CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – Democrats faced criticism on Thursday over how they
handled a last-minute amendment to the party platform that added in language
recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Party officials hoped to
put to rest the controversy over a decision not to include the Jerusalem text
from the 2008 platform by holding a quick vote Wednesday night to add it back
in, as well as include a reference to God that had been excised, leaving the
platform without reference to a higher power. Democrats hoped instead to focus
on the convention’s main event, US President Barack Obama’s speech Thursday
The move came after loud complaints from many Democratic members
of Congress who objected to Jerusalem being cut from the
Several Democrats connected to the process said that Obama had
personally intervened to have the language reinstated after the controversy,
initiated by Republican pro-Israel activists, erupted. Several Jewish groups had
also objected to the changes.
But Democratic delegates in the convention
hall on Wednesday, surprised by the amendment maneuver, did not give Los Angeles
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, 2012 Democratic National Convention Committee
chairman, the clear two-thirds backing needed in a voice vote to approve the
change. Villaraigosa had to call for a vote three times before declaring that
the sufficient amount of support had been mustered. In response, several in the
arena broke into boos.
Several people in the hall complained about the lack of proper process and said the negative reaction was
due to complaints over the procedures used to secure support for the amendments,
rather than the content. Others expressed opposition to the inclusion of a
reference to God.
But at least some in the hall were supporters of the
Palestinian position and objected to adding in text declaring that “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.”
“[The] amendment to reinsert the
language on Jerusalem was a clear case of putting pandering above responsible
politics,” the Arab-American Institute said in statement put out after the
amendment was made, saying it “flies in the face of decades of policy and the
positions of President Obama, international peacemakers, and the American public
Many Jewish groups, in contrast, were pleased by the change,
with the American Israel Public Affair Committee, Anti-Defamation League and
American Jewish Committee issuing statements welcoming the move.
one Jewish group, however, had praised the original 2012 language as a more
constructive platform for the party.
Americans for Peace Now, in a
statement put out before the amendment was made, said the DNC deserved credit
rather than criticism for a platform that “offers a breath of fresh air by
refraining from pandering on the issue with empty words that are disconnected
from longstanding US policy on this sensitive issue.”
Democrats, however, were frustrated at the notion that the party platform had
been revised to reflect current US policy, rather than the party’s hopes for how
that policy would be set in the future.
“It’s between legislation and
aspiration. It’s always been a mix,” said someone familiar with the
She added, however, that her understanding was
that the platform was drafted to focus on what Obama had achieved in office on
Israel – particularly support for defense assistance – as a way of indicating
stong support for Israel.
Asked about the change in the platform’s Israel
language from 2008, DNC chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Thursday
on CNN that “essentially, with Jerusalem, it was a technical omission and
nothing more than that.”
“There was never any discussion or debate
commentary over adding or subtracting it,” she said.
congressman Robert Wexler, who was involved in drafting the foreign policy
portion of the platform, told The Jerusalem Post
that the 2012 language was
drafted from scratch because rather than focusing on final-status issues such as
Jerusalem – which were less relevant during a period when the peace process was
frozen – because the aim was to focus on security, since that matters most to
Israel as the threat of Iran looms.
“The original platform was 100
percent pro-Israel. Now the platform is even stronger,” he said.
said the decision to amend the platform was made because “there was confusion on
the president’s support for Israel. We wanted to end it.”
Colin Kahl, a
former Pentagon official also involved in the platform’s drafting, agreed that
the platform was unquestionably reflective of Obama’s strong backing for the
“I don’t think there was any intention by the drafters of
the platform to signal a fundamental change in US policy on Jerusalem or any
other issue,” he said. “Clearly it was misinterpreted that way, so the president
personally intervened to correct the record.”
Though some Obama advisers
pointed fingers in his direction for the changed language, he didn’t respond to
the charge when asked about it during a Truman National Security Project program
“We should move on,” Kahl said. “The platform is changed.”