Analysis: J'lem gaffe gives Republicans Israel win

The Democratic Party platform got a lot of attention in Charlotte for what it didn’t include on Israel.

Democrats (R370) (photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)
Democrats (R370)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)
WASHINGTON – The Democratic Party platform got a lot of attention in Charlotte for what it didn’t include in its section on Israel, but the points it did mention are straight out of the AIPAC playbook: robust security assistance, increased defense cooperation, calls on Arab states to reach out to Israel and support for Israel’s right to defend itself.
“Nobody can read the Democratic platform on Israel and come away with a sense that it is not pro- Israel,” said Colin Kahl, a former Pentagon official who helped draft the 2012 platform, as the controversy over the Israel language swirled in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“It is extraordinarily supportive of Israel.” But that didn’t stop Republicans from attacking it for not sufficiently backing the Jewish state.
Jumping on the fact that the 2012 platform plank didn’t include the 2008 platform’s support for Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, as well as other points related to Israel’s positions vis-à-vis the Palestinians in the peace process, the Republican Jewish Coalition sent out a press release bashing the change and calling for the language to be reinstated.
GOP partisans up through the presidential candidate himself, Mitt Romney, piled on, with Romney calling it a “shameful” omission.
But so did many Democratic members of Congress.
Some of the harshest comments came from Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, who told The Jerusalem Post the move was “dead wrong” and that “I reject it.”
All of which resulted in US President Barack Obama personally intervening to have the language on Jerusalem – as well as a reference to God – added into the platform during a hastily arranged amendment process Wednesday night.
While it was done to shore up the party’s pro-Israel credentials, the many “No’s” in the voice vote that was held to make the amendment, and the booing that followed the declaration that the two-thirds support threshold had been met, did the opposite.
Though the boos apparently came from many sources – those displeased with the expediency of the process, with the God reference and the fact the vote was held three times – at least some of it was due to opposition to the Jerusalem language being reinserted.
The episode ended up furthering the narrative of a split among Democrats over support for Israel, and in turn made what Democrats expected to be a week of positive messaging out of Charlotte into several days of negative headlines.
The RJC is now trying to push the issue further with a new ad titled “Rift” running in Jewish papers in key swing states.
If it’s any consolation to the Democrats, last week’s unforced error is reminiscent of Romney’s overseas trip this summer. In that case, too, the intention was to get a week of good press filled mostly with attractive photos and fluffy stories. Instead, the headlines were dominated by Romney gaffes and controversies that hardly gave the campaign the boost on the international stage that it was looking for.
Neither campaign, it seems, has been operating at its best recently.
The comparison Democrats are most eager to make, however, is with the Republican platform.
The Democrats’ amended platform now includes the statement 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 GOP platform in contrast states only that “We envision two democratic states – Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine – living in peace and security.” It does not include the 2008 platform’s reference to an “undivided” Jerusalem, as the Democrat one does, and there is also no longer a reference to moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (something the Democrat platform does not touch).
RJC executive director Matt Brooks dismissed the change as “comparing apples to oranges,” since “the Republican Party unambiguously, unhesitatingly affirms Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
Regardless of the content, there was certainly a difference in terms of attention and reaction to the two parties’ platforms, given that no open dispute erupted on the Republican convention floor in Tampa, Florida.
As such, it’s difficult for the Democrats to do too much damage control when video of delegates yelling “no” to reinserting the Jerusalem language is circulating on YouTube – whatever their source and the reason for the boos that followed its inclusion.
On the other hand, the audience in the arena for Obama’s speech Thursday night did offer a cheer when the president came to the line “Our commitment to Israel’s security must not waver.”
Some wanted him to go further and explicitly reference Jerusalem in the speech.
Andrea Saul, Romney’s spokeswoman, issued a statement declaring, “Now is the time for President Obama to state in unequivocal terms whether or not he believes Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.”
Perhaps Obama felt that enough had already been said on Jerusalem by then.