Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ritchie Torres clash over Israel

“This is about following a tried and failed strategy,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a recent radio interview. “So why do it, why kill children, why put people in danger, why perpetuate these cycles when we’ve done it so many times and it’s never kept us safe?”

But five years after she burst onto the political scene, even some critics say Ocasio-Cortez’s approach has become more nuanced, as she tries to balance the demands of a left-wing movement that sees justice for Palestinians as a key point and includes a large number of people. of Jewish voters with different opinions on the conflict. (His own safely Democratic district in Queens and the Bronx is largely Latino, black and Asian, with only small Jewish and Arab populations.)

Calls for a ceasefire by Ocasio-Cortez and others drew a sharp rebuke from the White House, and she faced backlash for voting against it. a bipartisan resolution who expressed strong support for Israel. But he has also taken steps to differentiate himself from allies such as Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Cori Bush of Missouri, sidestepping some of the left’s most incendiary criticism — such as accusing Israel of committing genocide in Gaza — to focus on the growing human cost. from the war.

Ocasio-Cortez, who declined to give an interview, met in Washington last month with the families of Jewish hostages kidnapped by Hamas. He has repeatedly condemned the group and supports a two-state solution rejected by some on the left. And at a time when many liberal Jews feel they are being abandoned by the left, he warned of “disgusting and unacceptable” anti-Semitism. in a post to 8.4 million Instagram followers, saying, “No integrity movement should tolerate it.”

“You can see how hard Alexandria is trying to listen compassionately across the lines of this conflict,” said Brad Lander, New York City’s leftist comptroller and the city’s highest-ranking Jewish official. “I’m not saying anyone is doing it perfectly, but there is a difference between trying and not trying.”

More moderate Jewish Democrats have also taken note. Rep. Dan Goldman of New York, who along with Torres voted this week to censure Tlaib for using divisive pro-Palestinian rhetoric, said he and Ocasio-Cortez had “made a conscious effort to maintain an open line of communication.” ”. ” even if they didn’t always agree on the conflict.

Across the Bronx River, Torres, 35, who is gay and Afro-Latino, has laid out a project strikingly different to the right of many of his peers, offering himself as a counterweight to his party’s leftist turn.

Her own social media following is relatively small (170,000 followers on Only in the last few days, he compared a ceasefire to call on Israel to “become the author of its own annihilation,” called claims that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza “blood libel” and argument that the majority of Israelis are not actually white, as claimed by those who see the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a racial struggle, but “people of color in the American sense.”

Torres has reserved special criticism for the Democratic Socialists of America, the small but influential leftist group that has pushed to boycott Israel and of which Ocasio-Cortez is a member. In an interview, he said the DSA was trying to infiltrate the Democratic Party “to impose ideological litmus tests on Israel” and “cleanse” those who disagree with them. He said he had a “publicly stated mission” to undermine him.

“I worry that the next generation will be increasingly indoctrinated with such virulent anti-Israel hatred that it makes them indifferent to the cold-blooded murder of Jews in Israel,” he said.

His views come as no surprise to those who watched Torres, a proud college dropout and public housing advocate, evolve from a left-aligned political upstart to a more traditional Democratic congressman.

Although he represents an overwhelmingly black and Latino district that includes only several thousand Jewish voters, he is unlikely to have made the conflict 5,700 miles away a top priority since 2015, when he traveled to Israel on a City Council delegation. It was his first trip abroad, and Torres said that witnessing both the fragility of the border and Tel Aviv’s openness to gay life left him with a “deep empathy” for Israel and a commitment to a two-state solution.

His combativeness has angered the left. Waleed Shahid, a progressive strategist close to Ocasio-Cortez, called Torres “a propagandist for the Israeli government.”

Jeremy Cohan, leader of the New York City chapter of the DSA, said Torres was unfairly conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. “He’s opportunistic, he’s disgusting, he’s personally offensive to me as a Jew,” he said.

It is still not at all clear how many left-wing Democrats Mr. Torres is moving. Even some senior colleagues who agree with him privately fear that his approach could alienate some black, Latino and other progressive voters at a time when his support is critical.

And yet, his actions have resonated on a visceral level among many American Jews facing one of the most terrifying periods since the Holocaust, and have brought him a new level of political celebrity.