California Dems Table Israel Resolution

Statewide Party Convention Avoids Potentially Controversial Vote

By David Drucker

Published March 21, 2003, issue of March 21, 2003.
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SACRAMENTO — Working behind the scenes with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Democratic activist Howard Welinsky succeeded in tabling a resolution about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the California Democratic Party’s recently concluded convention.

Welinsky, who is also chairman of Democrats for Israel Los Angeles, told the Forward Saturday that he prevented what could have been a bit of nasty publicity for the party, had a statement seen as condemning Israel been supported by the 1,800 delegates who attended the convention.

“A pro-Arab or anti-Israel resolution could well find its way into the media and we consider that harmful,” Welinsky said. “Other Democratic parties sometimes follow California’s lead — rightly or wrongly.”

The five-paragraph resolution stated that the ongoing “Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies at the heart of the antagonism between Arab and Muslim peoples and the United States of America,” and called on Congress, President Bush and Democratic presidential candidates to take “extraordinary steps to reopen negotiations for a peace settlement.” It concluded by urging the federal government to “draw together a comprehensive plan of social and economic integration to move the Muslim nations into greater positive interface with Israel and the western world.”

Gregg Figgins, who introduced the resolution, expressed disappointment at Welinsky’s move. Interviewed by telephone Monday from his home in the Southern California desert community of Hemet, Figgins said he failed to see the harm in calling on Bush to resolve a situation most people consider a problem.

“I’m basically sympathetic to the Jewish position,’’ said Figgins, a retired high school English teacher and party delegate. “But it occurs to me that reciprocal butchering is getting us nowhere, and worse, is poisoning our relations in the Middle East.”

Figgins said he avoided mentioning either Israeli or Palestinian grievances to keep the focus on Bush, a Republican who — unlike former Democratic presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, whose efforts are cited in the resolution — has not been active enough in trying to mediate a solution to the Middle East crisis.

Resolutions Committee co-chairman John Hanna, however, found the resolution wanting, and indicated that the document might have in fact been too general.

“There’s not anybody calling for the elimination of Jordan, but there are some states calling for the elimination of Israel,’’ Hanna said Friday evening, while the resolution was being debated. “I think, to be even, we need to call for secure borders for Israel.”

Some Jewish Democrats would simply like the issue to disappear from state party politics. Any statement endorsed by the California Democratic Party that appears anti-Israel could turn off voters on Election Day, they say.

While 300 of the state’s 2,600 delegates are Jewish, there is no Jewish caucus within the party and most Jewish Democrats are focused on core Democratic issues such as the economy, education and healthcare rather than the Israeli-Palestinian issue, said Bob Blumenfield, district director for Rep. Howard Berman.

“I was pleased that the resolution was tabled. This isn’t the issue that the state Democratic Party should be focused on,’’ Blumenfield said Monday by telephone from his San Fernando Valley office.

Blumenfield, who attended his first Democratic National Convention in 1976, called Welinsky the “point man’’ on the long-standing effort by Jewish Democrats to prevent resolutions dealing with Israel from getting out of control.

Welinsky described his efforts and those of his colleagues as one of education and relation-building. “The reality of life is, we are thinking constantly about this problem and putting resources to deal with it,’’ he said.

One resolution that passed with overwhelming approval put the California Democratic Party on record against a war with Iraq.

Top California Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senator Barbara Boxer, were cheered wildly whenever they spoke of their opposition to Bush’s intention to use military force against Saddam Hussein. “Peace is a California value,’’ Boxer, who is up for re-election in 2004, said in a speech to convention delegates Saturday.

The Democratic presidential nominees with pro-war positions were roundly booed whenever their remarks touched on foreign policy.

Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts spoke through chants of “No war, no war!” while explaining to a gathering Friday why he voted in favor of a congressional resolution authorizing Bush to use military force in Iraq. Senator John Edwards of North Carolina fared no better Saturday. Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut did not appear at the convention, but a video he recorded specifically for the delegates received just as many catcalls as Edwards and Kerry when the 2000 vice presidential nominee explained his hawkish policy on Iraq.

Former Vermont governor Howard Dean whipped the crowd into a frenzy Saturday by opening his speech with his almost categorical opposition to war in Iraq, and kept the most energized reception given any candidate going until the very end, imploring delegates to help him take his country back. “I don’t want to listen to fundamentalist preachers anymore,’’ he shouted.

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