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Apologizing for visiting Israel

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hugs Sen. Sylvia Santana, D-Detroit, right, before Whitmer's State of the State address on Jan. 26, 2023 (Photo: USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters)

What can you say about Michigan State Senator Sylvia Santana, who recently visited Israel along with fellow Democrat politicians but then felt compelled to apologize for doing so?

You could probably say many things, such as she is weak and a grown-up with no personal convictions, but most of all, you could say she caved into pressure from angry Arab Muslims in her district of Dearborn, who apparently reamed her out for making the trip to Israel. Of course, it’s more than likely that all 24 of the Democrat legislators who accompanied Santana, also represent some percentage of Muslim constituents, but, other than her, none of them felt the need to do a mea culpa.

But instead of exercising her right to stand by the personal decision, which led her to come to visit, she offered the following humiliating grovel to her constituency: “I truly apologize, seek your forgiveness and hope that you will understand that I had no malicious intent.”

Is there anything more unappealing and uninspiring than a well-educated woman in her 40s, and mother of three, who feels so intimidated by those who put her in office, that she must genuflect to them, making sure that their sensitivities are respected before her own?

Is it not possible to counter their objections by acknowledging their right to feel as they do but, at the same time, letting them know that she also has the obligation to examine all sides on this subject? And what better way to do that than to travel to the place in question and hear first-hand from people and officials as to what is really going on inside the country?

Yet, rather than have the courage of her convictions to not be bullied or shamed, for her choice to travel with others from her own party, she, instead, allowed “the mob” to formulate her conclusions and her words. Way to go, Sylvia!

In direct contrast to Sen. Santana, Congressman Ritchie Torres (D-NY) likely heard many criticisms about Israel, both from his side of the political aisle, as well as those within his district. Yet, he made the decision to travel here and see for himself. As someone who didn’t know much, he wasn’t afraid to say candidly, “When I first entered elected office, about a decade ago, I had no real knowledge of Israel or the region. I was almost a blank slate. And then I was invited by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York to go on a delegation to Israel. And when I went to Israel and when I saw the facts on the ground with my own eyes, the experience was both formative and transformative.”

As a 35-year-old Afro-Latino representative of the Bronx, there is no question that his path will cross, if it hasn’t already, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, another congressional representative of the Bronx and part of north-central Queens. As one of the more progressive members of his party, who comprises one of the eight members of “The Squad,” Ocasio-Cortez is highly critical of Israel and the country’s policies, which she views as racist and oppressive towards Palestinians. 

Yet, when asked by reporter Margaret Hoover on PBS’ “Firing Line” to expound upon her claims that Israel was an “occupier of Palestinian lands, causing an extreme crisis of humanitarian conditions,” she immediately back-pedaled, by stating that she was not an expert on geo-political issues. 

This is the same woman who, when recently asked by former White House Spokesperson Jen Psaki, “What was the one thing that most people didn’t know about her,” responded with: “She does her homework.” Apparently when not appearing on PBS, AOC, as she’s known, is woefully informed about Israel’s history, how it became an independent state, what its policies are, and how it relates to the Palestinian population. 

She is also apparently unaware of the fact that Palestinians hold important and prestigious roles such as judges, politicians, professors, doctors, Knesset members, and much more. Like the uninformed, she chooses to rely upon unfounded and unsubstantiated rumors and accusations, which are used to delegitimize Israel by her detractors, all for the sake of pushing an agenda that furthers the notion that Palestinians are the victims of Jewish oppression. It’s an easy but lazy approach to adopting a position on a controversial subject, which demands so much more than merely jumping on the bandwagon of one’s prejudiced colleagues.

That is why Torres should be applauded for his efforts to really do his homework, by making the long trek here and being willing to speak personally to individuals such as the mayor of Sderot who went into detail about the plight of the children in his city, many of whom suffer from post-traumatic stress, as a result of the constant attacks by “oppressed Palestinians.”

Torres also spoke about the impact made upon him after visiting such sights as Yad Vashem and Masada. Internalizing what he saw, he opined that, as bad as his district is, in relation to poverty and crime, his constituents still don’t have to confront overhead rockets launched by a bordering neighbor, on a daily basis.

In fact, his takeaway was that, “One need not be Jewish or Israeli to see clearly the antisemitic double standard against Israel,” stating that there were “no comparable boycott movements of |China, Russia and others who are gross abusers of human rights.”

We all hope that Torres remains firm towards his commitment to Israel after having seen and experienced all he did because there is no doubt that he will, very quickly, get an earful from those in his party, who don’t share his views on Israel. If he doesn’t back down or feel the need to express regret for all he’s said, then Sen. Santana might learn from his courageous stand, even in the face of much opposition from those who are being called the future of the Democrat party. 

In the end, it may come to Torres having to choose between party affiliation and personal conviction, because if The Squad is the future of the party, then pro-Israel sentiment will be scorned. In that event, however, it looks as though Sen. Santana could have a very bright future!

A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.

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