Democrats hit back hard at critics of President Barack Obama’s handling of relations with Israel Tuesday night, devoting a prime time slot on opening night of their convention to a full-throated appeal to Jewish voters.
Former Florida Rep. Robert Wexler delivered the televised speech, and bitterly attacked Republican nominee Mitt Romney in an interview with the Forward, even as a new controversy erupted over the Democrats’ failure to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in the party platform.
“I question Mitt Romney’s commitment to the security of Israel,” Wexler told the Forward after his speech. Wexler suggested that Romney improperly undermined Obama’s foreign policy authority by questioning the strength of the president’s support for Israel in its standoff with Iran.
“(Romney) makes reckless statements in his convention speech about the president throwing Israel under the bus,” Wexler said. “If the Iranians would believe Mitt Romney, then Israel would have a real problem.”
In his convention speech, which came at a coveted 8 pm time slot when the arena is full and cable networks are broadcasting live, Wexler reminded delegates that Israel’s prime minister, defense minster and president have all thanked Obama for his support of the Jewish State.
“Perhaps Mr. Romney should listen to those who know best — Israel’s leaders.” Wexler said.
Wexler stressed that Obama is resolved not to allow Iran to achieve a nuclear weapon and that “mobilize all instruments of U.S. power: economic, diplomatic, intelligence, and military” in order to “prevent not to contain,” a nuclear Iran.
The former congressman, who represented a heavily Jewish south Florida district, also mentioned the quest for a two-state solution for the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. That’s a theme that has not been heard much in this election cycle from either party.
The push for Jewish support came as Republicans and their supporters within the Jewish community attacked the Democratic platform for avoiding a clear statement recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The Forward has learned that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee submitted a paper to the Democratic platform committee including language that recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The party turned down the suggestion in its platform, which was released Monday.
The previous platform, adopted in 2008, including a statement that “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel.” Jerusalem is not mentioned at all in the new platform.
The new platform also omits language in the 2008 platform which called for the resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem within the future Palestinian state, not in Israel.
Jewish Republicans were quick to latch onto the Jerusalem switch. The Republican Jewish Coalition issued a statement arguing that the Obama administration is “painfully out of touch with the mainstream of the Jewish community.”
Democrats could face problems with the platform even within their own party. California Rep. Howard Berman, the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee who’s locked in a tight reelection fight, issued a statement Tuesday evening saying it “should be clear to everyone that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel, always and forever.” Anything less, Berman added, “I will not accept.”
Democratic activists argued that even former president George W. Bush stated the status of Jerusalem should be determined in the final negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Democratic National Committee issued a statement in response to Republican claims, saying that the Obama administration “has followed the same policy towards Jerusalem that previous U.S. Administrations of both parties have done since 1967.”
Wexler argued that the Jerusalem’s future is not the most immediate issue Israel faces.
“When was the last time that Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a speech on (Jerusalem)?” he asked.
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.