He’s a progressive Democrat, but he won’t be signing up with the “Squad”.
Ritchie Torres, going to Washington next month to represent the South Bronx in Congress, says you won’t see him paling around with Democratic Socialists — and cited his strong support for Israel as a primary distinction between them and true progressives like himself.
“I came to observe that there are activists who have a visceral hatred for Israel as though it were the root of all evil,” Torres, 32, told The Post. “The act of singling out Israel as BDS [the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement] has done is the definition of discrimination.”
Torres, who has served on the City Council since 2013, says he was moved by trips to Israel in 2015 and 2017.
“I remember meeting a family in Sderot. And I had no concept of what it was like to live in a city that lives under the fear of rocket fire,” Torres recalled. “I’m going to make the case that the progressive position is a two-state solution and promoting dignity for both the Israelis and the Palestinians.”
While support for Israel was once broadly bipartisan, in recent years many on the left have taken a more confrontational approach. A number of Congress’ most vocal progressives, like Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar, have come out in support of BDS. Both have also been repeatedly accused of making anti-Semitic remarks. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has also denounced Israel’s “occupation” of Palestine and voted against a House resolution to reaffirm support for the two-state solution.
In New York, AOC’s political backer, the increasingly ascendant Democratic Socialists of America, has also tangled with Torres. After New York’s DSA co-chair Sumathy Kumar refused to say whether Israel had a right to exist, Torres pounced.
“The leadership of the DSA declines to affirm that the state of Israel should exist. ‘Insane’ is the word that comes to mind,” he said in an August tweet.
Though Torres endorsed Bernie Sanders in 2016, the septuagenarian socialist didn’t return the favor, backing Torres’ Democratic Socialist primary opponent Samelys López. AOC backed her as well.
“I endorsed [Sanders] because he agreed to take a tour of public housing. I would not read too much into that,” Torres sniffed.
Torres also chafes at DSA-promoted rhetoric like “defund the police,” which he called “arbitrary and irresponsible.”
“We do not like him, and he doesn’t like us,” one DSA lawmaker said of Torres.
Torres insists he has no hard feelings toward AOC and looks forward to working with her in Congress.
“I received a congratulatory call from Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez and she is unfailingly gracious,” Torres said of AOC.
Torres, who is gay, dropped out of NYU and suffered severe depression stemming from his sexuality before he began his public career. He’s single and doesn’t have any immediate plans for a relationship in the swamp.
“I am married to politics,” he said. “I want to excel as a Congressman and that’s where my focus is going to be”.
As much as he hopes to change the progressive conversation around Israel, Torres, who grew up in New York City public housing, says his primary focus will be domestic. His district is one of the poorest in the United States. Torres says he plans to angle for an appointment to the House Financial Services Committee because of their jurisdiction over public housing.
“Public housing in New York City has been so savagely defunded by the federal government,” Torres said. “I am going to make it a priority to fight for full federal
funding for public housing.”