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Monday, July 15, 2024

NY Rep. Ritchie Torres Visits Israel to Express Solidarity With Hostage Families

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Edited by: Fern Sidman

In a gesture of solidarity and support, Congressman Ritchie Torres (D-NY) embarked on his first visit to Israel since the Hamas led October 7th massacre, joining a delegation of 15 Jewish and interfaith leaders from New York. Organized by the UJA-Federation of New York, the delegation aimed to express unwavering solidarity with Israel in the face of recent challenges.

Torres’ itinerary began with a poignant visit to the Hostages Families Forum in Tel Aviv, where he met with families affected by the ongoing hostage crisis. Among those he encountered were Omer Shem Tov, Shlomo Mantzur (the eldest hostage at 86 years old), Yosef and Hamzi Alzayadni, and Oded Lifshitz. Their stories left a profound impact on the congressman.

Reflecting on his experience, Rep. Torres expressed deep admiration for the courage displayed by the hostage families. He recounted the story of Shlomo Mantzur, who survived the Farhud in Iraq only to be kidnapped by Hamas eighty years later. Torres emphasized the urgency of bringing the hostages home, a sentiment that was palpable throughout his visit.

“I was deeply moved by the courage of the hostage families in telling their stories,” Torres remarked. “My experience at the Hostage Forum crystallized for me the fierce urgency to bring the hostages home.”

Hindy Poupko,  Senior Vice President of UJA Federation, extended gratitude for Congressman Torres’ visit, highlighting its significance for the New York Jewish community. Poupko emphasized Torres’ steadfast solidarity with Israel, particularly with the families of the hostages. She reiterated UJA Federation’s commitment to supporting these families, both in New York and in Israel.

“UJA Federation is deeply honored to host Congressman Torres in Israel,” Poupko stated. “His visit signifies his unwavering solidarity with Israel and the families of the hostages. We are committed to supporting the welfare needs of these families through our joint fund with the Hostages Forum.”

In the midst of diplomatic tensions following the US’s recent abstention in the UN Security Council, which led to the passage of a resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza war, Torres reaffirmed the strength of the Israel-US relationship. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Torres emphasized that despite disagreements, the fundamental bond between the two nations remains intact.

US Representative Ritchie Torres meets with Daniel Lishitz, whose grandfather Oded Lifshitz is held hostage in Gaza, in Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square, March 31, 2024. (Hostages and Missing Families Forum)

“What we are witnessing is not a change in American policy, but a clash of personalities,” Torres explained, highlighting the natural ebb and flow in diplomatic relations, as was reported by the JPost. He characterized the crisis between the US and Israel as “more perception than reality,” seeking to assuage concerns about any perceived rift.

Torres criticized the US abstention, viewing it as a misstep due to its failure to link demands for a ceasefire with the release of hostages. “The de-linking of those two demands gives enhanced leverage to terrorists in the war and the hostage negotiations. I thought it was a colossal misjudgment on the part of the US,” he elaborated in the interview with the JPost.

This may seem like a surprising stance from the progressive congressman, but Torres says the connection is natural. The JPost report indicated that “There is no greater expression of progressive values in the Middle East than the state of Israel,” citing its commitment to protecting the rights of minorities.

Torres has consistently spoken out against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, accusing it of attempting to purge pro-Israel Jews from the progressive movement. Despite these challenges, Torres’s support for Israel has remained unwavering, emphasizing the importance of standing in solidarity with the Jewish state.

“In the face of a concerted effort by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to purge pro-Israel Jews from the progressive movement, my support for Israel has remained steadfast,” Torres asserted, as was noted in the JPost report.

President Biden’s administration has garnered praise from Torres for its supportive stance towards Israel, surpassing the efforts of past administrations. According to the information in the JPost report, Torres highlighted Biden’s commitment to Israel’s security, citing US pressure to end conflicts such as the Yom Kippur War and more recent efforts to combat Hezbollah in the North.

“President Biden has given Israel the time it needs to win the war, but we have to see it through,” Torres affirmed.

Torres emphasized the non-negotiable nature of removing Hamas from power, citing the existential threat it poses to Israel’s security. “The end goal of removing Hamas from power must be nonnegotiable because if they remain in power, there will never be an end to the violence and bloodshed,” Torres declared, condemning the genocidal aspirations of Hamas and other Iranian terrorist organizations.

The Gaza war, according to Torres, transcends a mere conflict between Israel and Hamas; it represents a broader struggle between right and wrong and the future of liberal democracy, as was explained in the JPost report. He emphasized the complexity of the situation and the importance of recognizing the broader implications at stake.

During the second day of his delegation in Israel, Torres focused on visiting the South of Israel and hearing from survivors of the Hamas atrocities of October 7th. According to the JPost report, he lamented the growing amnesia in the US surrounding these events and stressed the importance of remembering and honoring the victims.

Torres also held a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. “I have enormous empathy for the plight of the defense minister, who is fighting a defensive war in the most complex war zones in human history,” Torres stated following the meeting, the JPost report said. “Gaza is a hellscape of terror tunnels and booby-trapped buildings, combatants camouflaged as civilians. The terrorists are known to hide behind Palestinians as human shields.”

“I reminded the minister to ignore the mixed messaging and background noise of American politics,” Torres added, according to the JPost. “Most Americans support Israel, most members of Congress support Israel.”

The delegation continued their tour to Kibbutz Nir Oz, one of the communities hardest hit by the Hamas terrorist attacks, where approximately a quarter of the residents were either murdered or kidnapped, the report added. The delegation witnessed the devastation firsthand, touring ruined homes and listening to harrowing accounts from survivors.

At the site of the Supernova music festival, where hundreds of attendees were killed or kidnapped by the Hamas terrorists, the delegation met with a producer and survivor, who shared his mission to create healing spaces for the Nova community, as was indicated in the report in the JPost. They also heard from a survivor whose life was saved by these healing communities. Clergy accompanying the delegation offered prayers at the site of the October 7th massacre, underscoring the solemnity of the visit.

Torres concluded his tour of Israel with a visit to Netiv Ha’asara, where the delegation met with community leaders and received a security briefing. The JPost reported that they also visited the Peace Wall, a mosaic symbolizing hope and resilience in the face of adversity along the border with Gaza.

Reflecting on the day, Torres described it as “emotionally overwhelming,” acknowledging the profound impact of the experiences shared during the tour, the JPost report said. “Despite the massacre, there is overwhelming optimism. So I cannot help but feel inspired by the optimism that is so deeply encoded in the Israeli DNA,” Torres remarked, highlighting the resilience of the Israeli people.

“History tells us that the story of the Jewish people is a story of resilience, a story of rebuilding. Israel itself is the greatest example of a civilization rebuilt in human history,” Torres reflected, expressing both horror at the October 7 massacre and admiration for the indomitable spirit of Israelis.

Torres paid tribute to the late Congressman Joe Lieberman of Riverdale, describing him as a staunch advocate for the Israel-US relationship, as was pointed out in the JPost report. He emphasized that the delegation’s visit to Israel was in honor of Lieberman’s legacy and pledged to continue carrying forward his commitment to strengthening ties between the two nations.

When asked if this trip will impact his policy or actions taken when he gets back to his district, Torres said that the trip will motivate him to ‘fight his heart out for the US-Israel relationship – which is worth preserving.”

 

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