|2012 Democratic Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa |
calls for a vote to amend the platform on Jerusalem being
the capital of Israel. AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
23 May '16..
One of the most absurd moments of the 2012 National Democratic Convention was when officials sought to rectify an omission in the draft of the party’s official platform. The original language, as produced by the platform committee, failed to reaffirm a commitment to supporting Jerusalem being the capital of Israel, prompting a firestorm of criticism from Republicans and pro-Israel groups. But then convention chair Antonio Villaraigosa, acting under orders from the Obama campaign, which was in the middle of an election-year Jewish charm offensive, attempted to insert new language into the platform that simply said, “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel,” by a voice vote. The arena in Charlotte echoed with shouts of “no!” Villaraigosa tried three times to get the result he wanted before finally — and falsely — declaring that the ayes had it anyway.
But as foolish — and embarrassing — as that moment was for pro-Israel Democrats, what awaits them in Philadelphia this July when they gather for their next convention may be far worse. As the Washington Post reported last week, the Sanders campaign is planning to push for new language in the Democratic Platform that shifts the emphasis away from stalwart support for Israel and toward prioritizing Palestinian rights in an effort to form a more even-handed approach to the Middle East conflict. If they get their way, it will be a clarifying moment that will indicate just how far the party has drifted from its former stance as a dependable defender of the Jewish state. It may also give ammunition to Republicans trying to argue that, despite his widely inconsistent foreign policy statements and stances, Trump is the better choice for president from the perspective of friends of Israel.
That 2012 convention moment epitomized the shift within the Democratic Party whereby much of its liberal base had moved away from support for Israel. The people shouting “no” were not then or even now representative of the opinions of the majority of voters who identify as Democrats. The most recent Pew Research Center poll on American opinion about the Middle East indicated that a plurality of Democrats backed Israel over the Palestinians by a margin of 43 to 29 percent. But those convention delegates were party activists who represent the sort of rank and file left-wingers who go to conventions and provide the legwork and muscle for the Democratic Party around the country. The question facing the party now, however, is how hard the Hillary Clinton camp will fight Sanders on the issue of Israel and whether a convention where the challengers will be both numerous and itching for a chance to teach the nominee and the party establishment a lesson will be able to turn back this attempt to distance Democrats from Israel?
Sanders claims he is “100 percent pro-Israel” and claims that his support for “Palestinian rights” should not be interpreted as an attack on Israel’s right to exist. But Sanders’ approach to the conflict is actually anything but supportive of Israel. His claim that Israel’s counter-attacks against terrorists shooting rockets and using tunnels for cross-border murder and kidnapping raids were “disproportionate” illustrates just how much his stance is influenced by misleading Palestinian propaganda. Those who say that Israel has a right to defend itself but then denounce its attempts to do so and, in effect, grant Hamas terrorists impunity to not only rain down missiles on cities but also to use civilians as human shields are undermining the Jewish state’s existence and the rights of its people.
Moreover, the notion that the U.S. must be “even-handed” with respect to the conflict does not promote peace since the purpose of such a policy is to isolate Israel and force it into concessions that its people rightly reject as suicidal. Such calls for more emphasis on support for the Palestinians also ignore a basic fact of the conflict: only one side wants peace. The Palestinians have repeatedly rejected Israeli offers of statehood and independence that would have given them control of almost all of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem, as well as Gaza, which already operates as an independent state that is ruled by Hamas in all but name. Their goal, openly expressed by Hamas and guardedly so by the Fatah Party that runs the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, is the end of the Israeli “occupation.” But by that, they don’t just mean the Jewish presence in the West Bank or even Jerusalem but the “occupation” of all of the country, including pre-June 1967 Israel.
The problem is that any further “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel — the initial goal of an Obama administration that thought achieving more distance between the two allies was the key to peace — merely encourages the Palestinians to be more intransigent, not more accommodating. If the U.S. — or one of its two major parties — were to further embrace an “even-handed” approach to the conflict, it would be a signal to the Palestinians as well as to Islamists in Iran and elsewhere that their efforts to eliminate the Jewish state are gaining ground.
In this context, speaking of “Palestinian rights” isn’t an expression of concern for the people of the West Bank, who live under the despotic rule of kleptocrats that encourage terror, or the people of Gaza, who live under hard-core Islamist terrorists. The only way to advance the cause of these people is to convince them and their leaders to make peace with Israel. But so long as they persist in seeing their national identity as inextricably linked with a century-long war on Zionism, and refuse to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, peace is impossible.
If the Democrats and the Republicans (among whom support for Israel runs at a far more lopsided 75 to 7 percent rate) want to express sympathy for the Palestinians they should emphasize their need to make peace with Israel, not issue vague appeals for rights. The only issue that is in question is Palestinian right to try to destroy Israel and to pursue that goal with bloody campaigns of terrorism. Those like Sanders, whose wild smears of the Israeli army exceed even the lies put forward by Hamas, represent a point of view in which Israel is not only unfairly attacked, but its status as the only democratic ally of the U.S. is ignored.
A Democratic platform fight will leave us with two questions.
One is whether the Clinton camp has the strength or the will — despite her status as the certain presidential nominee — to successfully resist Sanders’ pro-Palestinian push. Given the strength and the passion of the left-wingers who will be in Philadelphia fighting for Sanders, that’s far from certain.
The second question is, will a Democratic platform that de-emphasizes support for Israel, or the spectacle of a nasty floor fight over this will have any impact on the election?
Despite her own checkered past with respect to Israel, Clinton has made her differences with Sanders over Israel clear in the past months. If the platform isn’t what she wants, she’ll ignore it the same way presidential candidates — and presidents once they’re elected — always ignore platforms.
Nor would a pro-Palestinian platform have much effect on the votes of most American Jews. The overwhelming majority are liberals and die-hard Democrats. Even those who are not partisans will be less inclined to defect to the GOP in the year of Donald Trump. Clinton’s percentage of the Jewish vote will probably easily exceed the totals won by Barack Obama and move it back into the vicinity of 80 percent after dipping below 70 in 2012.
But even though it probably won’t affect the outcome this year, a platform fight about Israel will be a seminal moment in the history of U.S.-Israel relations. It may be that left-wingers like Peter Beinart are right, and the Democrats are moving inexorably toward nominating an anti-Israel presidential candidate whose positions will conform to the opinions of a liberal base that rejects the Jewish state. In past years, Democrats have accused Republicans of using the issue as a political football by claiming that their party was more supportive of Israel. That charge seemed foolish after Congressional Democrats abandoned Israel on the question of the Iran nuclear deal in order to comply with a partisan litmus test exacted by Obama. But after this summer, it may no longer be possible for Democrats to argue that they are just as supportive of Israel as the GOP. Instead of pointing to their own records, Republicans will be able to just point to the Democratic platform.
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