(JTA) — In a speech marking Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, Rep. Ritchie Torres likened protesters who have celebrated Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacres to white people in the Jim Crow era who celebrated after the lynching of Black people.
“I was profoundly shaken not only by Oct. 7, but by the aftermath,” Torres, a Black Bronx Democrat, said Friday in a speech at Central Synagogue, a prominent Reform congregation in midtown Manhattan. “I found it utterly horrifying. To see fellow Americans openly cheering and celebrating the deadliest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. And for me, the aftermath of Oct. 7 revealed a barbarity of the American heart that reminded me of an earlier and darker time in our nation’s history, a time when the public mobs of Jim Crow would openly celebrate the lynching of African Americans.”
Protests have proliferated since Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists murdered some 1,200 people and brutalized thousands more in an invasion from Gaza. They have grown as Israel has waged a war in Gaza to eliminate the terror group, and especially as casualties mounted: So far, more than 23,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.
Torres, a member of the progressive caucus in Congress, has garnered a reputation as an unstinting supporter of Israel. He has duked it out online with fellow progressives in debates over Israel, a dynamic that has only intensified since Oct. 7. Torres is heavily funded by AIPAC and donors aligned with the pro-Israel lobby, and spoke at a massive rally for Israel in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 14.
In his speech, Torres alluded to the controversies that assailed elite universities after the presidents of Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania told Congress that calls to commit genocide against Jews did not necessarily violate the schools’ codes of conduct. The ensuing uproar drove Harvard’s and Penn’s presidents to resign.
“What we’ve seen in the aftermath of October 7, is appalling silence and indifference and cowardice from so called leaders in our society from institutions that we once respected and admired,” he said. “And if we as a society cannot bring ourselves to condemn the murder of innocents with moral clarity, then we must ask, what are we becoming as a society? What does that reveal about the depths of antisemitism in the American soul?”
Central is a locus for some of the city’s wealthiest liberal Jewish families, many of whom are also firm supporters of Israel. Dr. Shonni Silverberg, the synagogue president, introduced Torres as a champion of progressive priorities as well as an advocate for Israel, and noted that he is the first openly LGBTQ representative elected from the Bronx.
“Ritchie remains steadfastly focused on the priorities of his South Bronx constituents, expanding access to safe and affordable housing, rebuilding New York economically and ensuring that no child goes hungry and that all receive a good education,” she said. “But he has also shown himself both in and out of Congress to be a great friend of the American Jewish community and Israel.”