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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Democrats and the Party Platform Trip Up, It Seems, on Questions of Israel


CHARLOTTE, N.C. â€" The Democrats have accused Republicans of making Israel a political football in this election by painting President Obama as an unreliable partner for America's staunchest ally in the Middle East. But it seems that it is the Democrats who have tripped up on Israel at their convention this week, stirring discontent among pro-Israeli groups over a deleted line in the party platform and a disputed statement about an Israeli diplomat.

The 2012 Democratic platform does not include the sentence, “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel” â€" an assertion that was in the 2008 platform and has been featured in past platforms, Democratic and Republican.

The decision not to i nclude it this time was motivated by a desire to showcase other elements of Mr. Obama's commitment to Israel, according to the Obama campaign, notably the nearly $10 billion in military assistance that the United States has provided Israel in the last three years. The platform also emphasizes Mr. Obama's determination to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, including his threat to use military force as a last resort.

“Nobody can read that platform and come away thinking the president has been anything less than a steadfast supporter of Israel - as his record of unprecedented support for our ally over the past three and a half years shows,” said Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the campaign.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, the nation's most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, proposed including language about Jerusalem's status as the Israeli capital in written testimony to the platform drafting committee.

While AIPAC was re assured by the language about military aid and the declaration of American support on Iran, a person close to the group said, “It was troubling that the language on Jerusalem that was in previous platforms was not in this platform.” Officials from AIPAC did not review or sign off on the final text in the platform, this person said.

The political status of Jerusalem is one of the most contentious issues in any potential peace settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians, with both the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority asserting that the holy city is their capital.

While the 2008 platform embraced the city as the Israeli capital, it went on to note, “The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations.” That caveat echoes official United States policy, which has been to defer the question to negotiations.

The lack of language on Jerusalem does not reflect a shift in President Obama's position, according to a Democ ratic Party official, but the difference between a platform for a candidate for president and one for a sitting president.

“We didn't take positions on any of the final-status issues because the decision was made to focus on the president's record and because we have an administration that deals with this on a daily basis,” the Democratic official said.

The drafting committee held two public hearings on the text, a Democratic official said, and none of the Jewish and Israel advocacy groups in attendance, including AIPAC, proposed inserting language on Jerusalem. People close to the advocacy groups say the committee shared only “flashes” of the language with them.

Democratic officials note that the Republicans have not hesitated to use the Jerusalem issue for political purposes in its platform. The 2004 platform contained a reference to Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, even after President George W. Bush resisted pressure from Congress to move the A merican Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

On Tuesday, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, got into a dispute with Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael B. Oren, when she told a Democratic training group that Mr. Oren accused Republicans of endangering Israel by criticizing Mr. Obama's record on it.

“We know, and I've heard no less than Ambassador Michael Oren say this, that what the Republicans are doing is dangerous for Israel,” Ms. Wasserman Schultz said, according to the Washington Examiner.

Mr. Oren quickly issued a statement saying, “I categorically deny that I ever characterized Republican policies as harmful to Israel. Bipartisan support is a paramount national interest for Israel, and we have great friends on both sides of the aisle.”

Speaking at the convention on Tuesday evening, Robert Wexler, a former congressman from Florida, offered a robust defense of Mr. Oba ma's record on Israel.

“Mitt Romney claimed that the president has thrown Israel under the bus,” Mr. Wexler said, “Perhaps Mr. Romney should listen to those who know best, Israel's leaders.” He cited statements from Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak, who said that military cooperation with the United States was at unprecedented levels.