Democrats Backtrack on Jerusalem

Removal of 2008 platform language about Jerusalem being Israel’s capital had sparked a political firestorm.

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Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Aerial view of Jerusalem.

CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Feathers were ruffled in the American Jewish community earlier this week when the Democratic Party revealed a platform missing key language about Jerusalem that appeared in the 2008 platform. Today, the party announced that it would reinstate that language in its 2012 platform.

The 2008 platform contained a passage affirming that "Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel," but went on to temper that with a more inclusive message, that it "should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths." Those sentences did not appear in the Democratic platform, unveiled earlier this week, though the platform did express strong support for the state of Israel.

The Obama administration is maintaining that the change did not reflect a shift in the president's views.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

"The president expressed his view in 2008 and it hasn't changed. The party platform has not changed from 2008," said a senior White House official, as reported by the New York Times.

The idea of Jerusalem as Israel's capital is disputed in the international community and East Jerusalem has been identified as the capital of a potential Palestinian state. The United States, for example, maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv.

Republicans took the opportunity to attack. GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan attacked Democrats for the omission Wednesday on Fox News' Fox and Friends.

"What is so tragic about this is that this is one of the few issues where the Republican Party and the Democratic Party agreed," he said.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

The Republican Jewish Coalition likewise came out swinging, taking out a full-page ad in the Charlotte Observer, highlighting the missing Jerusalem sentence, as well as the fact that other 2008 passages on Palestinian refugees, Hamas, and Israel do not appear in the 2012 platform.

It wasn't just Republicans who had criticized the omission. Maryland Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin earlier this week told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that leaving Jerusalem out of the platform was "disappointing," adding that "it raises an issue that's not an issue."

Jews make up only around two percent of the population, but they are a coveted voting bloc for presidential candidates. The Jewish community tends to have high voter turnout, as well as substantial populations in key swing states like Florida and Ohio. Jews generally tend to support Democrats, and supported President Obama with an overwhelming 78 percent of their vote in 2008.

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There is, of course, still some strong GOP support in the Jewish community. The orthodox community tends to vote more conservative, and Mitt Romney has tried to grow its support, traveling to Israel earlier this year to campaign for the Jewish vote. Obama has not visited Israel as president.

While Democrats may have upset some voters by cutting the Jerusalem language, pollster Anna Greenberg of polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner told attendees at a Wednesday National Jewish Democratic Coalition event that she believes that the topic of Israel is not enough to sway Jewish voters.

"The idea that Jewish voters are single-issue voters is absurd," she said. The economy, she said, is the No. 1 issue for Jewish voters, as it is for the broader electorate. She also notes that Jews tend to be more progressive on social issues than other voters.

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For his part, Cardin is confident that this small but potentially election-swaying voting bloc will remain faithful to Democrats. "I think at the end of the day, the Jewish vote will be overwhelming for President Obama," he said at the NJDC event.

The Democratic Party also voted on wednesday to put the word "God" back into the platform. The 2008 platform included a sentence about helping Americans "make the most of their God-given potential." Removing the language had left the platform without any mention of God—another point on which Republicans attacked this week.

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