The surge of antisemitic incidents on college campuses and on social media is alarming and should be taken seriously, Riverdale Rep. Ritchie Torres said while speaking at the Jerusalem Post conference “The Second Front” on Monday.
“I am alarmed by what I see on college campuses and on social media platforms,” Torres noted. “If that is any indication of what is to come, then that should be cause for concern. If we do nothing, these trends will get worse.”
Torres, a Democrat who is considered one of the staunchest allies of the Jewish State in Congress, explained why he calls himself a Zionist as well as the moral obligation he believes that the world owes to the Jewish people.
“I believe in the vision of Israel as a sanctuary for the Jewish people,” he said.
“As a student of history, I feel the world has long failed the Jewish community when you consider the long and ugly history of antisemitism, crusades, inquisitions, pogroms, genocide and ethnic cleansing,” he explained. “I think we have a moral obligation to never fail the Jewish community again — and part of this means supporting the survival and security of Israel as a Jewish state.”
The congressman revealed that his views on Israel have often been questioned — and at times he and his family members were harassed because of them.
“I’m commonly asked why as a gay Afro-Latino from the Bronx I am so outspoken against antisemitism,” Torres said. “But people ask me the wrong question. The right question is not why I have chosen to be outspoken, the right question is why others have chosen to remain silent.”
The congressman said there is nothing antisemitic about being “non-Zionist,” but he emphasized that those who are anti-Zionist and therefore actively antagonistic to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state do cross the line into antisemitism.
“Israel is home to half of the world’s Jewish population,” he noted. “If advocating for the destruction of the home of the largest Jewish community in the world is not antisemitic, then I’m not sure what it would be.”
For Torres, visiting Israel has been instrumental in forming his views about the region, saying that those who can travel should, and talk to a variety of people in the country, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs. However, for those who do not have this opportunity, education is key, he added.
“There’s not only a lack of knowledge about Israel, there’s tragically a lack of knowledge about the history of oppression against Jews,” he highlighted. “There’s been a systematic effort to erase the status of Jews as minorities.”
“A Pew Research study found that the majority of Americans are not even aware of the number of Jews who died in the Holocaust,” he added. “Out of a lack of education has come a lack of empathy — and we have to solve this historical amnesia that the public has about the experience of Jewish oppression.”