Charlotte, N.C. — The Democratic Party’s decision to omit from its platform all reference to Jerusalem as Israel’s eternal capital came as a shock to delegates who unwittingly adopted it Tuesday night.
“It has not been adopted,” insisted Mark Alan Siegel, chairman of the Palm Beach County Democratic Party, just hours after the platform was adopted by acclimation.
Rep. Ted Deutch, who represents South Florida, was seated with other delegates in the Florida delegation and said he knew nothing about the issue. As Sen. Charles Schumer of New York walked off the floor he said he had just heard about it and was looking into the matter.
Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he had “no idea” why the party’s commitment to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was omitted.
“I’m a big supporter of the State of Israel — so is [Barack] Obama — and I just don’t know,” he told The Jewish Week. “I haven’t read the platform.”
This year’s platform is in sharp contrast to the platforms of both the Democratic and Republican parties at previous conventions.
In 2008, the Democratic Party declared: “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel.” In 2000, it read simply, “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.”
In 2004, the Republican platform said the party favored moving “the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.”
On the convention floor in the New York delegation Tuesday evening, Assemblyman David Weprin of Queens said he was “disappointed, but I don’t know his [Obama’s] rationale.”
“I feel very strongly that Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel,” he added. “The Jewish historic ties to Jerusalem go back years.”
Rep. Eliot Engel, who represents parts of the Bronx, Westchester and Rockland, called this year’s omission of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “a grievous mistake [that] should be rectified.”
“It was an error and I think it needs to be changed,” he told The Jewish Week. “I have let everyone know how I feel about it and I’m hoping they are addressing it.”
Asked if it might be addressed before the convention ends tomorrow, Engel replied: “It’s up in the air.”
Should that not happen, Engel said he hopes Obama will address the issue of Israel in his convention speech Thursday night.
The Obama campaign had no immediate comment on the issue.
Several New York political leaders attending the Wednesday morning breakfast of the New York delegation at the Doubletree South Park — including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler — expressed displeasure with the platform omission. But each then pointed to the Obama administration’s record of support for Israel.
Nadler noted that the platform refers to American support for the Iron Dome anti-missile system and Obama’s “consistent support for Israel’s right to defend itself and his steadfast opposition to any attempt to delegitimize Israel.”
At another point, the platform states:
“A just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian accord, producing two states for two peoples, would contribute to regional stability and help sustain Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state. At the same time, the President has made clear that there will be no lasting peace unless Israel’s security concerns are met.”
Lawrence Levy, dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University in Hempstead, L.I., said that “no matter how you feel about the issue, it makes absolutely no sense for Obama and the Democrats to pull out a platform plank that is so important to a group of voters whose concerns [about Obama’s commitment to Israel] the party is trying very hard to ease. …
“This certainly will make it harder for Democrats” to woo Jewish voters — particularly those in the Orthodox community, he added.
George Arzt, a Democratic political consultant, suggested that the Obama campaign “watered down the platform because it did not want too much controversy.”
“In so doing,” he said, “they are losing some Jews who feel that the Democratic Party is less supportive of Israel than the Republicans. I think it’s a real mistake. Obviously the president is in power at the moment and needs flexibility in dealing with the Middle East and did not want anything to impinge on that flexibility. But in the end, it may serve to be Republican fodder in this campaign.”
Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican vice presidential nominee, told Fox News Wednesday morning that the Obama campaign’s decision to change the platform is “a tragedy” that only serves to “undermine our nation’s support for Israel.”
Ryan pointed out that American support for Israel had always been the one issue that received bipartisan support. But this action, he said, has “driven a wedge” between the parties on this issue.
The Republican Jewish Coalition pointed out that the Democratic Party platform failed to include language that had been in its 2008 platform calling for Hamas to be isolated, for Palestinian refugees to return to a future Palestinian state rather than to Israel, and stating that “it is unrealistic to expect the outcome of final status negotiations to be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”