Jerusalem vanishes from Democrats’ platform and then reappears

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When it comes to Jerusalem’s presence in the Democratic Party platform, now you see it, now you don’t, and now you see it again.

Just hours after Democrats released their platform Sept. 3, Republicans launched a full-force offensive when they discovered references to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which have appeared in Democratic platforms for decades, were no longer there.

“It is unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama’s shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, said in a statement. Romney called Jerusalem Israel’s capital during his visit to the city in July.

Initial statements from the Democratic National Committee in Charlotte, N.C., where the party’s convention was being held, suggested that the intention was to bring the platform in compliance with White House policy. The statements noted that it has never been the policy of any president, Republican or Democrat, to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“The Obama Administration has followed the same policy towards Jerusalem that previous U.S. administrations of both parties have done since 1967,” the statement said. “As the White House said several months ago, the status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians — which we also said in the 2008 platform.”

The reference to final-status negotiations did in fact appear in the 2008 platform, but the plank also included a statement saying that, “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel.”

Following two days of public outcry and Democratic spin, the reference to Jerusalem — as well as mention of the word “God” (another initial absence roundly criticized by Republicans) — were reinstated Sept. 5 into the platform at President Obama’s behest.

The Associated Press reported that convention chairman and Los Angeles Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa ruled the amendments had passed by a voice vote on the convention floor, even though many delegates objected. After three calls for a vote, the mayor declared the amendments passed. A chorus of boos followed from the floor, but the language was back in.

So why did it initially disappear? The short answer: No one knows.

“There was no discussion on it,” said Robert Wexler, a member of the platform draft committee, and a chief Jewish surrogate for the Obama campaign. And on Sept. 5, the former Florida congressman said, “the president directly intervened to make sure” the amendment passed.

Wexler — the only person involved in shaping the platform who agreed to speak on the record — said originally the campaign wanted the draft committee to focus on security issues in its Israel section, an area that the platform makes clear is a priority.

“A strong and secure Israel is vital to the United States not simply because we share strategic interests, but also because we share common values,” the 2012 platform reads, listing defense assistance, missile defense cooperation and maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge.

A separate section on Iran breaks new ground by making more explicit than in previous platforms that a military strike is an option to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

“President Obama believes that a diplomatic outcome remains the best and most enduring solution,” the platform says. “At the same time, he has also made clear that the window for diplomacy will not remain open indefinitely and that all options — including military force — remain on the table.”

It’s not clear what role, if any, pro-Israel groups played in the platform’s original development, or whether they had tried to retain the Jerusalem statement.

One official said at least three American Israel Public Affairs Committee officials were present during the entire period that the platform was drafted last month in Minneapolis. A source close to AIPAC said the group never saw the full platform language, but also noted that AIPAC regarded the final draft Israel sections of both party platforms as “strong.”

Republican language on Jerusalem also shifted between 2008 and 2012. The party’s ’08 platforms said, “We support the vision of two democratic states living in peace and security: Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital, and Palestine,” and “We support Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to that undivided capital of Israel.”

A slightly rewritten version of the first sentence appears in the ’12 platform, but the second sentence disappeared — an omission notable because Republicans four years ago made much of how Obama the candidate pledged an “undivided” Jerusalem to the AIPAC policy conference and then retreated the next day after pushback from critics.

J. staff writer Dan Pine contributed to this report.

Ron Kampeas

Ron Kampeas is the D.C. bureau chief at the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.