After furor, Democrats change platform position on Israel

Erika Bolstad,Marc CaputoMiami Herald

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- In damage control, the Democratic Party abruptly reversed course Wednesday and reinstated language to the party's platform asserting that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The party also reinstated the word "God" in the platform.

The last-minute reversal followed a day of Democrats defending their platform, a personal intervention by President Barack Obama to put God and Jerusalem back into the party's statement of principles and dissent from some Democrats who were angry that the party changed course again so quickly.

"Obviously, it makes me feel a little frustrated that this is not being truly discussed in a fair, just way," said Rashida Tlaib, the first Muslim woman elected to the Michigan state Legislature and one of those who objected to the party's decision to again recognize Jerusalem. Israelis and Palestinians have competing claims over the city.

One of the reversals reinstated a statement affirming the God-given potential of Americans, which had been dropped from the platform adopted Tuesday.

"As an ordained United Methodist minister, I am here to attest that our faith and belief in God is central to the American story, and informs the values we've expressed in our party's platform," former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland said. "In addition, President Obama recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and our party's platform should as well."

In drafting the original platform spelling out the party's principles, a party committee dropped language from the 2008 document that supported Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The Democratic National Convention adopted the platform without debate. The omission appeared to track U.S. policy, as the Obama administration has maintained the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and stressed that the capital of Israel should be determined in a final peace negotiation with the Palestinians. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney refused earlier this summer, in response to questions, to say whether Jerusalem was the capital.

Republicans, who've stressed their support for Jerusalem as Israel's capital, pounced on the party platform Tuesday.

"Does the document accurately mirror Barack Obama's views?" asked former Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, Republican candidate Mitt Romney's liaison to the Jewish community. "Given that his top aides have said that the platform reflects his policies, and given that his official White House spokesman has also refused to name Jerusalem as Israel's capital, that is now an urgent question to which the American people deserve an immediate and unequivocal response."

Coleman said the Democratic Party was signaling "a radical shift in its orientation, away from Israel."

Democrats went on the defense as they realized they'd caused problems with a key constituency: Jewish voters.

"No one has been stronger on Israel than President Obama," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, the head of the Democratic National Committee.

Former Florida Congressman Robert Wexler, the Obama campaign's liaison to the Jewish community and one of the people who helped craft the platform, at first defended the original platform language.

"It's a totally false issue," Wexler said. "The language that is in the Democratic platform this year is 100 percent pro-Israel language."

He said the platform as then written addressed Israel's chief security concerns, particularly the threat of a nuclear Iran. He noted that it's been the policy of every administration since 1967 that Jerusalem's status should be determined in final negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. He also said that Republicans, too, had changed their platform on Israel.

The issue dogged top Democrats all day Wednesday, who don't want to see their lead narrow among Jewish voters.

Jewish voters traditionally vote heavily for Democratic presidential candidates, but Republicans have been pushing hard for their support, particularly in Florida. Obama received about 74 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008, and polls suggest that support is just as strong this year. One reason for the strong support: Most Jewish voters don't see Israel as their top concern, and they tend to be among the most socially liberal constituencies.

By Wednesday afternoon, top Democrats decided they had to change the platform and reassert support for Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

"The platform is being amended to maintain consistency with the personal views expressed by the president and in the Democratic Party platform in 2008," Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.

The newly adopted language: "Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths."

Republicans claimed victory, then pressed Obama to go farther himself.

"Mitt Romney has consistently stated his belief that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Although today's voice vote at the Democratic National Convention was unclear, the Democratic Party has acknowledged Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.

"President Obama has repeatedly refused to say the same himself. Now is the time for President Obama to state in unequivocal terms whether or not he believes Jerusalem is Israel's capital."

By Erika Bolstad and Marc Caputo
McClatchy Newspapers