Bad Week for the DNC

The Democratic National Committee, at least from the perspective of Israel supporters, had an exceedingly bad week when it convened.

Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz was caught in an unpleasant untruth when she claimed that Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren had described Republican policies as “dangerous” for Israel, an assertion Mr. Oren “categorically den[ied].” She subsequently denied making the claim, but her denial was conclusively contradicted by an audio recording.

And then there was the Democratic National Committee platform, which omitted its predecessor-document’s description of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (not to mention the phrase “G-d given,” in an unrelated context).

When the omission of the Jerusalem language came to light, courtesy of a close reading of the 32-page platform by a Republican operative, Democratic Israel stalwarts were taken by surprise. New York Senator Chuck Schumer was described by Politico as “flabbergasted”; and Newark, NJ mayor and platform committee co-chair Cory Booker called the omission “unfortunate.” Although he noted that the platform had been largely written from scratch and was not based on previous ones, he was at a loss to explain the lacuna.

Blue blood was in the water, though, and Republican sharks, not to mention the party’s nominees for president and vice president, lost no time reacting. Paul Ryan called the omission “a tragedy” that serves to “undermine our nation’s support for Israel.” And Mitt Romney called it “one more example of Israel being thrown under the bus by the president.”

The president’s involvement in the platform change was taken for granted by some, including his detractors in the Orthodox Jewish community, who saw it as an intentional anti-Israel signal by Mr. Obama, ill-advised as such a message would be during a presidential campaign.

Two of Mr. Obama’s closest advisors, though, Valerie Jarrett and David Axelrod, insisted that the president had been entirely unaware of the platform language. “He has some other duties and responsibilities,” Mr. Axelrod said wryly, explaining that the president had left the platform-writing to others. In fact, party platforms are largely exercises in insignificance. They speak essentially for the committees that prepare them, not presidential candidates, who not only are not bound by their planks but are sometimes even at odds with them. (The Republican platform’s no-exception anti-abortion plank, for instance, does not reflect Mr. Romney’s stated position.)

Mr. Obama’s ostensible complicity in the change was quickly belied, however, when Democratic leaders reported that the president had ordered the platform amended to include the words “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel.” (G-d, too, was given His due.) Some Democratic operatives even went on the offensive, noting that the GOP platform omitted previous Israel-related language of its own—namely, a pledge to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. (While past presidents, like the current one, have issued presidential waivers avoiding its implementation, a US law calls for the country’s embassy to be relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.)

The entire kerfuffle was just a potpourri of political potshots as usual—at least until the amended Democratic platform was put to a voice vote on the convention floor. When DNC chairman Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, asked the assemblage to declare its endorsement or opposition to the added words, the enthusiastic “aye”s were not clearly more plentiful than the angry “nay”s. Mr. Villaraigosa sensed the fact and, hoping for a more clear approval, tried the voice vote “one more time,” which elicited an equally equivocal response. Ditto on a third try.

Choosing to hear what he had hoped to hear, the chairman then declared that “in the opinion of the chair, two thirds have voted in the affirmative” and announced that the platform had been successfully amended.

It was an embarrassing end to an embarrassing episode for the DNC, and it made clear to anyone who may have labored under a more pleasant fantasy that whatever Israel-unfriendly sentiment exists in the American electorate has found its home in the Democratic party. It may, thankfully, have no evident influence on the current legislative or executive branches of government. But it’s depressing nonetheless that the party of FDR, Harry Truman, and JFK has become home to literal “nay”-sayers who resent the idea of Jews controlling the quintessential Jewish city.

© 2012 AMI MAGAZINE

The above essay may be reproduced or republished, with permission and the above copyright appended.

Communications: rabbishafran@amimagazine.org

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