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Democratic platform drafters defend Israel section

CHARLOTTE – Changes between the 2008 Democratic Party platform’s language on Israel and the 2012 version were due to a deliberate effort to refocus the platform toward President Barack Obama‘s policies, two officials directly involved in its drafting process told The Cable. Leading pro-Israel groups such as AIPAC were heavily involved in the platform-drafting process, ...

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

CHARLOTTE - Changes between the 2008 Democratic Party platform's language on Israel and the 2012 version were due to a deliberate effort to refocus the platform toward President Barack Obama's policies, two officials directly involved in its drafting process told The Cable.

Leading pro-Israel groups such as AIPAC were heavily involved in the platform-drafting process, saw final language of the draft platform, and told platform drafters they were satisfied with it, both officials said.

CHARLOTTE – Changes between the 2008 Democratic Party platform’s language on Israel and the 2012 version were due to a deliberate effort to refocus the platform toward President Barack Obama‘s policies, two officials directly involved in its drafting process told The Cable.

Leading pro-Israel groups such as AIPAC were heavily involved in the platform-drafting process, saw final language of the draft platform, and told platform drafters they were satisfied with it, both officials said.

Certain parts of the pro-Israel community are up in arms this week over the fact that the latest version of the platform doesn’t include certain passages from the previous version, such as language affirming that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, specific mentions of the terrorist group Hamas, and language spelling out the party’s position that Palestinian refugees would be settled outside of Israel as part of any comprehensive arrangement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

For its part, AIPAC denies signing off on the final language.

"Any assertion that AIPAC had prior knowledge of the deletion of language including on Jerusalem, Israel as the most reliable ally, Hamas, or the refugees is categorically false," AIPAC spokesman Patrick Dorton told The Cable. "AIPAC was never provided with a final copy of the Middle East part of the platform."

"Jerusalem as the capital was part of AIPACs written submission to the platform but we did not see, review, or sign off on the final text,” Dorton said.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney weighed in personally Tuesday, saying in a statement, "It is unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama’s shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital … As president, I will restore our relationship with Israel and stand shoulder to shoulder with our close ally."

A Democratic official directly involved in the drafting process told The Cable that the drafters made a deliberate and conscious decision to reframe the Israel section of the platform around Obama’s record, to limit the section to cover his existing policies, and to intentionally avoid any and all final-status issues.

"There’s a difference between running for president and governing," the official said. "And when you govern on this issue, the official position of the United States has been for years and from administrations of both parties that the status of Jerusalem is a final-status issue."

The official listed a number of final-status issues, including borders and settlements, that the Obama administration has determined should be subject to negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians, so the platform drafters decided that the party should stay out of them as well.

"There is a difference when you’re writing a platform for an incumbent president. We made a decision to make the platform very much a focus on what the president has been doing. It’s not a purely aspirational document," the official said. "On Israel the decision was decided to focus the extraordinary support the president has given to Israel. The decision was to frame the platform plank around that."

Two GOP platforms during George W. Bush’s leadership of the Republican Party called out Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and vowed to move the U.S. Embassy there, but Bush never actually carried out his promise, the official pointed out. He also pointed to the 2012 GOP platform, which no longer identified Israel as the "undivided" capital of the Jewish state.

"Is it the Republican position that Jerusalem should be divided?" the official asked. "We are the party in power, so the official administration positions on these final-status issues can’t be irrelevant."

Here in Charlotte, a huge debate has erupted over whether or not the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) had seen the final draft of the 2012 DNC platform and been satisfied with it during a July drafting session in Minneapolis and another final drafting session in early August in Detroit. Some anonymous sources are telling reporters that AIPAC "loved" the platform while other anonymous voices saying that AIPAC "was not in the room" when the platform was being worked on.

The Democratic official involved in the drafting said that AIPAC had been consulted very closely, was fully aware of the final draft, and suggested some changes that were in fact incorporated, but never objected to the platform’s failure to mention Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

"AIPAC was in the room in Minneapolis and Detroit and I know for a fact that AIPAC was shown the final copies of the draft language," the official said. "They were there for the entire time. They were shown the final draft by a number of platform committee members, and they offered suggestions. They just didn’t mention Jerusalem."

What’s more, at the second drafting session in Detroit, AIPAC’s proxies had every opportunity to offer amendments if there was anything about the Israel plank of the platform they didn’t like.

"In Detroit, the draft platform is made public to everyone was there," the official said. "If this was an issue they felt passionate about, they could have offered an amendment and there were no amendments offered by Jewish constituency groups. None."

The Israel platform language was drawn largely from speeches Obama has already made, the official said. The language was shared with certain members of the White House who are authorized to interact with the campaign, but there was no formal vetting of the platform by the administration.

Former Florida Rep. Robert Wexler, now the president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, was a member of the platform drafting committee and took part in the formation of the Israel section of the platform in Minneapolis in late July. Wexler independently confirmed to The Cable that AIPAC was present at all public parts of the drafting process and had regular interactions with drafting committee members, suggested some changes to the platform that were adopted, but never brought up the Jerusalem issue with him or others as far as he knows.

"The platform was not a checklist of final-status issues," Wexler said. "[AIPAC] told me they thought the language was pro-Israel and satisfactory. They had many opportunities to raise significant concerns and that definitely didn’t happen."

"The firestorm that has been raised relates to final-status issues and Jerusalem. The Obama administration policy on Jerusalem is identical to that of Bush, Clinton, and every president since Lyndon Johnson. It’s a false story," said Wexler. "The Likud position is American should not dictate final-status issues to the Israelis or to anyone, and that’s what the platform does: It encourages the parties to negotiate without outlining their position."

Wexler also pushed back on the criticism that Hamas is not specifically called out in the platform, saying that the platform covers all Palestinian terror groups.

"That’s a bunch of junk," Wexler said about the criticism. "The platform doesn’t say ‘Hamas,’ but it says that any potential Palestinian partner has to meet the conditions necessary for peace. That’s even stronger and of course it applies to Hamas."

He said the outcry is overblown and that the media storm over the platform is simply a reflection of Republican attempts to politicize the Israel issue ahead of the election.

"The Democratic platform’s language relative to Israel is undeniably, 100 percent pro-Israel," he said.  "To make Israel a wedge issue is harmful to both the U.S. and Israel. And the centerpiece of America’s decades-long relationship with Israel is that it’s a bipartisan issue. If you deeply care about the well-being of Israel as an American, then you will realize that this kind of rhetoric is not good for either Israel or the United States."

Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at josh.rogin@foreignpolicy.com.

Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.

A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.

Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin

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