By the Editorial Advisory Board
Will this summer’s Democratic National Convention feature a platform fight over Israel-Palestine? It’s possible, thanks to the unexpected strength of Bernie Sanders’ challenge to Hillary Clinton, and his inexplicable insistence for making this question the foreign policy gauntlet of his campaign.
After the Sanders campaign complained about pro-Clinton bias on the part of the
Democratic National Committee, chair and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) offered the Vermont senator five seats on the platform drafting committee. Three of the five – James Zogby (head of the Arab American Institute), Cornel West (emeritus professor at Princeton whose support of BDS is well-known), and Keith Ellison (first Muslim member of the House of Representatives) – are vocal critics of the current Israeli government. Their appointment clearly signals Sanders’ desire to change the Democratic approach to the Israel-Palestine dispute.
On that intractable issue, Sanders himself repeats the standard Democratic line that Israel’s right to exist in peace and security is not subject to debate. But he also claims that the U.S. must “level the playing field” by “respecting the needs of the Palestinian people.” There is good reason to think that he would like the Democratic platform to include language that recognizes Palestinians’ national aspirations.
In itself, there would be nothing wrong with that. Support for a two-state solution, which recognizes the right of Palestinians to have a state of their own, has been bedrock American foreign policy for decades.
But party platforms are designed more to reassure advocacy groups than to enunciate actual policies. Consider the little fracas that broke out on the second day of the 2012 Democratic convention after it was discovered that the platform drafting committee had omitted a 2008 clause referring to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Despite the fact that the U.S. has never recognized Jerusalem as such, the convention – at President Obama’s insistence – suspended the rules in order to insert language that “Jerusalem is and remains the capital of Israel.” Three times the “nays” out-shouted the “ayes” in the half-filled convention hall. Finally, the flustered chair made a determination that two-thirds of the delegates had nevertheless voted in the affirmative, and the motion passed, amidst strenuous booing from the floor.
(See https://www.youtube.com / watch?v=cncbOEoQbOg)
For a day and a night, pro-Israel bloviators and blogiators buzzed with the “revelation” that the Democratic Party secretly wanted to abandon its support of Israel. Depending on what goes on in the platform committee, it could happen again. If it does, Republicans will make all the pro-Israel hay they can.
But Democratic supporters of Israel need to take a deep breath. Ten of the 15 members of the platform drafting committee have been chosen by Clinton and Wasserman Schultz. The appointment of Zogby, West, and Ellison – to the drafting committee means that this foreign policy question will likely be contentious.
The drafting committee then reports to the more senior Platform Committee, which will be chaired by Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy, a staunch Clinton supporter.
Despite the tempest in a teapot four years ago – and, more importantly, the manifest hostility between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – Jewish voters maintained their strong preference for the Democratic Party. On issues ranging from taxation and the role of government to abortion and LGBT rights, they have little use for Republican ideology. Only ten percent cite Israel as the sole determining factor for their vote.
In short, reports of the break-up of the Jewish-Democratic alliance should not be taken seriously. It falls upon Governor Malloy, whose role has now been challenged by the Sanders campaign, to keep whatever debate takes place in the drafting committee as amicable as possible. A lot of people will be watching.