More than 200 members of the Bronx Anti-War Coalition protested outside of U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres’ Fordham office on Tuesday, accusing him of funding “Israel’s genocide.”
Meanwhile, at about the same time more than 500 pro-Israel supporters showed up at Seton Park to support Torres. That included a large swath of students from SAR Academy and SAR High School. The one person who was not there was Torres himself.
Since the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7 more than 1,400 people have been killed. For Gaza, though, where nearly half of the population is under 18 years old, more than 5,700 have been killed, including more than 2,300 children, the Gaza Health Ministry reported. The congressman, along with many other local electeds, has stood by Israel, with Torres in particular joining nearly 400 colleagues in signing a bipartisan resolution standing with Israel in defending itself.
That is one of the many reasons the coalition stands against the congressman. The organization is a self-proclaimed anti-imperialist organization dedicated to challenging state violence and U.S. militarism nationally and abroad. They have also accused the congressman of being in the pocket of Israel, pointing out that his largest contributor for the 2022 election cycle was the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who donated a total of $141,008, according to Open Secrets. (A full list of Torres contributions can be viewed on the Federal Election Commission site.)
“You don’t represent us,” Richie Merino, an organizer, read a letter addressed to Torres. “Ninety-six.three percent of your campaign’s funding came from outside the 15th Congressional District. You represent luxury real estate developers who are eager to turn the South Bronx into the ‘next Williamsburg.’
The letter went on to compare Torres’ upbringing in the projects to some of theirs.
“We remember what it’s like to grow up in poverty because we still live here,” the organizer read. “The Palestinian people also have no water, no food, no electricity because these have been cut off by Israel’s 17 years of siege warfare of Gaza. They are living through a tough upbringing, too. We have more in common with the Palestinians than we do with a (sell-out) like you. We would never attack you for your identities, but we consider it despicable to weaponize Afro-Latino and gay identities to provide cover for genocide.”
When news of the Bronx Anti War Coalition’s plan to protest outside Torres’ office broke days before, a rally in support of Israel and to demand Hamas hostages be released was planned, mostly through word of mouth.
SAR High School students could be seen lining out of their school on Tuesday, and preparing to go to Seton Park. The event was attended by Councilman Eric Dinowitz, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, the Benjamin Franklin Reform Democratic Club, the Unity Democratic Club and hundreds more, filling out the entire infield of a baseball field at the park.
Assemblyman Dinowitz told The Press that alongside Councilman Dinowitz and Torres, they organized a rally demanding the release of hostages. It was a deliberate choice to do it at both the same time as the protesters outside Torres’ office and opposite of them.
The “rally is to show community support for the hostages,” Assemblyman Dinowitz said.
“But also for Ritchie Torres who has been viscously attacked for simply speaking his mind. Some of the groups who have been attacking are pre-purportedly Jewish organizations, which they have a right to their opinions, but Ritchie Torres has been such a stand up person speaking out when others wouldn’t.”
There were hundreds of protesters outside Torres office, consisting of local Fordham and Bronx residents, Arabs and Jewish people alike, members of Jewish Voice for Peace, True Torah Jews, Palestine Right to Return Coalition, Black Alliance for Peace, Transport Workers Union Local 100 and several more organizations.
Protesters shouted, “Ritchie Torres you can’t hide, you’re supporting genocide,” “No more money for Israel’s crimes,” “Free Palestine,” and “Israel has got to go.” They also chanted “From the river to a sea,” which Torres has previously said is a code for wiping Israel off the face of the earth.
Coalition members hung up several posters and fliers on the congressman’s office gate, saying he was “wanted” for “conspiring with war criminals to cover up 75 years of genocide against Palestinians” and “funding the murder of children and the bombing of hospitals.”
Mili Bonilla, a pro-Palestine supporter and executive director of Moms on the Move, said she knows what colonialism is as a Puerto Rican woman. She told The Riverdale Press she went to see Palestine with her own eyes, observing a concrete wall, that Palestinians need a pass to enter or leave. Vonilla said while she didn’t vote for Torres, she hopes he changes for the betterment of the Bronx.
“Was he against apartheid South Africa?” Vonilla asked. “I’m sure he was. Why is he pro-apartheid Israel? That’s the question I want to ask him. The other thing is that, is he representing a district in Tel Aviv, is he the congressperson for Tel Aviv? He’s the congressperson for the Bronx and so I don’t understand what is his passion to support Israel?”
Dee Knight, an organizer and media contact for the Bronx Antiwar Coalition, told The Press Torres has a double standard when it comes to the death of children in Israel and the death of children in Gaza.
“We are of course terribly furious that the United States vetoed ceasefires and peace at the United Nations, the only country to vote against ceasefires,” said Knight. “And of course it’s guaranteeing that a ceasefire cannot happen. That’s criminal and we want to make it clear that Ritchie Torres does not represent the people of the Bronx on that issue.”
In a previous social media post, Torres asked, “If a terrorist organization invades American homes and murders and maims American civilians and children and rapes American women and mutilates American bodies and butchers, burns, and beheads American babies… would you expect your government to enter into a ceasefire with the very terrorist organization that committed all those atrocities against Americans on American soil?”
While Torres’ stance on Israel is shared by many of his colleagues, there are still several who do not agree, such as U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, who has called for a ceasefire, alongside former Riverdale U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman, and several other representatives.
“How many more Palestinians would make you happy if they died?” Omar asked at a press conference. “Would you be fine if all of the people of Gaza were gone? Would that make you happy? Would that be the thing that makes you proud? And maybe that’s the question you should ask Ritchie: how many more Palestinian lives is he comfortable with?”
These comments were met with resentment by Torres, who said on CNN, “Every casualty is a tragedy, every war is a humanitarian crisis, but we have to keep in mind the causes of the war. Israel did not start the war, the war was imposed upon Israel by the barbaric terrorism of Hamas which butchered 1,400 Israelis, including babies.”
Assemblyman Dinowitz and Councilman Dinowitz both recently attended a huge rally last Thursday at Times Square where they again demanded the release of Hamas hostages. On Monday, they and a number of electeds, attended a meeting with relatives of some of the hostages, as well as a 28-year-old man who was at the at the Tribe of Nova music festival where armed Hamas and paragliders massacred and butchered over 260 people who were celebrating the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.
The idea of a group protesting in support of Palestine and Hamas was mind boggling to the assemblyman.
“I saw something on Twitter, some group, it said something like ‘Queers for Palestine,’” the Assemblyman said. “And I’m thinking ‘You know what? Try to go to Gaza, they’ll throw you off the roof because that’s what they do to LGBT people there… Israel is the only country in the Middle East where LGBT people have rights.”
While same-sex marriage is recognized if performed outside of Israel, it is not legal in Israel itself. In Palestine, the Hamas government punishes all men convicted of having engaged in homosexual acts with up to 10 years in prison.
“The language of these anti-Israel fanatics has gone from disgusting to dangerous,” Assemblyman Dinowitz stated on social media. “They love the murderous barbarians of the Hamas terrorists and support slaughtering innocent civilians.”
Torres said on social media that by the Bronx Anti War Coalition accusing him of genocide, the “anti-Israel extremists” were inciting violence against him and his staff.
“These extremists can’t and won’t intimidate me with their crazed lies and blood libels,” Torres said. “I am fearless.”
Commenting on both gatherings on Tuesday, Torres said that the “anti-Israel hate rally” was “less than 100 people” and mostly from outside his district. He thanked the “1,000 people” who stood with him.