to seek justice. We’re here today because we are impatient for that justice and our sense of moral urgency, our impatience comes from the most demanding of all values — it comes from love, love of our families, love of our communities, love of our country, and love of each other,” Booker said.
The protesters, who waved Palestinian flags and keffiyehs, turned Booker’s slogan against him when they spoke to Yahoo News later.
“You say ‘Justice For All’ and he named, you know, clean water, housing, affordable health care, freedom but he doesn’t ... talk about Palestine. They’re struggling just as much as us here — even more,” Wajeeh Abushawish, who was part of the group, said.
There were about 10 protesters in three groups, including some who were right behind Booker as he spoke. Most of them left after they interrupted the speech though two stayed behind and shouted at Booker as he greeted supporters following the event.
Abushawish said the protesters attend Rutgers Newark and are part of a group called Students for Justice in Palestine and the school’s college Democrats chapter. Booker has angered some pro-Palestinian activists by his staunch support for Israel. He is a co-sponsor of a Senate bill intended to combat the Boycott, Disinvestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement that aims to put economic pressure on Israel to end its occupation of territory claimed by Palestinians.
“Booker actively supports the oppression of Palestine,” Dylan Terpstra, another one of the protesters, said.
While the protest was clearly focused on the Palestinian cause, some in the group also had a list of other concerns.
“‘Justice for All’ is an unlimited concept. It should be an umbrella term for all peoples who are suffering and oppressed,” Wasim Kannan said. “Justice for ICE detainees, justice for Palestine, justice for Kashmir, justice for the people suffering under China. Everybody in the world who’s suffering needs justice.”
The three protesters who spoke to Yahoo News all said they back Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for president.
“Bernie 2020!” shouted Abushawish.
A source with Booker’s campaign told Yahoo News he met with some of the protesters following the event to discuss their concerns. Booker did not address the protesters during their interruption. Later in his speech, however, he encouraged Democrats to “fight from higher ground” as they take on President Trump.
“We can’t allow them to divide us and we must also resist the urge to divide ourselves because the people on my block ... and folks all across the country can’t wait,” Booker said, adding, “They can’t afford a politics of division that sacrifices progress for purity.”
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