Ritchie Torres regards BDS and Palestinian rights as a “relic”

Congressman Ritchie Torres stands with microphones in front of him

Congressman Ritchie Torres is pushing a special envoy for the Abraham Accords to further normalize Israeli apartheid.

Michael Brochstein ZUMAPRESS

Democratic Congressman Ritchie Torres is at it again. Republican congressional ally Mike Lawler is right there with him.

What unites them?

Entrenching Israel’s apartheid.

But they’re smart enough to dress up their efforts as promoting regional “peace” via the Abraham Accords.

The US House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill Tuesday pushed by the two members of Congress to create a special envoy position to advance the Abraham Accords, thereby further integrating apartheid Israel into the region.

Torres explicitly views the accords as a rebuttal to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian freedom and equal rights, dubbing BDS “a relic of the past.”

In a message trumpeted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Torres added that the future “does not belong to BDS, it belongs to the Abraham Accords.”

In other words, no to ending the Israeli occupation, no to equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and no to the right of return for Palestinian refugees expelled from their homes and not allowed to return.

The 2020 accords are touted in a 2022 book by David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel during the Trump administration, as an enormous breakthrough that overturned decades of State Department thinking by putting the periphery of the conflict first.

Friedman omits that there was no war between the signatories as well as the anti-Palestinian positions the State Department has often taken.

The accords also serve to undercut Palestinian aspirations for a future free of Israeli occupation and oppression.

The Israeli agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Morocco and Bahrain are smoothing the path to greater arms sales to and within the region.

Anti-Palestinian Torres

Torres has recently blasted Palestine-related speech by City University of New York Law school graduate Fatima Mohammed, and Lawler is pushing legislation to strip CUNY of funding by conflating speech for Palestinian freedom with anti-Semitism.

Their conception of peace is extremely anti-Palestinian.

As my colleague Nora Barrows-Friedman reported earlier this month, Torres received more than $140,000 in funds raised by AIPAC, making this the largest donation pool to his 2021-2022 congressional campaign. This accounted for just under half of the pro-Israel campaign funding to Torres.

He is, further, a denier of the severity of the ethnic cleansing carried out by Israel and its militia forebears in 1948 against the Palestinian people.

Meeting with constituents in February, Torres stated, “Can we all agree that when there’s ethnic cleansing or genocide, there tends to be depopulation?” Answering his own question, he argued, “The Palestinian population in Israel has gone from somewhere in the range of 200,000 in 1948 to over 2 million in Israel” and he began to add in “the territories” before pivoting to provide the worldwide Palestinian population figure.

Torres simply ignores the reality of some 800,000 Palestinians being forced out by the Israeli military and its pre-state militias around the time of Israel’s establishment. The 200,000 figure is a function of Palestinians being ethnically cleansed and not allowed to return, a fact Torres seeks to obscure.

Speaking in February, his indulgence of Israeli actions fails to anticipate calls from Israeli politicians just weeks later to deport Palestinians and wipe out the community of Huwwara in the occupied West Bank.

Of course, such calls are entirely predictable. Language of this sort should be familiar to anyone paying attention to the hatred Israeli politicians have directed at Palestinians over the years.

This is as clear a case of anti-Palestinian racism and denial of Palestinian history as you will see.

Nonetheless, Torres successfully led Democrats to vote in favor of the special envoy legislation.

Just 13 members of the House of Representatives opposed the bill – two Republicans and 11 Democrats. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, who is running for US Senate in the state of California, said afterwards that she miscast her vote and intended to vote in favor of the special envoy.

The bill now heads to the US Senate, though the Biden administration may simply go ahead and appoint its own representative for the accords separate from the legislation. Passage of the legislation would, however, codify the position for future presidents and their administrations.

Put Palestinians “on an island”

Ambassador Friedman has been frank in assessing how little the Abraham Accords would do for the Palestinian people.

“But the vision for peace had the territorial dimensions which were new, which gave the Palestinians a significant amount of incremental territory. Now, would they have a state in a traditional sense? No, they wouldn’t.”

Similarly, the two-star US general who helped broker the accords and name them is on record as saying they were intended to isolate the Palestinians.

According to Army General Miguel Correa, “The plan was that if we get everybody around [the Palestinians] to recognize the nation of Israel, then where does that leave the Palestinians? They’ll have to come, because they’re on an island.”

