Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) spoke on Saturday night at the IAC National Summit 2021 in Miami.
Torres, who describes himself as a progressive Democrat, said, “The rhetoric that we use has real world consequences, and those of us who are public officials have to be mindful of the words we use. We should use words that promote peace rather than incite hatred. And when you use inflammatory language such as apartheid or ethnic cleansing or genocide, you’re not promoting peace, you’re inciting hatred, and you’re not part of the solution. You’re part of the problem.”
He recalled how in August of 2020, every candidate for New York City Council was sent a questionnaire that included two questions on foreign policy. The first one was: Do you pledge to never travel to Israel if elected city councilor? And the second one was: Do you pledge to support the BDS movement?
“For me that’s just of many examples of the blurred line between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. For me, one need not be Jewish or Israeli to see clearly the antisemitic double standard against Israel,” said Torres.
“The notion that Israel’s existence should be the subject of debate is outrageous and offensive and the BDS movement should be relegated to the fringes of American politics which is precisely where it belongs,” he added, wondering why there isn’t a BDS movement except countries which violate human rights such as China, Myanmar or Turkey.
“I have a simple question: If the selective outrage and delegitimization of Israel is not explained by antisemitism, then what exactly explains it?” said Torres.
“I reject the notion that you have to be Jewish to fight antisemitism, any more than you have to be black to fight racism,” he stated. “We all have an obligation to ensure that extremism is fought no matter what form it takes, and no matter which direction from which it comes. I’m willing to call out antisemitism in my own backyard.”
He recalled how, when he served on the New York City Council, he was criticized after announcing a trip to Israel, culminating in a protest by BDS activists who demonized him. At the protest, he asked an LGBTQ activist if she supported Hamas, and she replied that she does “because Hamas represents the liberation of the Palestinian people.”
“At that moment, I found myself in a state of shock but I said to myself: The fact that an LGBTQ activist could defend a terrorist organization that systemically murders LGBTQ people…. that to me is as definitive a sign as any of the stupidity and moral bankruptcy and absurdity that BDS has inflicted on American politics.”
During the last round of violence in Gaza in May, Torres openly said Israel is a sovereign state which has the right to defend itself.
“For me it is unreasonable to expect a country like Israel to forfeit the right of self-defense and stand by passively in the face of relentless rocket attacks,” he stated. “I often ask critics here in the United States: ‘If you and your neighbors were the target of thousands of rockets, what would you expect your government to do?’ We all expect our government to defend us, to keep us safe.”
“If you’re a Republican it’s easy to be pro-Israel. If you’re a moderate Democrat in a moderate district, it’s still easy to be pro-Israel. But if you’re a progressive Democrat in New York City, you have to pay a heavy political price,” said Torres, who added he has faced intimidation and harassment on Twitter, as well as death threats. “It does take a toll, but I’m convinced I’m doing the right thing.”