pushing back

Israel critics in Congress are ‘playing into the hands of Hamas,’ Rep. Ritchie Torres says

Torres denounced the ‘hyperbolic and hysterical demonization from fairweather friends,’ referring to lawmakers who are pushing to suspend or condition aid to Israel

Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images

NIR OZ, ISRAEL - APRIL 01: US Rep. Ritchie Torres along with a delegation from the Bronx visits the Bibas family house at Kibbutz Nir Oz on April 01, 2024 in Nir Oz, Israel.

Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY), in an interview with Jewish Insider this week, condemned those in his party who have been pushing to cut off or condition U.S. aid to Israel as effectively aiding Hamas’ cause, but insisted that the Biden administration and most of Congress and the American people remain supportive of Israel and its fight.

Torres denounced the “hyperbolic and hysterical demonization from fairweather friends,” referring to lawmakers who are pushing to suspend or condition aid to Israel, rhetoric he said has “given Hamas enhanced leverage.”

“Hamas feels emboldened to reject cease-fires and keep the hostages in indefinite captivity,” Torres said. “Those in American politics who are waging an information war against Israel are playing into the hands of Hamas.”

He was also sharply critical of those — including some colleagues — who have characterized the Israeli strike that killed seven World Central Kitchen workers in Gaza as reflective of a broader lack of discipline or caution by Israel.

“The notion that Israel deliberately targeted aid workers or assassinated the aid workers — that strikes me as a lie and a libel, and shame on anyone who repeats it,” Torres said.

He characterized it as “curious just about everyone in Congress and on social media has minimal visibility into what’s happening in Gaza, and yet everyone claims to be an expert on the conduct of asymmetric war in a densely urban, densely populated war zone.”

Torres described the strike as a tragedy, but said that Israel had acted properly in apologizing, launching an investigation and disciplining IDF officials involved.

Torres visited Israel last week with the UJA-Federation of New York and other officials from the Bronx, meeting with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Opposition Leader Yair Lapid.

Torres also met with MK Mansour Abbas, who heads Israel’s United Arab List party, whom Torres said he viewed as a “symbol of Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian coexistence” who could represent “the future of politics in the Middle East.”

“Mansour Abbas is to Israel what the Abraham Accords is to the Middle East. He is a force for coexistence, and his is a voice that’s too important to ignore,” Torres said. 

Torres added that Israel feels “under siege not only militarily but diplomatically.” But he insisted that “despite the noise on social media, despite the noise of American politics,” the majority of Americans and of Congress supports Israel — a message he said he aimed to deliver to Israel during his visit.

The New York congressman wouldn’t go as far in criticizing the administration as he did in denouncing some of his colleagues, describing Biden as “fundamentally supportive of Israel,” and more supportive than nearly any of his predecessors “where it matters most, which is at the level of policy.”

“Having said all that, there have been aberrations in an otherwise pro-Israel presidency,” Torres continued, including failing to veto the United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire delinked from the release of hostages. 

He said separating those issues “gives Hamas enhanced leverage” and argued that “it was no accident” that Hamas declared diplomatic victory after the resolution passed.

Torres also said that “there have been a number of statements that have been made that have gone too far,” such as comments from Secretary of State Tony Blinken that Israel risks becoming “indistinguishable” from Hamas. That comment, he said “crosses a line.”

As the Biden administration hardens its stance against an Israeli invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, Torres insisted that “the end goal” — removing Hamas from power in Gaza — “is non-negotiable,” calling that a precondition for peace and security for both sides, and anything less than that “a failure.”

But Torres did say that the strategy for removing Hamas can be “the subject of legitimate debate between the United States and Israel,” and that operations should be conducted “in a manner that minimizes Palestinian casualties and maximizes humanitarian aid.”

He further lamented that “the world seems to have forgotten” the ongoing plight of the hostages.

Despite the carnage and trauma he saw in Israel, including visits to the site of the Nova music festival and Kibbutz Nir Oz, he said he left Israel “optimistic that the story of, the music of the Jewish people will never end, and Israel will dance again” — the latter being a slogan that has been adopted by survivors of the music festival, where hundreds were killed on Oct. 7.

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