Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney criticized U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday, after Obama's Democratic Party apparently removed a reference to Jerusalem as Israel's capital from the party's official platform.
In 2008, the part of the Democratic Party platform dedicated to the Middle East was titled "Stand with Allies and Pursue Diplomacy in the Middle East," and began with stressing the importance to the U.S. of leading peace efforts.
This year, three paragraphs simply titled "The Middle East", started with a lengthy declaration of support for Israel and President Obama's steps to ensure the Israeli military's qualitative edge.
Peace was mentioned only in the second paragraph, with several caveats in Israel's favor, stressing that "the President has made clear that there will be no lasting peace unless Israel’s security concerns are met," "President Obama will continue to press Arab states to reach out to Israel" and "even as the President and the Democratic Party continue to encourage all parties to be resolute in the pursuit of peace, we will insist that any Palestinian partner must recognize Israel’s right to exist, reject violence, and adhere to existing agreements."
Moreover, the 2008 platform said that "the creation of a Palestinian state through final status negotiations, together with an international compensation mechanism, should resolve the issue of Palestinian refugees by allowing them to settle there, rather than in Israel" and that "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."
In 2012, however, the Democratic platform made no mention of Jerusalem or the "international compensation mechanism" to resolve the issue of the Palestinian refugees.
More than a few pro-Israeli party functionaries at the convention fumed about the omission of Jerusalem - and some mentioned language on Iran that wasn't tough enough.
Democratic spokeswoman Melanie Roussell defended the change Tuesday as the party's national convention opened. She said the Obama Administration is taking the same Jerusalem policy as every Republican and Democratic administration since 1967.
Day 1, Democratic National Convention in Charlotte
Republicans step in
Later Tuesday, Mitt Romney's campaign released a statement in a response to the reported omission, saying that it was "unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama’s shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital."
"Four years of President Obama’s repeated attempts to create distance between the United States and our cherished ally have led the Democratic Party to remove from their platform an unequivocal acknowledgment of a simple reality," Romney wrote, adding that, as "president, I will restore our relationship with Israel and stand shoulder to shoulder with our close ally."
Rep. Eric Cantor, House Majority leader, followed Romney's criticism, saying that if the platform represents, as the Democrats said, where the president wants to take the country, then he calls upon all the friends of Israel "to condemn the president’s abrupt break with our closest ally in the Middle East.”
National Jewish Democratic Council President and CEO David A. Harris said, "Jewish Democrats know full well that Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. We - like President George W. Bush before and leaders of both parties for decades - also know that the final status of Jerusalem will have to be formally decided by the parties. This should come as a surprise to nobody."
"As the Democratic Convention gets underway here in Charlotte, Republicans will do everything they can to shift the conversation away from talk of choice, Medicare, marriage equality, and the laundry list of issues on which American Jews overwhelmingly line up with the Democratic Party. But it won't work," Harris said.
Earlier in the day, the Democratic Party released its revised platform, in which it was stated that "Obama and the Democratic Party maintain an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security. A strong and secure Israel is vital to the United States not simply because we share strategic interests, but also because we share common values."
"The President’s consistent support for Israel’s right to defend itself and his steadfast opposition to any attempt to delegitimize Israel on the world stage are further evidence of our enduring commitment to Israel’s security," the platform added.
Dr. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, also attending the Convention, told Haaretz that the Middle Eastern part of the platform "was obviously meant to inoculate President Obama, but what was the most interesting part was what wasn't mentioned - it was just the bare minimum - and let it go."
Zogby presented at the event on the margins of the convention a poll on the American attitudes toward the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, showing that 20 to 58 percent of Americans are unsure or have no opinion on most issues related to the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, while the rest are evenly divided on the issue of settlements and the future status of Jerusalem. "Maybe the party is confused as the rest of the public," Zogby said. "And as the rest of the public, they a bit gave up on this."
Talk of Jerusalem was not the only problematic point for the Jewish Democrats this week - DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was quoted in the Washington Examiner as saying at one of the Jewish events on the margins of the convention that “We know, and I’ve heard no less than Ambassador Michael Oren say this, that what the Republicans are doing is dangerous for Israel.”
The Israeli Embassy spokesman denied to Haaretz that Oren ever said that, citing strict bipartisanship, and later on the Obama campaign released a statement saying "The Examiner misrepresented the Chairwoman’s remarks. What she said is what she has stated repeatedly before: what jeopardizes Israel's security is the suggestion, for partisan political gain, that the election of either political party would weaken the long-standing relationship of the United States and Israel. The Examiner’s piece should be seen for what it is, a blatant misrepresentation of the facts by a conservative outlet."
Lobbying the Jewish vote
J Street made an effort on Tuesday to convince the Jewish attendees that Israel is not the top priority for the community when making their decision on whom to vote for. In a panel titled the "Myths and Realities" of the Jewish vote, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) stressed that the Democratic Party views appeal to the Jewish community because they are "progressive." Schakowsky added that "Claiming that it's all supposed to be about Israel makes it difficult to move beyond it in your community or congregation."
"It's beyond my comprehension why any woman - or Jewish woman - would vote for the Republicans, who showed who they are by voting against the Women Fair Pay Act, which voted last week for a platform banning abortions without exceptions in cases of rape or incest," the congresswoman added.
J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said the conversation on Israel is stuck because "this issue tends to be dominated by well meaning folks whose positions are not necessarily aligned with the majority of the Jewish community. When you give Jewish Americans open-ended questions, you'd be surprised how few raise the issue of Iran. It is sensible, realistic community. Not every problem has to become a nail."
Alan Van Capelle, CEO of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, said that "many people here (at the convention) view us as the ATM machine of the party. But how do we lever this club to aid the less fortunate? We inherited the narrative of social justice. We need to raise our voice more on issues like taxes, because unless we write this story, there will be only one voice speaking for our community: [Jewish-American mogul] Sheldon Adelson's voice."
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