That political isolation remains the case today, though popular support for Palestinian rights continues to grow in the US and elsewhere.

The political reality is deteriorating as the US at best stands aside and at worst abets Israel’s crime of apartheid.

A spokesperson at the US State Department has not responded to my questions regarding an effort by Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Jewish Power party to pass legislation enabling communities in the Galilee and Naqab (Negev) of 1,000 households – up from the current 400 – to vet potential residents for “unsuitability” to the community’s “social and cultural fabric.”

The legislation would also apply to the West Bank.

The State Department in recent months had been responsive regarding questions from The Electronic Intifada about racism from Israeli politicians.

Not content with standing by as Israel legislates further discrimination against its own citizens and the Palestinian population in the occupied West Bank, US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides is pushing hard for Israel to be admitted into the US Visa Waiver Program. This waiver would allow Israeli citizens to travel to the US without having to apply for a visa.

The waiver program Nides is advocating is highly controversial as it is not supposed to be extended to countries that discriminate against US citizens as Israel frequently does with Palestinian American travelers.

Writing for Al Jazeera on 14 June, journalist Daoud Kuttab states that Nides is “set to oversee a one-month ‘trial period’ starting July 1 during which Israeli authorities are supposed to allow Palestinian Americans to enter Israel and allow them to use the Tel Aviv airport.”

He adds, “How compliance during this one month will ensure that Israel will stop its discrimination against all Americans is unclear. The Israeli government can simply restrain the border authorities for 30 days, pretend that they are changing their ways and once the visa waiver is granted, resume its odious policies.”

Kuttab asserts that once this benefit is extended to Israel, it is most unlikely a US government would suspend it. Since then, a State Department official has claimed Israel’s inclusion in the waiver program will hinge on its ability to “maintain” all of the relevant requirements. Israel’s reversal on so many commitments to the US over the years and the failure of the US to do anything about it – most recently on illegal settlements – makes the official’s assertion unconvincing.

Finally, the US government has failed to stand up sufficiently for Omar Assad, the elderly Palestinian American killed by the Netzah Yehuda battalion – which receives US charitable donations – in the occupied West Bank early last year.

Adam Shapiro, director of advocacy for Israel/Palestine with DAWN, Democracy for the Arab World Now, stated, “The Israeli military investigation was a classic whitewash, finding no one responsible and holding no one accountable for the ruthless killing of a Palestinian American, which is exactly why the US should sanction the Israeli forces responsible.”

DAWN is calling for the US government to “immediately impose Leahy Law sanctions” against the military unit. The Leahy Law prohibits US aid from funding units of a foreign country’s forces “where there is credible information implicating that unit in the commission of gross violations of human rights.”

Just a day before Assad was killed, Netzah Yehuda Association CEO Yossi Levi tweeted out a selfie of himself in military uniform as soldiers behind him aimed their assault rifles during an apparent training exercise. The accompanying caption in Hebrew reads: “Ready for battle!”
At the same time that the battalion’s human rights abuses are being swept under the rug, Levi bragged on 15 June about receiving a letter from Israeli President Isaac Herzog commending “the many years of activity of Mr. David Hager in the Netzah Yehuda organization.”

Hager, a convicted tax evader in the US, has helped raise substantial funds for the Netzah Yehuda battalion.

David Hager is awarded a volunteer prize by Israeli President Isaac Herzog

David Hager is awarded a volunteer prize for his work with the Netzah Yehuda battalion by Israeli President Isaac Herzog. (via Facebook)

David Hager, Israeli President Isaac Herzog , Yossi Levi and three others pose for photograph

David Hager celebrates his volunteer award from Israeli President Isaac Herzog alongside Netzah Yehuda Association CEO Yossi Levi at far right. (via Facebook)

DAWN’s call for the imposition of the Leahy Law is an appropriate demand that will not happen, certainly not in the immediate future. Levi knows it. Hager knows it. Herzog knows it. They celebrate the battalion while Omar Assad’s family mourns and is effectively abandoned by the US government.

The US won’t stand up for Palestinians and their rights – beyond empty words routinely ignored by the Israeli government – with the US ambassador giving every indication he’s unwilling even to stand up for the rights of Palestinian Americans traveling to the region.

The US is too busy labeling as regional peace the normalization of Israeli apartheid.


Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune, TheNation.com, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.