John McCain’s Jewish supporters characterize him as a Republican maverick who shares his party’s bedrock support for Israel and combating anti-Semitism. Critics dismiss him as the standard-bearer of a staunchly conservative party at odds with the Jewish community on a host of issues.
They’re both right, judging from the platform approved this week at the Republican convention in St. Paul and Minneapolis.
The platform includes a call for an end to all government-funded embryonic stem-cell research and a ban on all abortions — positions that, polls show, are contrary to those of most Jewish voters. Of course, they also do not conform to the views of McCain, who has said that he would revoke President Bush’s restrictions on federal funding for stem-cell research, permit abortions in cases of rape, incest and threats to the life of the mother.
On immigration, McCain, the U.S. senator from Arizona who is the presumptive Republican nominee for president, has pressed for legislation that would provide undocumented workers with a path toward citizenship, but the platform declares: “We oppose amnesty."
The McCain campaign reportedly decided to avoid significant fights over the platform rather than upset leaders of the party’s conservative base, many of whom have expressed concern over the GOP nominee. His supporters argue that the platform is irrelevant to understanding McCain and that voters will make their decisions based on how they view the candidate.
Texas state Sen. Florence Shapiro, the only Jewish female Republican in her state legislature, said that the platform is "not what guides my everyday" decision-making and doubts voters will be using it to make decisions either.
They will and should be "looking at John McCain and his positions and record," she said.
Another Jewish delegate from Texas, Houstonian Stuart Mayper, said the strong "pro-life" language in the platform could be a problem for some Jews. But, he quickly added, the platform contains language strongly supportive of Israel that should be attractive to the Jewish community.
Sources familiar with the formation of the platform say the language dealing with Israel and fighting anti-Semitism was drafted in consultation with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other Jewish groups.
The platform echoes AIPAC’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling for a two-state solution but placing the onus on the Palestinians to take several key steps and calling on nearby Arab countries to play a more constructive role. It also declares support for “Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to that undivided capital of Israel."
Both McCain and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the Democratic nominee, have said that the status of Jerusalem ultimately would be decided in negotiations between the two sides. McCain has pledged to move the embassy to Jerusalem right away — a promise that the Obama campaign rejected, essentially calling it a lie.
The GOP platform calls for the isolation of Hamas and Hezbollah and vows to maintain Israel’s qualitative edge in military technology over its enemies — all positions shared by Obama and McCain.
In several contexts, the platform stresses the need to combat anti-Semitism — on university campuses, in Europe and across the world — and declares that “discrimination against Israel at the U.N. is unacceptable.”
It says that Iran cannot be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons, calls for a "significant increase in political, economic, and diplomatic pressure" on Tehran and insists that the United States "must retain all options" in dealing with the situation.
Without naming Obama, the platform draws a contrast with the Democratic nominee’s previously stated willingness to meet with the Iranian president. It states: "We oppose entering into a presidential-level, unconditional dialogue with the regime in Iran until it takes steps to improve its behavior, particularly with respect to the support of terrorism and suspension of its efforts to enrich uranium."