‘Blithering idiots’: US congressman slams pro-Israel campaign targeting Black lawmakers

‘Blithering idiots’: US congressman slams pro-Israel campaign targeting Black lawmakers
New York congressman Ritchie Torres has hit out at an Israeli campaign to influence Black Democrats, despite his own strong support for Tel Aviv.
4 min read
08 June, 2024
Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) attends The Jerusalem Post New York conference on June 03, 2024 in New York City. [Noam Galai/Getty Images]

New York Congressman Ritchie Torres has denounced an alleged influence campaign by the Israeli government that is targeting Black Democrats. 

The New York Times, citing documents and sources within Israel’s Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, reports that the Israeli government dedicated around $2 million to the campaign and contracted a Tel Aviv-based political marketing firm to execute the plan.  

The firm, Stoic, launched the operation in October of last year, orchestrating hundreds of fake accounts masquerading as American users on X, Facebook, and Instagram to disseminate pro-Israel content.  

The campaign largely targeted US lawmakers, particularly Black Democrats such as Torres, New York’s House Minority Leader Hakeem Jefferies and Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock to elicit continued support for military aid to Israel, according to the NYT

In a post on X, Torres responded to the claims, criticising the "blithering idiots behind this embarrassing operation."

"If you think I need to be 'influenced' to be pro-Israel, then please see a doctor because your brain might be rotting," Torres wrote on X.  

"The blithering idiots behind this embarrassing operation should be fired for gross incompetence."

"The majority of the Congressional Black Caucus has a pro-Israel voting record."

Torres, one of US Congress’s staunchest pro-Israel advocates, argued that there was "no correlation at all between race and Israel in the United States Congress," as he slammed the "racist" influence operation for its approach towards black congressional Democrats. 

"The majority of the Congressional Black Caucus has a pro-Israel voting record," he added. 

The NYT report also highlighted that artificial intelligence-driven chatbot ChatGPT was used to create three fictitious English-language news websites to publish pro-Israel articles.  

It also said that Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook, and ChatGPT owner OpenAI discovered the campaign and shut down its operation. 

Meta and OpenAI released reports last week that attributed Stoic's involvement in the campaign to the removal of Facebook posts and pages, as well as Instagram accounts, amounting to approximately 554 pages and accounts removed.

According to the companies, the firm was behind the creation of false personas across social media used in Israel, Canada and the US, which posted Islamophobic messages that remain on X.

Israeli misinformation watchdog FakeReporter also flagged the campaign in March and told the publication that it was "reckless and probably ineffective". 

However, despite his criticism of Israel’s influence campaign, Torres continues to be an outspoken member of the pro-Israel movement both on and offline. 


A post shared by ACT UP NY (@actupny)

On Friday, Torres took to X to condemn the United Nations reportedly adding Israel onto a blacklist for failing to protect children in its devastating war on Gaza

"The UN Chief is putting Israel on the same blacklist as ISIS. The UN has once again shown itself to be a systemically antisemitic institution. It singles out Israel for delegitimation while turning a blind eye to the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism—Iran."

Torres also accused UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres of "aiding and abetting Hamas". 

Act Up NY, the New York branch of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, protested Torres’ pro-Israel stance last Sunday by removing a flag dedicated to the politician at Fire Island’s Trailblazers Park. 

The grassroots group replaced the flag with an alternative that paid homage to trans activist Cecilia Gentili, who died in February of this year.  

ACT UP NY was also seen placing a "silence=death" flag bearing a watermelon, a defining symbol of the pro-Palestine movement.  

They said that they aimed to honour queer Palestinians amid Israel’s military assault in the Palestinian territory and referred to Torres as "anything but a trailblazer". 

Torres, who identifies as gay, responded angrily to his flag being torn down in a post on X, and reiterated his support for Israel.