Democrats’ Jerusalem exclusion ignites controversy before language returns

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Click photo to download. Caption: President Barack Obama on stage at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Credit: DemConvention.

Recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, at first controversially omitted from the 2012 Democratic Party Platform, was reinstated in the document after three attempted voice votes at the party’s convention in Charlotte, NC, on Sept. 5.

On all three of the voice votes, a seemingly indistinguishable number of convention delegates shouted both “aye” and “no,” but convention chair Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, determined after the third attempt that the required two-thirds vote in favor of the measure was reached. Loud booing followed Villaraigosa’s announcement.

“I think there’s an issue here, and the issue here is that the rank and file of the Democratic party no longer views Israel the same way as it has historically,” Richard Baehr, chief political correspondent for American Thinker, told regarding the Democrats’ voting. “It’s a 50/50 proposition, which is what it sounded like on the convention floor, and that’s consistent with national polling.”

Click photo to download. Caption: Jerusalem. Credit: Berthold Werner.

The Democratic platform had drawn criticism due to its omission of language on Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, and Hamas that was previously included in the party’s official statements on Israel. While the Jerusalem language from 2008 was reinserted into the platform, the other statements in question—including “The United States and the Quartet should continue to isolate Hamas until it renounces terrorism,” that the peace process “should resolve the issue of Palestinian refugees” by allowing them to settle in a Palestinian state rather than Israel, and that Israel is America’s “strongest ally” in the Middle East—were not.

President Barack Obama has an “unshakable commitment to Israel’s security,” the platform states, citing his administration’s allocation of “nearly $10 billion in the past three years” to help maintain the Jewish state’s qualitative military edge. Through diplomatic support, Obama has displayed “steadfast opposition to any attempt to delegitimize Israel on the world stage,” the platform adds.

In 2004 and 2008, but initially not in 2012, the Democratic platform said Jerusalem “is and will remain the capital of Israel.” The amended 2012 platform says: “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”

Speaking on CNN, Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz called the Jerusalem omission a “technical overnight” and said that because Obama “personally believes that Jerusalem is and always should remain the capital of Israel,” the president “made sure that we amended the platform to reflect his personal view as well as reflect the language that we had in the platform in 2008.”

However, Andrea Saul—Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s spokeswoman— said Obama should go further than the platform change by stating himself “in unequivocal terms whether or not he believes Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.” Romney, speaking at the Western Wall this summer, affirmed Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital and vowed to move the U.S. embassy there. Despite Congress’s passage of the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, which called for the embassy’s relocation there, every U.S. president since that year has kept the embassy in Tel Aviv.

The Republican Jewish Coalition on Sept. 4 expressed “outrage” that the platform had stripped “recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel from the party’s official policy document.” On Sept. 5, before the Jerusalem language had been restored, the RJC announced the placement of an advertisement on its removal in the Charlotte Observer as well as Jewish newspapers in the swing states of Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Nevada. The ad highlighted the removal of “strong pro-Israel language that was in the 2008 [Democratic] platform.”

Every Democratic platform from 1972 to 2008—except 1988—“affirmed Jerusalem as capital of Israel,” the RJC noted in a press release.

On Sept. 4, the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) explained that President George W. Bush “signed waivers 16 times to avoid moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.”

“Jewish Democrats know full well that Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel,” NJDC President David A. Harris said in a statement. “We—like President George W. Bush before and leaders of both parties for decades—also know that the final status of Jerusalem will have to be formally decided by the parties. This should come as a surprise to nobody.”

The 2012 Republican platform says: “We support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders; and we envision two democratic states—Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine—living in peace and security.” Romney, in a statement Sept. 4, called it “unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama’s shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.”

In 2008, the Republican platform said, “We support Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to that undivided capital of Israel,” but did not contain that language in 2012, Harris noted Sept. 5.

“No reference to an undivided capital, no reference to America’s embassy—gone,” Harris said. “Does this mean the Republican Party is suddenly anti-Israel? Of course not. But it does mean that GOP leaders pointing fingers [at Democrats] are wildly hypocritical—given this change and others.”

Following the Democrats’ change, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) said it welcomed the “reinstatement to the Democratic platform of the language affirming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital” and praised the language of both parties’ platforms.

“Together, these party platforms reflect strong bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel relationship,” AIPAC said in a statement.

The initial exclusion of Jerusalem startled not just Republicans, but also rattled legislators within the Democratic Party. “It was silly not to include it,” U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) told the Washington Free Beacon. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told the Jerusalem Post he “wouldn’t have taken [the Jerusalem language] out.”

Former congressman and Obama campaign aide Robert Wexler, who helped draft the Democrats’ platform, called criticism of the Jerusalem omission “total cherry-picking of the language” and “completely absurd in terms of trying to fabricate some kind of stepping back [on considering Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital],” according to the Post.

Regarding the Iranian nuclear threat, the platform said Obama has “made clear that the window for diplomacy will not remain open indefinitely and that all options—including military force—remain on the table.” However, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey’s recent statement that he does not want to be “complicit” in a potential Israeli strike on Iran has fueled concern about the administration’s military support for Israel.

Washington Post commentator Jennifer Rubin noted that she received a statement on the initial 2012 Democratic platform from Orthodox Union (OU) Director of Public Policy Nathan Diament—who she wrote has sometimes “doggedly defended the [Obama] administration”—saying the following: “Facts are facts; Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, and America’s national leaders do no service to the people of the Mideast or the world by refusing to acknowledge these crucial facts.” Rubin wrote that the platform “is the most radically unsupportive statement of policy on Israel by any major party since the founding of the state of Israel.”

NJDC’s Harris, offering a polar-opposite take, said the Obama administration “has the most pro-Israel record of any on record.”

“From record aid to Israel to unsurpassed supplemental missile defense to heightened military cooperation to an unprecedented perfect voting record at the United Nations to gathering a global coalition against Iran, President Barack Obama has tirelessly worked to strengthen the special partnership between the United States and Israel,” Harris said.

Posted on September 10, 2012 and filed under News, U.S..