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Groups Urge Democratic Platform to Address Range of Jewish Issues

May 21, 1992
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The National Jewish Democratic Council urged the Democratic Party’s platform committee this week to approve a plank that supports guaranteeing billions of dollars of loans Israel wants to help finance immigrant absorption.

Steve Gutow, executive director of the council, said such support is needed to "to repair the damage the Republicans have inflicted on this country’s relations with the Jewish state."

The platform should "recognize that the alliance between the U.S. and Israel is based on a bond of mutually beneficial goals and shared democratic values, which warrants continued American economic and military support for Israel," he said.

The council was one of 90 groups to testify this week at a 14-hour marathon session of the platform committee in Cleveland.

Others making pitches included the left-wing Jewish Peace Lobby, which testified in support of President Bush’s policy linking loan guarantees to a freeze on Israeli settlement activity in the administered territories.

Jerome Segal, the lobby’s president, urged the party to adopt a stance opposing Israel’s "rapid settlement of the West Bank."

"The Bush administration, to its credit, has tried to block this effort," which is "made possible by U.S. tax dollars," Segal said.

Any mention of loan guarantees would expand the pro-Israel language contained in the 1988 party platform, which simply reaffirmed the "special relationship with Israel" and pledged to "provide new leadership to deliver the promise of peace and security through negotiations that has been held out to Israel and its neighbors by the Camp David Accords" struck with Egypt in 1978.


In its testimony this week, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee proposed including a reference to the Arab-Israeli peace talks begun last fall. AIPAC President David Steiner asked the party to support "direct negotiations between Israelis, Palestinians and Arab states without imposed solutions" by parties outside the region.

Among the more specific platform planks proposed was a reference to the Arab economic boycott of Israel. This was requested by the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, the umbrella policy-planning group for national Jewish agencies and community councils.

NJCRAC called on the party "to vigorously condemn the Arab economic boycott against Israel and the secondary and tertiary boycotts against companies that deal with Israeli businesses."

Both NJCRAC and the NJDC urged that the platform recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, although Gutow’s group called more specifically for recognition of a united West and East Jerusalem as the capital.

Pro-Palestinian activists are also trying to influence the platform, at least in limiting the amount of pro-Israel language.

James Zogby, executive director of the Arab-American Institute, testified that "our party’s platform has ignored" the "complexities and concerns of the Arab world."

"Seen through the distorted lens of domestic concerns, at best the Arab world gets a one-line mention as ‘Israel’s neighbors,’ " Zogby said.

It was Zogby who, at the 1988 party convention, proposed but later withdrew a plank that called for "mutual recognition" of Arab countries and Israel, "territorial compromise and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians."

The proposal resembled one that had been defeated earlier in Denver, when the 1988 platform committee approved its pre-convention version of the platform.

In his testimony this week, Zogby recommended that the platform recognize "equal rights for all people" in the Middle East and stress "working for peace through negotiations."

In other testimony by Jewish groups, Americans for Peace Now urged that the platform call for the party to promote "security for Israel, recognition of Israel by all Arab states and the realization of the legitimate political rights of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip."


Linda Heller Kamm, co-chairwoman of Peace Now’s Washington office, also urged that the platform say "the Democratic Party condemns the Bush administration’s efforts to fuel the arms race in the Middle East.

"Instead of selling a new generation of strategic weapons to the region, the United States should use the multilateral arms control negotiations currently under way to seek verifiable arms control agreements" in the region, she said.

The Jewish Peace Lobby called on the Democrats to state in their platform that the party believes in "a vigorous policy of preserving the land-for-peace option."

"What is going on in the Middle East is that the Likud government is engaged in a determined effort to eliminate" that option, Segal testified.

On domestic issues, the National Jewish Democratic Council urged the platform committee to support the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1992, sponsored by Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.). The bill would make it more difficult for government to interfere in religious practices.

The NJDC also urged the party to oppose prayer in public schools as well as "school choice programs that would allow tax dollars to be used for religious education."

The Anti-Defamation League urged the party to back more comprehensive laws punishing those who commit hate crimes, "bona fide affirmative action programs" for minorities and Holocaust education programs.

NJCRAC urged the party to "include in its platform a strong commitment and clear path to address both the effects and the root causes of poverty."

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