Opinion: Jerusalem and US Politics
One of the strangest episodes at the Democratic Party convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, was the controversy that erupted over how Jerusalem would appear in the party’s platform. Unlike the Democratic party platform in the last three presidential elections, the platform initially this year dropped any reference to Jerusalem being the capital of Israel. New York Senator Charles Schumer said that it was a mistake to take Jerusalem out of the platform. Other spokesmen of the Democratic party called it a “glitch,” implying it was not an intentional change.
Recognizing that it was exposing President Barack Obama to harsh criticism from Governor Mitt Romney and the Republican party to the effect that dropping Jerusalem from the platform was indicative of the way that the administration was distancing itself from Israel, it was decided to amend the new platform and restore the traditional reference to Jerusalem being Israel’s capital.
But the process chosen for amending the platform also turned out to be very controversial as well. It was based on a voice vote of the convention that was called by its chairman, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The vote was so close that it had to be run three times, and many delegates refused to accept Mayor Villaraigos’a decision that the amendment had been adopted by a two-thirds majority. Network television cameras kept coming back to one Democratic party delegate who had Arabic writing on his shirt, and seemed particularly emotional about the final decision of the convention chairman.
There was a fundamental question that none of the reporters addressed: Why did the Democratic party take this step on Jerusalem? Was the original language suggested because it was assumed that the issue of Jerusalem would not have much impact during an election season mostly focusing on the U.S. economy?
The older activists in the Democratic party should have known better. The subject of Jerusalem had a profound influence on American politics during the re-election campaign of President Jimmy Carter: On March 1, 1980, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 465, which was an unusually harsh condemnation of Israel for building settlements, because it called for the dismantling existing settlements built in the territories that came under Israeli control following the 1967 war. Moreover, it also called for dismantling Jewish neighborhoods that had been built in Jerusalem. Normally the U.S. would have vetoed such a one-sided resolution, but this time, its ambassador, Donald McHenry, raised his hand in support and the resolution was adopted. In the days that followed a political storm broke out as a result.
Carter had been certain that all references to Jerusalem in the draft of the Security Council resolution had been deleted and therefore his delegation at the U.N. was instructed to support it. But there had been a breakdown in communications between the State Department and the U.S. Mission to the U.N. In New York. Jerusalem had not been erased from the draft resolution before the vote – it actually appeared no less than six times in the resolution that was adopted. Many American Jews did not believe Carter’s explanations, including leading Democrats. Ambassador Arthur Goldberg, who had been appointed to the Supreme Court by President Kennedy, and later served as his ambassador to the U.N., blasted the Carter administration’s policy on Jerusalem in a letter to the editor of The New York Times.
At the time, President Carter was seeking re-nomination as candidate of the Democratic party. He was being challenged by Senator Edward Kennedy, who, two weeks after the U.N. vote, trounced Carter in the New York primary, 59 percent to 41%. He also beat Carter in neighboring Connecticut. The Jewish community did not forget Carter’s vote on Jerusalem at the U.N. In November, when he ran against Ronald Reagan, Carter received the lowest percentage of the Jewish vote of any presidential candidate from the Democratic party. Any political pundit should have learned that Jerusalem mattered to the American Jewish community.
Of course the politics of 2012 are not the same as 1980. Perhaps there were those party activists who believed that Jerusalem did not matter any more to American Jewry as it had in the past. But was this true? Recently, Prof. Mervin Verbit wrote an essay in the Jewish Political Studies Review examining American Jewish positions on the main issues in the peace process. In order to understand the trends in American Jewish attitudes, he took the annual public opinion polls of the American Jewish Committee.
What he found on Jerusalem was instructive. Every year the AJC asked the same question: “In the framework of a permanent peace with the Palestinians, should Israel be willing to compromise on the status of Jerusalem as a united city under Israeli jurisdiction?” Back in 2001, a high-point of 44% was reached in the AJC poll that supported the re-division of Jerusalem, with 50% objecting.
But over the next decade, American Jewish opinion actually hardened, with only 35% supporting re-division of Jerusalem in 2010 and 60% opposing any compromise on the idea that Jerusalem remain united under Israel. The data indicated that a united Jerusalem still mattered to American Jewry, and whoever thought otherwise had not done his homework and did not understand American Jewish opinion.
The truth is that support for a united Jerusalem has been a bipartisan position in American politics for years. The Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995 that acknowledged a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty as Israel’s capital was co-sponsored in the U.S. Senate by the leaders of both parties: Senator Tom Daschle on the Democratic side and Senator Bob Dole on the Republican side. The Senate bill passed by an overwhelming majority of 93 to 5.
Watering down U.S. support for a united Jerusalem represents a sharp break from that bipartisan tradition. Looking at American Jewish opinion, it is also bad politics. While seeking bipartisan backing for its positions in the U.S., Israel should openly state its position on vital issues, like the future of Jerusalem, if they come up during the present U.S. political campaign.
This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.