Freshman Congressman Ritchie Torres (D-NY) whose South Bronx district is the poorest in the nation, came up to Westchester shortly after a mini-war between Gaza and Israel and a spike in anti-Semitism in June 2021. He spoke passionately to the crowd of 100 about both topics.
The Afro-Latino gay congressman made clear that he strongly objected to the direction of many progressive politicians in actively defaming Israel, in what he called the terrible “Corbynization of progressive politics,” after the British Labour Party leader who frequently attacked the Jewish State and was often accused of anti-Semitism.
Torres noted that the various smears against Israel are patently untrue. He railed against the charge that Israel is “an apartheid state” where Arabs have more rights than in many neighboring Arab countries. He said the claim that Israel is committing a “genocide” against Arabs is absurd when the Arab population in Israel has skyrocketed. To label Israel with such charges is either a boldface lie or demands new definitions of apartheid and genocide.
He added that the number of United Nations resolutions against Israel “boggles the imagination.” He questioned why there was no B.D.S. (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement against China, Myanmar, Turkey or Iran for their actual human rights abuses and attacks against minority populations.
Torres said his only conclusion for the double standards and demonization of Israel is gross anti-Semitism. He thought it was horrible and wanted to have absolutely nothing to do with such sentiments. He declared that it was appropriate to claim support of Israel as a liberal priority and wanted to become the “poster child for progressives for Israel.” It was time for “visibly pro-Israel voices to be heard in the public square.”
He then paused for questions from the enthusiastic Orthodox Jewish audience.
When asked about the rise of the anti-Israel voices, Torres discussed two principle sources: education and social media.
Torres pointed out that many schools have been indoctrinating students with anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Most people in the United States don’t know about the actual rights of Arabs in Israel, the cleansing of Jews from Arab lands or even much about the Holocaust in Europe.
He called Twitter the “new guillotine.” He claimed that social media poisons the narrative as people with certain agendas feed fanaticism to millions of followers. Torres thought it was hard for the “center” to have a voice in social media as the entire business model rewarded extreme sentiments. He wants to hold those tech-media companies accountable for their spread of hate.
In searching for a new direction, Torres said it was time for progressives to “expand the scope of intersectionality to include Jews.” An average Jew suffers the greatest number of hate crimes in the United States and it was time to include the Jewish community in reciprocal allyship.
Torres recounted how the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists for America questionnaire asked that its candidates not visit Israel and to support the B.D.S. movement. He pondered whether some progressives had somehow turned on the Jewish State for having the chutzpah to progress from being victims to being empowered. “Isn’t that our goal?” he asked aloud rhetorically.
The pro-Israel crowd wanted to better understand how this young politician became a self-described “unicorn” as staunchly pro-Israel in an increasingly hostile anti-Israel progressive world. He pointed to his trip to the Jewish State.
He emotionally recalled his trip to both Masada and Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. In those two stops he understood both the long history of Jews in the land of Israel and the painful destruction of Jewish communities in Israel and around the world. He connected how people in his district fear gunfire while Israelis fear rocket fire. He internalized how the United States has only two neighbors with which it coexists peacefully, while small Israel has multiple the number of neighbors which are hostile to the country’s basic existence.
Torres concluded that it is important for people to mobilize: to push for changes in education and social media; to build an infrastructure to help get pragmatic pro-Israel politicians elected; and to make sure to vote and get the constructive voices for peace elected.
The attendees were thrilled to take pictures with this “unicorn,” while simultaneously bemoaning that indeed he is unfortunately one-of-a-kind. At least, for the moment.
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