A day of criticism and damage control efforts ended with a Democratic about-face on the issue of Jerusalem. The party decided on Wednesday to amend its new platform and to reinstate in its language recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
The amendment, which was personally ordered by President Barack Obama, may put an end to the barrage of Republican criticism that threatened to overshadow the Democrat’s convention message to Jewish voters. But it clearly caused an embarrassment to Obama’s re-election campaign and Jewish outreach effort.
The new language adopted Wednesday afternoon states 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 language tries to bridge a gap between the Obama administration’s position that the final status of Jerusalem needs to be decided by Israelis and Palestinians as part of a final peace accord, and between the need to answer criticism from the Jewish base and from rivals who believe that under any set of circumstances Jerusalem shall remain the capital of Israel.
“The platform is being amended to maintain consistency with the personal views expressed by the President and in the Democratic Party platform in 2008,” said Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a statement. “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 Jerusalem flap, first noticed by Republicans Tuesday after the release of the new platform, grew rapidly into a major problem for Democrats convened in Charlotte for their nominating convention. It finally reached the table of President Obama, who asked the DNC to make the needed changes in order to clean up the mess. Obama’s top political adviser David Axelrod worked with the party’s institutions to find a legal way to change the platform as soon as possible.
Following the presidential intervention, the party wrote up the new language on Jerusalem and added another amendment to the platform, one which embraced “God given potential.” Democrats came under fire for not mentioning God in their platform.
But the road to approving the amendment was far from smooth.
Former Ohio governor Ted Strickland presented the amendment at the convention and the sitting chairman, Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, ordered a voice vote for the two third majority needed to amend the platform. But delegates seemed split, as clearly seen in this video of the vote. Villaraigosa repeated the voice twice again and finally declared the amendment approved with a majority of two thirds of delegates.
Jewish Democratic activists, gathered at a time for a briefing organized by the National Jewish Democratic Council at a nearby hotel, reacted with relief to news of the change announced during the briefing. Jewish elected officials also praised the change after initially being blindsided by their party’s decision to omit Jerusalem from the platform. Howard Berman of California, who was among the first to speak out publically against his party’s platform, issued a statement saying he was “happy” to see the change. New York congressman Eliot Engel, told the Forward that dropping Jerusalem from the platform was a mistake and that by doing it the party played into the hands of its Republican critics.
Democrats, on Wednesday evening, tried to pivot the debate and turn it into an attack on Republicans’ Jerusalem credentials. Democratic Jewish activists noted that while the new language uses the term “undivided” to describe the future of the holy city, Republicans had not included this term in their 2012 platform.
The Republican Jewish Coalition already put out an ad to run in key battleground states which takes on the Democratic Party’s platform. The ads were issued before Democrats decided to reinstate language about Jerusalem into their platform.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.