[guest post by JVW]
Over at Substack, Bari Weiss has a very enlightening interview with freshman Democrat Congressman Ritchie Torres, whose 15th Congressional District abuts with that of our Adorably Ornery Clueless niece who helms the neighboring 14th District. Congressman Torres, young (age 33), Afro-Latino, and gay, has the requisite left-wing politics that one might expect from someone of his generation, geography, and background. Representing what might be the poorest district in the entire country, the novice Congressman (who previously was a city council member for eight years) has focused his efforts on public housing issues along with calling out sketchy practices by gig economy companies and the bureau which controls NYC taxi medallions, displaying a healthy skepticism towards powerful entities in general and incompetence and corruption embedded in NYC public offices in particular. In that regard, there is a great deal that a conservative can find to cheer. He has also wisely steered clear of Justice Democrats, opting not to seek their endorsement for his run, and he pointedly told reporters that he was not interested in joining the Squad, despite his district being spitting distance from our aforementioned Neiman-Marxist niece and the 16th Congressional District represented by Democrat Socialist Jamaal Bowman, a fellow freshman who ousted yet another longtime party hack to win his seat.
So this past week when Congressman Torres, asked by Ms. Weiss about the situation that has unfolded in the Middle East over the past week, gave a strong defense of Israel’s response to the provocations of Hamas despite having little to no Jewish constituency to speak of in his district and despite the left’s general antipathy for the only real Middle Eastern multi-cultural democracy and their sympathetic romanticism of the ugly dysfunction of the Palestine Authority:
Bari Weiss: Last week you said: “I am here to affirm, as a member of Congress — one who intends to be here for a long time — that I have an unwavering commitment to both the sovereignty and security of Israel as a Jewish state.” That kind of statement used to be par for the course for Democratic politicians. That no longer seems to me to be the case. What happened?
Ritchie Torres: It feels like we are living through a tectonic shift. We’re increasingly living in a world where support for Israel as a Jewish state, support for the American Israeli relationship, support even for a two state solution, is becoming heresy. And BDS is in danger of becoming orthodoxy, particularly within progressive circles.
BW: Why has that view become heretical? How did we get to this point?
RT: Not only is Israel under siege from rocket fire, but the truth itself is under siege. There’s been an ongoing propaganda war and the narrative that is dominating is one that attempts to normalize Hamas and delegitimize Israel. A few days ago, and I spoke about this on the House floor, there was a New York State elected official who posted a map where the state of Israel was nowhere to be found. It simply said Palestine. And the omission was not an accident.
Congressman Torres wisely passes on commenting directly on the incendiary statements coming from his fellow caucus members, preferring to speak in generalities rather than directly rebutting their ignorant and insipid bleatings:
RT: First, I have a rule of never commenting on a lot of the opinions that colleagues expressed publicly for the sake of collegiality, and I respect everyone you just mentioned. Obviously I have a difference of opinion. For me, it should be possible to speak out against the eviction of a Palestinian family without equating it to ethnic cleansing. It should be possible to constructively critique the policies and practices of the Israeli government without calling for the destruction of Israel itself. My issue is not criticism. My issue is the lack of nuance in the democratic socialist critique of Israel. What is often directed toward Israel is not criticism. It feels like hatred. And I’ve observed it since 2014 when I began engaging with this issue.
BW: But those statements I read, are they promoting understanding or promoting hatred?
RT: Again, I don’t want to be put in a position of speaking out against colleagues because I have working relationships with all of them. But in general, I worry that the rhetoric that I have heard is aimed at delegitimizing Israel rather than de-escalating the conflict.
He also lays the smack down on Twitter as “a cesspool of antisemitic invective” which is “incompatible with critical thought.” And he shows a refreshingly historical perspective of why a Jewish homeland is so important:
When I went to Israel, the two experiences that had the most profound impact on me were Yad Vashem and Masada. And for me, the words “never again” summarize the rationale for a Jewish state. Never again will the Jewish community have to commit mass suicide in order to escape escape enslavement at the hands of a foreign enemy like it did in the Masada. And never again will the Jewish community fall victim to ethnic cleansing and genocide, as it did during the Holocaust. You cannot erase those experiences of oppression because those experiences explain the moral and historical necessity of Israel as a Jewish state.
When asked if he doesn’t fear for his political future by supporting Israel, opposing defunding the police, and endorsing Andrew Yang, Congressman Torres replies that he places his faith in his constituent’s everyday concerns — “health and housing, schools, jobs” — not the geopolitical obsessions of the Twitterati and their tie-in to social justice claptrap (admittedly not the phrase he used). I doubt that were I a member of Congress my voting record would be too similar to that of Ritchie Torres, but I can admire him for being willing to stand up for what he believes is right, especially when it would be far easier for him to join the woke mob.