(JTA) – Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, said in Columbia, South Carolina that he would continue to meet with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, a notorious antisemite. “I have met – I live in Newark so we have famous Mosque 25, we have Nation of Islam there,” Booker said Saturday at a faith breakfast campaign event. “As mayor I met with lots of folks talking to him. I have heard Minister Farrakhan’s speeches for a lot of my life, so I don’t feel like I need to do that, but I’m not one of these people that says I wouldn’t sit down with anybody to hear what they have to say. But, I live in a neighborhood where I’m getting guys on the streets offering and selling his works. I am very familiar with Minister Louis Farrakhan and his beliefs and his values.”
He was responding to a question from an audience member about whether he would avoid Farrakhan over his antisemitism. In recent months Farrakhan has called Jews “satanic” and compared them to “termites.” He has accused Jews of controlling the government and Hollywood, and has called Hitler a “great man.”
Booker’s remarks come days after he slammed former Vice President Joe Biden, another 2020 candidate, for working with segregationist Democrats in the 1970s and calling two former senators the definition of “civility” despite being known as segregationists. “Vice President Biden’s relationships with proud segregationists are not the model for how we make America a safer and more inclusive place for black people, and for everyone,” Booker said following the remarks.
Farrakhan expressed support for Barack Obama’s candidacy in 2008, and Obama’s pastor at the time, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, had praised Farrakhan on multiple occasions. That made Farrakhan an issue during the primaries campaign that year. Obama repudiated Farrakhan during a primaries debate.