Discord over Democrats’ language on Jerusalem

Convention leaders forced to call voice vote three times to declare the city to be Israel’s capital in party platform.

Democrats have hurriedly restored language in their party platform declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel after Republicans accused them of showing weak support for the country.

Chaos ruled on the floor of the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday as delegates and convention leaders were forced to call a voice vote three times to reinstate the language in an embarrassing turnaround.

Also restored was wording mentioning God: Democrats changed the platform language to say government should help people “make the most of their God-given potential”.

Al Jazeera’s Patty Culhane spoke with former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson who said “You saw some mistakes made. The God absence, they should have had it in there… there was language about faith-based values.”

The most controversial change, however, was about Israel.

Four years ago, during the last presidential campaign, the Democratic Party’s platform had said “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel”.

But this year that language was dropped to try to demonstrate a more even-handed position in the long-running Arab-Israeli dispute.

The status of Jerusalem is fiercely contested between the Palestinians and Israel, which captured eastern Jerusalem during the 1967 war, and is among the thorny “final status” issues to be determined in any peace negotiations.

Most countries, including the US, have not recognised Israel’s declaration of Jerusalem as its capital and keep their embassies in Tel Aviv.

Richardson said he is not surprised by the day’s events saying, “What you saw was basically Democrats saying ‘Hey, US policy is the two-state solution.'”

“A strong Middle East platform always has to talk about a two-state solution. [Mention of Israel] was reinserted to eliminate some of the controversy that always happens,” Richardson said.

“It’s a one-day issue, I don’t see it reflecting American policy.”

‘No’ votes louder

To reinstate the language on Jerusalem, Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles mayor and Democratic convention chair, had to call for a voice vote three times on Wednesday and looked uncertain as to how to proceed when the “no” votes seemed to be louder.

Proposing the motion, Ted Strickland, former Ohio governor, said “faith and belief in God is central to the American story” and “President Obama recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and our party’s platform should as well”.

But when a voice vote was called, the “nays” appeared to match the “ayes”.

“I — I — I guess, I’ll do that one more time,” Villaraigosa said.

Despite the second attempt leading to a similar response, he declared: “In the opinion of that chair, two-thirds have voted in the affirmative. The motion is adopted, and the platform has been amended.”

That sparked a chorus of boos from the floor.

Campaign officials said the language change was ordered by President Barack Obama himself to reflect his own personal views.

They also said Obama’s reaction on the omission of God from the platform was to wonder why it was removed in the first place.

Powerful statement

Presidents from both parties over the years have declared their support for making Jerusalem the capital of Israel, but have never taken the step to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv out of a belief that the future of Jerusalem should be decided through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Still, declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel is a powerful statement of support for the most important US ally in the Middle East and to do otherwise risks hurting a president’s support from the powerful Jewish-American community.

Obama’s opponent in the November 6 election, Republican Mitt Romney, said omitting a reference to God suggested Democrats were out of touch with mainstream America.

Republicans also said omitting a reference to Jerusalem showed Obama was weak on Israel.

Romney travelled to Israel in July and received a warm welcome from Binyamin Netanyahu, Israeli prime minister, who has had a cool relationship with Obama since the president proposed returning Israel to its pre-1967 borders.

Andrea Saul, Romney spokeswoman, said Obama needed to state “in unequivocal terms whether or not he believes Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.

“Mitt Romney has consistently stated his belief that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” she said, adding that the Democrats’ convention voice vote “was unclear”.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies