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News Analysis: Democratic Platform Reflects Increased Clout of Jews in Party

The platform adopted at the Democratic National Convention here this week is a reflection of the increased clout of pro-Israel political organizers within the party and a sure sign of the diminished role of Arab Americans and other champions of Palestinian rights.

A staunchly pro-Israel plank of the platform was adopted Tuesday without debate or dissension after Arab American delegates failed to win enough votes even for a debate on a minority plank at a meeting of the full platform committee in Washington last month.

The official accord over the plank stood in sharp contrast to the acrimonious debates on the Middle East leading up to and during the party’s 1988 convention.

In part, it reflected the determination of the Clinton campaign to parade the party’s unity despite deeply held differences below the surface. But it was also a testament to the success of mainstream pro-Israel organizers.

The plank states its support for the Middle East peace process and for the “longstanding special relationship with Israel, based on shared values, a mutual commitment to democracy and a strategic alliance that benefits both nations.”

It states clearly that “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 the parties in the region.”

Arab Americans believe the platform is tilted in Israel’s favor in a manner that could threaten the Arab-Israeli peace talks. They also criticize the plank’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, saying its final status should be left to negotiations.

ARABS NOT AS WELL ORGANIZED

James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, has called the plank less policy than “puerile pandering.”

He said the Arab Americans were out-organized this year by pro-Israel forces and could not muster the clout to combat the Clinton campaign’s insistence on the majority language.

Zogby and the Arab Americans were not the only critics of the plank, however. Jerome Segal, president of the Jewish Peace Lobby, which favors Palestinian statehood, this week called the platform “naive and inconsistent.”

He said the plank is unfair in its implicit criticism of the Bush administration for applying forceful pressure on the Shamir government to halt Israeli settlement activity in the territories.

“Indeed, it could be said that the United States has helped to deliver a new Israeli government to the peace table,” said Segal.

The plank says the United States cannot act as an honest broker in the talks if, “as has been the case with this administration, it encourages one side to believe that it will deliver unilateral concessions from the other.”

The platform was not the only indication this week that Arab Americans have lost some influence in the Democratic Party, while Jews have returned to their historic political base.

One need only compare the speakers at the receptions and briefings sponsored here this week by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Arab American Institute.

AIPAC drew Sen. A1 Gore, Hillary Clinton and Rep. Lee Hamilton, who are, respectively, the expected vice presidential nominee, the presidential nominee’s wife and the congressman from Indiana who is said to be in the running for secretary of state in a Clinton administration.

BROWN AND JACKSON WELCOMED

For their headliners, the Arab Americans netted former California Gov. Jerry Brown and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who may be more charismatic, but have certainly become more marginalized.

Brown won warm applause at the Arab group’s late-night reception Monday, when he pointed out the word “justice” was missing from the Democratic platform and said it would be a mainstay of his renegade “platform in progress.”

In pro-Arab parlance, justice is seen as rectifying the wrongs Israel has inflicted on the Palestinians.

Jackson, who in 1988 mobilized many of the Arab Democratic activists who returned for the Brown camp, was warmly applauded when he finally appeared at 2 a.m. and delivered his remarks.

Noting the obstacles encountered by African Americans, Jackson told the Arab Americans: “Don’t stop fighting to get your share of this party and this country. They may not want you, but you must insist on your birthright.”

The former presidential candidate, who has this year found himself used as a punching bag rather than courted as a kingmaker, drew common cause with the Arabs sidelined by the party’s pro-Israel platform and the success of Clinton, touted by many Jews as the most pro-Israel of the party’s primary contenders.

“It is our lot to fight against the headwind,” he said.

While Jackson did not repeat his recent defense of Zionism as a national liberation movement, he steered clear of criticizing the Clinton pro-Israel platform.

(JTA staff writer Larry Yudelson contributed to this report.)

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