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September 5, 2012 12:29 am

Conventions Produce Unconventional Insights Into Parties’ Changing Views on Israel and Islam

avatar by Michael Widlanski


President Obama and Vice President Biden on stage at the DNC Convention in 2008. Photo: wiki commons.

National party conventions produce balloons, hot air and many  conventional wisdoms, but this year, the conventions highlighted the changing way Republicans and Democrats treat Jews, Israel, Muslims and Islamic extremism.

Republicans stressed support for Israel and Jerusalem as its capital, but the Democrats removed platform language backing Jerusalem as the capital, and a Democratic leader spurred a fight with Israel’s US ambassador when she claimed that the ambassador said he viewed Republicans as dangerous to Israel.

“I categorically deny that I ever characterized Republican policies as harmful to Israel,” declared Ambassador Michael Oren, responding to claims from Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairwoman.

“Bipartisan support is a paramount national interest for Israel, and we have great friends on both sides of the aisle,” Dr. Oren said, but the tone at both conventions seemed to suggest that the traditional stance of both parties has changed.

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For many years, few Jews felt comfortable with the GOP, but this year, the Republicans opened with a prayer by an Orthodox rabbi and closed with a prayer by a Catholic cardinal, symbolizing the “Judaeo-Christian ethic” that has been declaimed repeatedly by the GOP.

Meanwhile, the Muslim profile at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) has been raised in many ways, The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) reported that this year’s DNC was hosting  a record number of American Muslim delegates representing some 20 states.

Originally,  the Democrats scheduled public “juma’a” prayer assemblies for Muslims, including leading representatives of militant groups, but, under pressure, these events were curtailed at the last moment.

Many, perhaps most US Jews still feel closer to the Democrats, perhaps out of a historical voting tradition that began in the early 1900’s when Jewish immigrants became Democrats in cities like New York, but under Barack Obama, the Democrats have seemed to move away from Jews on some issues like Israel and closer to the world’s Muslims, in several ways:

  • President Obama referred to Muslims before Jews in his inaugural address in 2009;
  • The president supported Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, in an AIPAC speech, but then reversed himself the next day;
  • Obama and Vice President Joe Biden  had several public feuds with Israel, putting intense pressure on Israel to freeze construction in disputed areas in Jerusalem, and symbolically snubbing Prime Minister Netanyahu on several occasions;
  • Obama gave his first foreign interview to an Arab TV network, Al-Arabiyya;
  • He took his first major foreign trip to Islamist Turkey, which has tried to isolate Israel from NATO, and Obama then made another trip to Egypt, but skipped visiting Israel;
  • Obama and his top aides have repeatedly castigated and cajoled Israel publicly not to attack Iran in order to stop its nuclear bomb program;
  • And  President Obama, citing his own Islamic middle name, also called America one of the world’s largest Muslim countries.

Meanwhile, GOP candidate Mitt Romney pointedly visited Jerusalem a few weeks ago, embracing Israel as a close ally and declaring his support of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but Obama passed up a chance for a visit, saying he would make one, if re-elected.

Senator Dick Durbin, the Democratic Senate Majority Whip, reacted angrily to questions about the changing language in the Democratic Party platform, reminding the interviewer that the first man to recognize Israel was President Harry Truman.

“I think what happened in the platform  is extremely significant,” observed columnist Charles Krauthammer, adding that the platform changes would be noted by various countries in the Middle East. Krauthammer and others remarked  the Democrats had also removed any mention of not dividing Jerusalem as well as any mention of the need to isolating Hamas, “a change in the position on terror,” he added.

“For Durbin to pretend that it’s not [important] and to mention Harry Truman who recognized Israel 65 years ago I think shows how defensive and panicked they are on this important issue,” Krauthammer concluded.

Dr. Michael Widlanski, an expert on Arab politics and communications, is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat just  published by  Threshold/Simon and Schuster. He is a former reporter, correspondent and editor respectively at The New York Times, Cox Newspapers, and The Jerusalem Post, and he served Strategic Affairs Advisor in Israel’s Ministry of Public Security and as an advisor to Israeli negotiating teams in 1991-92 at the Madrid Summit and thereafter.

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