Menu JTA Search

Behind the Headlines: Jews Battle Arabs at State Level and Sometimes Even Come to Terms

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

In the heat of state political party conventions, Jewish and Arab groups have sometimes been working together to negotiate mutually acceptable platform planks dealing with Israel and Palestinian rights.

While they squabble for public opinion in the media and the halls of Congress, the pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups are forced to work together by state party leaders who want to achieve unity by keeping bruising fights over largely symbolic measures off the convention floors.

The Arab-American Institute claims that this year it reduced its level of state activism from that of 1988, when it succeeded in getting a half-dozen or so pro-Palestinian measures adopted by state conventions. It decided that building grassroots support for Palestinian positions is much more important in a presidential election year.

James Zogby, the institute’s executive director, charged that, by contrast, the Jewish community “poured in, from best we can tell, major amounts of money and staff to kind of undo all of the (pro-Palestinian) resolutions of ’88.”

“The pro-Israel people were mobilized at a much earlier stage” this year, acknowledged Martin Raffel, director of the Israel Task Force at the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council. But he said he saw no diminution in pro-Palestinian activism at the conventions.

Pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel activists alike pay more attention to state Democratic Party conventions, since traditionally pro-Israel state Republican Party platforms are more difficult to change, because of their closed rules.

AIPAC NEGOTIATES DIRECTLY WITH ARABS

Zogby said, for example, that no state Republican platforms this year have backed a proposal by Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) to cut foreign aid to Israel and other top recipients by 5 percent.

Because of the open rules at Democratic Party conventions, there is more potential for free-wheeling debates on Middle East issues, but also more risk of upsetting party unity.

To avoid destroying that unity, pro-Israel groups do not necessarily object to language supporting basic Palestinian rights, as long as there is no mention of a Palestinian state.

For their part, the Arab-American Institute docs necessarily object to language supporting “security for Israel,” Zogby said.

In Iowa and Texas, the institute and groups supporting its position negotiated directly with the pro-Israel community, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

A pro-Israel source confirmed that there were “a couple of negotiations” directly between AAI and AIPAC.

In those states, as well as in Maine, pro-Israel activists succeeded in supplanting pro-Palestinian platform statements from 1988 with pro-Israel ones.

Nevertheless, Zogby said this year’s party conventions have been “a wash, and I feel comfortable about it.”

“We won some victories in some states,” he said, citing a clear-cut win in Washington state but claiming wins in Iowa, Maine and Texas, too we thought it was acceptable to hold the line,” he asserted.

Explaining AAI’s satisfaction in Texas, Zogby said the language in the platform preamble “was close enough to (Palestinian) self-determination to make us happy.” Self-determination is the code-word for Palestinian statehood.

NEGOTIATIONS OVER SEMANTICS IN TEXAS

In negotiations in Texas, pro-Palestinian groups realized that the pro-Israel platform was going to be adopted, so they focused on stripping the words “administered territories,” and the phrase “legitimate rights” for Palestinians from the platform.

“Administered territories” is seen by Palestinians as a pro-Israel euphemism for what they call the “occupied territories.”

The phrase “basic rights” is more palatable to Palestinian supporters than “legitimate rights,” a phrase Israel accepted in the 1979 Camp David Accords, which allowed for limited Palestinian autonomy with no mention of statehood.

Zogby applauded the inclusion of language in the Maine and Texas Democratic platforms calling for a ban on U.S. aid to countries supplying military aid or nuclear technology to South Africa.

But Leonard Zakim, a political analyst who is also New England regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, claimed that since Saudi Arabia could just as easily be doing that as Israel, “I don’t think Zogby should be hailing that as a victory.”

California and Minnesota adopted pro-Israel planks at their Democratic conventions, where no negotiations occurred among Arab and pro-Israel groups, for different reasons.

In California, AAI liked AIPAC’S proposed language better than that introduced in the platform committee by former Gov. Edmund (Jerry) Brown, the party chairman. So, an Arab American offered it in the committee as an alternative, where, with modifications, it was adopted.

In Minnesota, a number of pro-Palestinian resolutions proposed by various “left-wing fringe groups” were defeated, said Ted Mondale, a candidate for state Senate.

Mondale, son of former Vice President Walter Mondale, said pro-Palestinian activists were more organized than they were in 1988, when he said a “moderately pro-PLO” platform was adopted.

A DEFEAT IN WASHINGTON STATE

He credited a key Jewish supporter of the Rev. Jesse Jackson in Minnesota, Paul Wellstone, for not “actively organizing against our platform.” Wellstone is the Democratic nominee challenging incumbent Sen. Rudy Boschwitz (R-Minn.).

Washington was the only state where Democrats reaffirmed a pro-Palestinian platform from 1988. Pro-Israel activists in the Evergreen State had drafted a platform that called for “direct negotiations first between Israel and duly elected representatives of the Palestinian people from the West Bank and Gaza.”

They also proposed language that said “the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people can be realized in the context of negotiating a just and lasting peace with Israel.”

But that language was too mild for pro-Palestinian activists, who succeeded in gaining the adoption of language recognizing “the right of the Palestinian people to safety, self-determination and an independent Palestinian state.”

NEXT STORY