The pro-Israel news wires have been abuzz over the excision of core pro Israel language from the 2012 Democratic Party Platform. But it is not only the changes in the Democrats’ planks that should be examined.
For those who missed it but who care about Israel, here’s a recap.
Statements in the Democratic party platform referring to Israel that were included in their 2008 document, such as America’s “strongest ally in the region,” and mentioning “our special relationship with Israel” are gone.
Not only that, but Jerusalem does not merit even a single mention in the Democrats’ 2012 document. The 2008 commitment that “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel” which “should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths” has evaporated.
State Department Spokewoman Victoria Nuland, Obama White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Shultz, the Chair of the Democratic National Committee, have all refused to allow the phrase “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel” to pass their lips. Did they not know that those words were an essential component of the Democratic Party’s public pledge in 2008?
The 2012 Democratic Party Platform now simply refers to aid to Israel and the maintenance of Israel’s qualitative military edge as something for which this president was responsible, rather than, in truth, that congress is where those decisions were made. What’s more, in this year’s version there is no explicit promise to maintain that edge going forward. Support for Israel’s right to defend itself and the president’s “steadfast opposition to any attempt to delegitimize Israel on the world stage” similarly seem stuck in time, with no forward-looking commitment whatsoever.
Also missing is what had been a solid commitment to isolate Hamas. Instead, the only pre-conditions imposed are the same for all Arabs in the area – “we will insist that any Palestinian partner must recognize Israel’s right to exist [not to exist as a Jewish State, just to exist], reject violence, and adhere to existing agreements.” That’s it.
But what about the Republican Party Platform? Maybe US politicians are all beginning to turn away from the Middle East, where the conflicts never seem to end. Maybe a decision to step away from an ally who some claim only brings its supporters down, while never seeming to gain traction for the ally, is happening across the board.
But there have been changes regarding Israel between the 2008 Republican Party Platform and the one just passed in Tampa at last week’s Republican Party Convention.
So what are they? And how significant are they?
It’s hard to tell what the significance of the change in language regarding the peace process – just four years ago the Republican Platform included the following sentence:
We support the vision of two democratic states living in peace and security: Israel, with Jerusalem as its capital, and Palestine.
In the 2012 Platform:
We support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders; and we envision two democratic states – Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine – living in peace and security. (emphasis added)
In other words, one is an imperative with which the Republicans agree, and the other is simply what they are imagining, but it is not an essential outcome. And in both Republican platforms, the creation of a future state of Palestine is conditional upon the people who are seeking its creation to “support leaders who reject terror, embrace the institutions and ethos of democracy, and respect the rule of law.”
Here’s a clear language change: the bold print introducing the Platform section having to do with Israel has expanded from the 2008 one word name of the state to 2012’s “Our Unequivocal Support of Israel.”
And here’s a huge difference between the visions of the two parties: the single essential goal for Israel and her neighbors sought by the Republican Platform “is a comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East.” In the Democratic National Platform, an essential component for achieving this country’s commitment to Israel’s security is “two states for two people.” In other words, the Democratic Platform will not allow for any conclusion to the Middle East peace process without the creation of a Palestinian State, whereas the Republicans’ sole end goal is peace, without attaching any collateral pre-conditions.
In addition to the central role of the creation of a Palestinian State and the rejection of Jerusalem as having plank-worthy stature, there are several other respects in which the language of the current Democratic Party Platform differs starkly from that of the Republicans’. The need to isolate both Hamas and Hezbollah is in the Republicans’ but not the Democrats’ Platforms. And finally, the pronouncement by the Republicans (in both 2008 and 2012) that Israel not be forced to negotiate with entities pledged to her destruction is not discussed by the Democrats.
On the other hand, there are two significant pro-Israel deletions from the Republicans’ 2012 Platform. In 2008, there was both a pledge to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and the avowed support for Jerusalem to remain undivided. That language is not in the 2012 Republican Platform.
Is there anything both parties have abandoned this time around? Yes. There is no mention of the Arab Palestinian refugee issue in either current Platform.
So, what’s the score? Deleting familiar terms of support and ignoring a central issue like Jerusalem has to be troublesome for pro-Israel voters who planned to vote for the President. But even the Republican Party has decided that moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and insisting that the Holy City not be divided is no longer considered a promise worth making.
In the end, reading any platform, like listening to any speech, is a way to try to figure out how a candidate will govern if he wins. And at the end of the day, that’s about what’s in his heart, not what’s on his posters. Changes of tone of voice, of emphasis, like the deletion of issues or the difference between a commitment and a vision, are straws in the wind.
The weather’s been rough in Charlotte for lots of people these last few days, but the changes to the Democratic Platform about Israel really do tell us important things about which way the wind is blowing down there – and it’s hard not to see a change in direction from the way it has blown, for the Democratic party, for a long time. If Obama wins, these new planks suggest, Israel will have less support on such key issues as Jerusalem.
As for the Republicans, the changes they’ve made seem to have split the difference, with some additions strengthening their commitment to the Jewish state, and others seemingly weakening it.
What that means for Jewish voters, or for others concerned about Israel, and the Middle East, will only be known a long time after the first Tuesday of this November.
Lori Lowenthal Marcus
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the U.S. correspondent for The Jewish Press. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: Lori@JewishPressOnline.com
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