CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – Democrats amended the party platform Wednesday afternoon to include language supporting Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The last-minute change came in the wake of mounting criticism from Democratic members of Congress incensed that the 2008 platform's declaration backing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel had been removed from the 2012 text. Sources close to the platform drafting process said US President Barack Obama personally intervened on reinstating the Jerusalem language. The whole 2012 platform was originally adopted during the Democratic convention Tuesday night.
“The platform language is dead wrong. I reject it,” Democratic Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey told The Jerusalem Post before the amendment was offered, referring to the decision not to include language on Jerusalem.
He noted that he had not been consulted on the change, and that he and other members of the party were concerned that such a shift had been made.
“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and our platform should say it,” Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin said ahead of the re-vote. “I would have much preferred to see it remain.”
The 2012 Democratic platform pledges to “maintain an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security,” and details the extensive security assistance the Obama administration has extended to the Jewish state.
It now also includes the 2008 sentence that “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel," and that "It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths." Republicans were quick to jump on the original omission, blasting the Democrats for not supporting Israel and its capital strongly enough.
Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan joined the fray Wednesday, calling it a “tragic” move during an appearance on Fox News.
Most Democrats were more reserved in their criticism, instead wondering why the change had been made in the first place.
“I don’t understand why there was any need to change the position from 2008,” Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia told the Post. “I haven’t gotten an answer.”
Robert Wexler, a former Democratic congressman from Florida who was involved in drafting the foreign policy portion of the platform, explained to the Post that the platform committee started with a fresh slate from 2008 so it could focus on what it saw as the most pressing issues concerning the US-Israel relationship – namely the security of the Jewish state.
“The language of this platform addresses the No. 1 dire issue for Israel, which is security, security as it relates to the profound danger presented by the Iranian nuclear program [and] Hezbollah and Hamas,” he said, rather than issues such as Jerusalem that will be part of final-status negotiations with Palestinians that are currently stalemated.
Wexler added, “The Israel language is 100 percent pro-Israel language. More than that, it’s actually 100 percent pro-Likud-ideology Israel language.”
With the amendment Wednesday, Wexler said the platform is "even stronger" on Israel. He added that, "There was confusion about the president's support for Israel. We wanted to end the confusion." Wexler was not the only one in the party to express frustration that the broader message on US support for Israeli security under the looming threat of Iran was being obscured by the controversy over the Jerusalem language.
“This doesn’t help our message,” said Nevada Congresswoman Shelley Berkley before the decision to add the Jerusalem language back in was made. She stressed the important steps on Iran that the Obama administration has taken, and suggested that effort was getting lost in the omission of the words on Jerusalem, which she opposed.
The DNC platform strengthens its stance on Iran by explicitly stating the possibility that force could be used.
While the 2008 platform referred to all options for dealing with Iran remaining on the table, this year’s document states that “the window for diplomacy will not remain open indefinitely and that all options – including military force –remain on the table.”
Wexler emphasized the Obama administration’s opposition to Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon in an address to the convention Tuesday night, believed to be the first prime time political speech at a convention of either party to be devoted entirely to Israel.
“Under President Obama, the US and Israel are firmly committed to stopping one of the gravest threat to international security: Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons,” he told the audience at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Wexler also pointed out that changes have been made to the Republican platform, noting that a call for an undivided Jerusalem and moving the US Embassy there from Tel Aviv had been removed from the 2012 version.
Now that the Democratic platform refers to an undivided Jerusalem, Democrats are hoping that they will score points with Republicans given the change from their previous platform.
When it comes to Jerusalem, the GOP's 2012 version declares only that “we envision two democratic states – Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine – living in peace and security.”
Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which has sent out several press statements blasting the Democrats over their platform change, dismissed criticisms of the RNC alterations.
He described attacks on the Republican language on Jerusalem as “comparing apples to oranges.”
He continued, “The Republican party unambiguously, unhesitatingly affirms Jerusalem as the capital of Israel."