Why Did Jerusalem Disappear From Platform?

First It's Out, Then It's In After Obama Steps In

By Ron Kampeas (JTA)

Published September 05, 2012.
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Frustrated Democrats said the Jerusalem flap obscured the enhancements of language guaranteeing Israel’s security.

“We focused the platform on President Obama’s undeniable and unshakable commitment to Israel’s security, and we described the president’s unprecedented record in this regard,” said a statement that the DNC attributed to a spokeswoman. “This is just another attempt by the Romney campaign to turn our support for Israel – which has always been bipartisan – into a partisan wedge issue by playing politics. This is both cynical and counter-productive to Israel’s security.”

Such answers still beg the question of why nine words appearing in the 2008 document – “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel” – did not reappear four years later.

Wexler, who insisted that he did not have inside information beyond the broad campaign directive to focus on security, speculated that the omission reflected the difference between a nonincumbent candidate, who has greater flexibility, and a president who has established policies.

“Jerusalem is a final-status issue,” said Wexler, who delivered a fiery pro-Israel speech Tuesday during prime time. “There’s nothing about settlements or ‘67 lines or borders in here.”

Obama, after 2 1/2 years of pressing such final-status issues, has instead made Iran his Middle East focus over the past 18 months, in part because tensions between Iran and Israel over Iran’s suspected nuclear program have intensified and threaten to erupt into war.

“It’s not the issue of the day – there aren’t peace negotiations right now,” Wexler told JTA. “The issue of the day is Israel’s security, how will we stop Iran’s nuclear program.”

There are traditionally twin exigencies in shaping platforms: Reflecting a presidential agenda and deferring to interest groups. When they clash, the candidate may defer to interest groups whose platform submissions contradict his own, with the knowledge that presidents ignore platforms at little political cost; or the candidate may intervene to head off interest groups, if the inclusion of their claims in the platform poses the risk of reverberating beyond the convention.

Romney exercised both options in his treatment of this year’s Republican Party platform. He allowed in a pro-life platform plank that opposed abortions with no exemptions for rape and incest while noting that his administration would support such exemptions. Conversely, his surrogates intervened to head off an attempt by Republicans with ties to settler groups to remove references to a two-state, Israel-Palestine solution from the platform.

It’s not clear what role, if any, pro-Israel groups played in the removal of the Jerusalem language from the Democratic Party platform, or if they tried to keep in the language.

A Jewish official speaking on background said that at least three American Israel Public Affairs Committee officials were present during the entire period when the platform was drafted last month in Minneapolis. Other Democratic and Jewish officials confirmed AIPAC’s participation in the process. Wexler said he had consulted with AIPAC officials on parts of the platform but had not discussed Jerusalem with them.

A source close to AIPAC said the group never saw the full platform language, and that AIPAC officials were not in the room when the platform was being drafted. The source noted that AIPAC in its written submissions had made the case for including a reference to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but also noted that AIPAC regarded the final draft Israel sections of both party platforms as “strong.”

The Anti-Defamation League included language referencing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in its written submission to both platform committees; the American Jewish Committee did not.

Republican language on Jerusalem also shifted between 2008 and 2012. The ‘08 platform included the following sentences: “We support the vision of two democratic states living in peace and security: Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital, and Palestine,” and “We support Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to that undivided capital of Israel.”

A slightly rewritten version of the first sentence appears in the ‘12 platform, but the second sentence disappeared – an omission notable because Republicans four yeas ago made much of how Obama the candidate pledged an “undivided” Jerusalem to the AIPAC policy conference and then retreated the next day after pushback from critics.

The Romney campaign referred questions about the GOP platform to the Republican National Committee. RNC officials did not respond to several requests for comment.


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