Obama Pushes Platform Change Backing Jerusalem as Capital

Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland
Former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, chairman of the Democratic platform drafting committee speaks at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Charlotte, North Carolina on Sept. 4, 2012. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

President Barack Obama “intervened directly” to amend the Democratic Party platform and restore references to God and Jerusalem after no mention of the city as the capital of Israel sparked an outcry within the party and fueled attacks from Republican nominee Mitt Romney,, said a Democrat involved in the matter.

The president yesterday “said put it back in,” said Robert Wexler, a former Florida Democratic congressman who is president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.

The change was sought because “the president wanted certainty regarding his steadfast commitment to Israel,” said Wexler, who was part of the discussions among the White House and Democratic lawmakers.

Party delegates meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, approved the two amendments after three voice votes and over the objections of many on the convention floor, who booed after Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the convention chairman, announced the results.

Democrats reinstated language from their party’s 2008 platform, which said, “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel.” The platform also now includes a reference to the “God-given potential” of “working people.”

Leaving God out of the Democrats’ platform was an oversight, and language recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel wasn’t included because that’s not official State Department policy, former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland said today.

Obama Call

Strickland, a Democrat who headed the party’s platform-drafting committee, said he received a call yesterday afternoon from Obama’s campaign asking to have the amendments made.

The president personally asked for the amendments when the matter was “brought to his attention,” he said.

Another Democratic official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Obama personally intervened to have the platform better reflect his views and maintain consistency with the party’s 2008 positions. Officially, the Obama administration has said the status of Jerusalem should be negotiated directly by Israelis and Palestinians as part of the peace process.

Republicans seized on the Democrats’ internal dispute. In an interview yesterday with Fox News Channel, taped before the platform was amended, Romney said the omission of the word God from the document “suggests a party which is increasingly out of touch with the mainstream of American people.”

“This party is veering further and further away into an extreme wing that Americans don’t recognize,” he said in the interview, conducted in West Lebanon, New Hampshire.

Displeased Democrats

Some Democratic officials complained after discovering that the Jerusalem plank wasn’t in the platform.

“They got a lot of calls from people like me,” New York Representative Eliot Engel said in an interview at the convention. “I’m glad they saw the error of their ways.”

Still, the move to revise the platform upset some delegates. Robert Miller, 79, a retired university professor from Alma, Wisconsin, said he worried the amendment would inflame tensions in the Middle East.

“It will make the situation worse,” Miller said.

An Arab-American group also criticized the decision, calling it a “clear case of putting pandering above responsible politics.”

“This change is a knee-jerk reaction to baseless accusations from the far-right that the Democratic Party has ‘thrown Israel under the bus,’” the Arab American Institute said in a statement. “Worse still, the vote was clearly forced through the delegation, despite considerable opposition on the floor.”

Reduced Support

Although Republicans stated that Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel in their platform this year, the party scaled back its support from four years ago.

In their 2008 platform, Republicans wrote: “We support Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to that undivided capital of Israel.”

This year’s platform, adopted at the Republican National Convention last week in Tampa, Florida, said the party supports “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders; and we envision two democratic states -- Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine -- living in peace and security.”

Many Republican and Democratic leaders have called for Jerusalem to be the undivided capital of Israel, and they frequently promise to move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv -- a pledge that plays well with many Jewish voters in swing states such as Florida and Ohio.

Domestic Politics

The vow is almost entirely about domestic U.S. politics: Once in office, politicians have done little to enforce the policy, largely because it would undermine attempts to forge a peace deal in the region. Palestinians would like to locate the capital of a future state in East Jerusalem, dividing the city with Jewish leaders.

Then-candidate George W. Bush declared in a 2000 speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that he would move the U.S. embassy “as soon as” he took office. Six months after becoming president, he signed a waiver putting off the move -- a decision he reauthorized for the rest of his presidency.

Obama, too, called for Jerusalem to remain the undivided capital four years ago, in a speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

While Jewish voters overwhelmingly backed Obama four years ago, support for him among them has softened, according to some polls, amid concerns that the administration is being too tough on Israel and reports of a tense relationship between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Romney included a stop in Israel during a trip overseas in July and met with Netanyahu, a longtime friend.

Romney’s campaign doesn’t expect to win a majority of Jewish votes, though it sees an opportunity to gain enough to change the outcome in a few swing states.

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