WASHINGTON (Jun. 15)
Democrats have drafted one of the strongest pro-Israel party platforms in recent memory, in a process free of the rancor that plagued the party four years ago.
The platform includes a plank affirming the “special” U.S.-Israel relationship, admonishing the Bush administration for not being an “honest broker” in the peace process, declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel, condemning anti-Semitism and calling on the United States to assist the absorption of Jewish immigrants into Israel.
Insiders said the provisional plank represents the culmination of efforts by the Democratic Party to repair recent damage done to its ties to the Jewish community. That damage was sustained during bruising battles over calls for a Palestinian state before and during the party’s 1988 convention.
The plank was approved by the platform subcommittee in Santa Fe last weekend. Staffers at the Democratic National Committee stressed Monday that it is a working document, subject to change before the final vote by the full committee, scheduled for June 27 in Washington.
But the language on Israel is unlikely to be substantively amended, said drafting committee members.
It is language that prompted lavish praise by Tom Dine, executive director of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
The plank is “outstanding,” he said. It is “a credit to the multitude of Democrats who are friends of Israel, who have worked to ensure that this national platform and those passed at state conventions throughout the country reflect these traditional Democratic Party values.”
PRAISE FROM PEACE NOW
The plank also won plaudits from Jonathan Jacoby, president of the more liberal Americans for Peace Now, who said diverse pro-Israel organizations had hoped to avoid intraparty conflict over Israel.
“It is certainly a document that most Democrats within Americans for Peace Now can support,” Jacoby said of the plank.
For Steve Grossman, there is “no question” that the “stronger and more declarative plank reflects a lot of time and effort” to rebuild an understanding between Democrats and the Jewish community, following the party’s unresponsiveness to Jewish concerns in 1988.
Grossman is the Massachusetts party chairman, a member of the platform drafting subcommittee and a national vice president of AIPAC.
He attributed a large part of the success to Democratic Party Chairman Ron Brown, “who worked hard to ensure that negative perceptions of ’88 were gradually undone.”
Grossman also credited the apparent Democratic presidential nominee, Gov. Bill Clinton.
“While George Bush may have walked away from that (special) relationship with Israel and the right of Jews to lobby on behalf of Israel,” he said, “the Clinton administration will stand by the sentiments in the platform.”
Grossman said that under the leadership of both Brown and Clinton, the party is a place where “American Jews can find the values and principles they are committed to,” as reflected throughout the Santa Fe document.
The platform affirms a “special relationship” between the United States and Israel based on a common commitment to Democratic values and strategic goals, not unlike the platform language from 1988.
In a concession to historical developments, however, it adds that the end of the Cold War does not alter America’s “deep interest” in that special relationship.
‘VERY LITTLE DISCORD’
But there are parts of the plank that go much further than 1988. It declares the United States has the obligation to act as an “honest broker” in the Middle East peace process, and it chides the Bush administration for failing to fulfill that obligation.
It charges the administration has encouraged one side to believe it will “deliver unilateral concessions” from the other during the talks.
“Direct negotiations between Israel, her Arab neighbors and Palestinians, with no imposed solutions, is the only way to achieve enduring security for Israel and peace for all parties in the region,” the tentative language reads.
Unlike the 1988 document, the new platform states unequivocally that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and should remain an undivided city. And it singles out anti-Semitism for condemnation, along with all other bigotry and racism.
The platform also calls on the United States to help Israel absorb Jews from the former Soviet Union. That is a clear reference to the Bush administration’s refusal to guarantee $10 billion in immigrant resettlement loans for Israel unless it stops building settlements in the administered territories.
Samuel Berger, foreign policy adviser to the Clinton campaign, said he was struck by the fact that at the platform deliberations in Santa Fe, “there was a great deal of unity and very little discord” over the Israel plank. It was “the dog that didn’t bark,” he said.