Ritchie Torres a self-described progressive that makes one nervous


Hugh Fitzgerald

Ritchie Torres has just been elected to the House of Representatives from the 15th Congressional District in the South Bronx. All the stories about him focus on his racial make-up (black and Latino), and on his “sexual orientation” (homosexual), as it is demurely called, which together provide the label affixed to Torres. He will be, we read and hear endlessly, the “first openly gay black” member of Congress. Sometimes, more accurately, he will be described as “along with Mondaire Jones one of the two openly gay black members of Congress.“

But that’s not what is most remarkable about Ritchie Torres. It is something else about him that makes him unique and valuable: he is a self-described “progressive” – a word that makes one nervous — but also firmly pro-Israel, which makes him an odd man out with such “progressives’ as the socialist and anti-Israel Bernie Sanders, and the four members of “the Squad” — the ferociously anti-Israel and pro-Muslim Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the less ferociously anti-Israel Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, and Ayanna Presley, not quite as reflexively anti-Israel as the other three. The story of Ritchie Torres is here: “Pro-Israel Progressive Ritchie Torres Elected to Congress From District Next to AOC’s,” by Benjamin Kerstein, Algemeiner, November 4, 2020:

Strongly pro-Israel progressive Ritchie Torres of the Bronx will be among the new members of Congress this January, following his electoral victory on Tuesday.

The 32-year-old New York City Council member easily won his race in the 15th Congressional District, making him the first openly-gay black or Latino man to be elected to Congress.

Torres’ district is located next to that represented by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose record on Israel-related issues is generally viewed as hostile, but Torres is very much a supporter of the Jewish state.

In an interview with Jewish Insider last year, Torres said he was pro-Israel “not despite my progressive values, but because of my progressive values.”

Addressing the issue of the BDS movement, Torres said, “The attempt to delegitimize Israel, the attempt to question Israel’s right to exist or right to defend itself, that, to me, crosses the line to destructive criticism.”

“I consider anti-Zionism a form of antisemitism, and I am not going to give consideration to antisemitic voices, voices that are dedicated to delegitimizing Israel as a Jewish state,” he added.

“The notion that you cannot be both progressive and pro-Israel is a vicious lie, because I am the embodiment of a pro-Israel progressive,” Torres asserted….

Ritchie Torres expounded at greater length on his support for Israel in an interview he gave last year: “Ritchie Torres: ‘I am the embodiment of a pro-Israel progressive,’” by Jacob Kornbluh, Jewish Insider, December 5, 2019

Pushback: When Torres visited Israel in 2015 [the first of several visits], far-left activists helda protest outside City Hall. “At the time I was instinctively pro-Israel — because it has democratic values and institutions — but I had no deep knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, no deep knowledge of intersectionality, or of BDS. But when I announced that I was going on a delegation to Israel, I became a target of vitriolic protest,” he recalled. “I had activists from Jewish Voice for Peace accusing me of pinkwashing, accusing me of aiding and abetting apartheid. I even remember coming across an activist with a shirt that read ‘queers for Palestine.’ I remember telling the activist, ‘Does the opposite exist, are there Palestinians for queers?’ It was partly a joke but partly a serious observation. I found it utterly baffling that you had LGBT activists doing the bidding of Hamas, which is a terrorist organization that executes LGBT people. And then I came to realize that the reason is intersectionality, that the BDS movement uses intersectionality to penetrate a whole host of self-proclaimed progressive movements.”

On 2020 candidates expressing support for conditioning aid to Israel: “Support for Israel’s security should remain unconditional. Israel is more than a transactional ally. Israel is a friend, and the notion of threatening a friend with the loss of funding for its security needs strikes me as absurd. In what sense does that honor the very nature of friendship?” Torres further emphasized that while constructive criticism of the Israeli government’s policies is fair game, “rhetoric about conditioning aid to Israel strikes me as a dog whistle for the pro-BDS wing of the progressive movement.”

Face of the party: Torres also pushed back against Republican attempts to use Israel as a political football and paint legislators like Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) as the face of the Democratic party. “I’m both progressive and pro-Israel,” he stated. “The notion that you cannot be both progressive and pro-Israel is a vicious lie, because I am the embodiment of a pro-Israel progressive. I am from the Bronx, I’m Afro-Latino, I’m Puerto Rican, I’m a millennial — but I’m also pro-Israel.”

Command of the hour: “Support for Israel is built on a bedrock of bipartisanship, and that support has never been as threatened existentially as it is now. No matter where you stand ideologically on the spectrum, I think all of us who support Israel should recognize that there needs to be pro-Israel voices in both the Democratic and the Republican parties, in both the progressive and the conservative movements. And so I am deeply committed to not only sustaining but strengthening American support for Israel and strengthening the American-Israeli relationship.”

Torres is clearly articulate and heartfelt in his support for Israel, understands that an end to bipartisan support in Congress for Israel would be dangerous for the Jewish state, and refuses to concede to the anti-Israel Squad its claim of being “the new face of the Democratic Party.” He offers himself as an example of a “pro-Israel progressive,” upsetting the received wisdom that all “progressives” — a highly tendentious word, which carries an automatic and undeserved hint of approval – must perforce be anti-Israel, just like Senators Sanders and Warren, and the much-hyped members of the Squad, whose attitudes and tactics are so disturbing, and whose influence in the Democratic Party needs to be diminished.

Ritchie Torres will prove to be a formidable foe of the Squad as he demonstrates, in his very being, that one can be a so-called “progressive” while remaining as stoutly pro-Israel as anyone could wish. His arrival in Congress can only be salutary and bracing, in helping to clear the air of the noxious anti-Israel fumes spewing from the Squad. He’s one self-styled progressive — are there others? — whose views on Israel’s attempts to survive and thrive in a Muslim sea, one need not deplore.


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