Navigate to News section

Dems Leave Jerusalem Off Party Platform

The Romney campaign wigs out on cue

Adam Chandler
September 05, 2012

The Democratic National Convention met with one of its first controversies yesterday as the newly-unveiled party platform parted with its 2008 language on the status of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The new platform actually featured no mention of Jerusalem at all.

Here’s what the 2008 version said:

“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.”

Various groups circulated talking points yesterday insinuating that the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC had apparently signed off on the language used in the platform. The Huffington Post was one that bit:

But the aide and a second source affiliated with the party — both of whom were not authorized to speak on the drafting process — added that officials with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the hardline pro-Israel interest group, had reviewed and approved the language prior to its finalization.

“They loved it,” said the aide who worked on the platform.

Spokesmen for AIPAC did not immediately return a request for comment.

As a colleague pointed out, it’s probably this last line that matters most. If you’re going to say that AIPAC loves something–and AIPAC ain’t shy about much–it really ought to be on the record. While it’s not the official Democratic party response, whispers of AIPAC’s approval haven’t fended off a deluge of criticism that was quick in coming.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called on supporters of Israel to “to condemn the president’s abrupt break with our closest ally in the Middle East.”

The platform wasn’t exactly a break with Israel though. As Haaretz pointed out:

This year, three paragraphs simply titled “The Middle East”, started with a lengthy declaration of support for Israel and President Obama’s steps to ensure the Israeli military’s qualitative edge.

Peace was mentioned only in the second paragraph, with several caveats in Israel’s favor, stressing that “the President has made clear that there will be no lasting peace unless Israel’s security concerns are met,” “President Obama will continue to press Arab states to reach out to Israel” and “even as the President and the Democratic Party continue to encourage all parties to be resolute in the pursuit of peace, we will insist that any Palestinian partner must recognize Israel’s right to exist, reject violence, and adhere to existing agreements.”

Republican nominee Mitt Romney also expressed dismay “that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama’s shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” adding:

“Four years of President Obama’s repeated attempts to create distance between the United States and our cherished ally have led the Democratic Party to remove from their platform an unequivocal acknowledgment of a simple reality.”

The reality might not be so simple though. The issue of Jerusalem has been impacted by a number of factors in the last three-and-a-half years including, but not limited to, the death of the peace process, Iran’s nuclear program and the Arab Spring, diplomatic lethargy by the Palestinian Authority, Israeli intransigence resoluteness, unrelenting rocket fire from Hamas, and the Jewish building up of East Jerusalem.

But none of these are the reason the party left it off the platform. Candidates have a long history of ‘talking brash’ on Jerusalem on the campaign, but not following through in office. As the Huffington Post explained:

Promising to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem and recognize that city as the formal capital of Israel has long been a popular presidential campaign theme — until the actual work of governing sets in. In 1999, presidential candidate George W. Bush repeatedly promised to move the embassy, but never did so in eight years in office; presidential candidate Bill Clinton had made the same promises eight years earlier.

To drive the point home, here’s the last word from Walter Russell Mead:

Hungry for story lines, any story lines, the press has occasionally tried to gin a little bit of drama out of fights over the party platform, but the honest truth is that no party platform means anything in American politics anymore. No president refers back to the platform in framing legislation, no congressional leader uses it to set the legislative agenda, no living soul ever reads or quotes it for any purpose whatever. No historian of American party politics goes back to study them, no journalist refers to them more than a week after the convention. They are dead letters, produced out of a sense of ritual and to the extent they have any purpose whatever, they are idle playgrounds aimed at keeping clueless party zealots busy counting coup and scoring imaginary points. Party counts for very little in America today, and their platforms count for even less. Presidential candidates don’t feel bound by them in the slightest, and they shouldn’t.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.

Support Our Journalism Today

The Jewish world needs a place like Tablet where varying—even conflicting—viewpoints can exist side by side. Our times demand an engagement with big ideas and not a retreat from them.

Help us do what we do.