The Democrats of 2012: For Israel, Is the Party Over?
As the Democratic National Convention proceeds, watching the degradation of a once-great, once pro-Israel party is as sad as it is alarming.
No doubt, there are still plenty of Israel-defending Democrats among voters and elected leaders. We all saw the unified bipartisan ovations for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu when he addressed Congress. Pro-Israel Democrats and Republicans alike believe that support for Israel should be bipartisan, and that there is danger in making Israel-support the exclusive property of any one side.
But you wouldn't know that from watching the Democrats at their convention, looking at their party platform and their schedule of events and speakers, or, most disturbingly, listening to statements coming out of President Obama's administration while Israel faces existential doomsday. The party -- certainly the convention -- seems firmly under the control of those ambivalent about, if not outright hostile to, the State of Israel and its people.
In 2008, candidate Obama told an enthusiastic AIPAC crowd that "... any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel's identity as a Jewish state[.] ... Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided." Accordingly, in 2008, the Democratic Party's platform stated plainly that "Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel."
How things change. Four years later, Obama does not even pretend to support an undivided Jerusalem; now, he's abandoned even any clear statement that Jerusalem -- any part of it -- is Israel's capital. This year, his administration began referring to Israel and Jerusalem as separate entities, and won't answer the simple question of what city is the capital of Israel. And that's no aberration: the Democratic Party official platform, too, has scrubbed any reference to Jerusalem as Israel's capital. (Update: the Democratic Party has reinstated the "Jerusalem as capital" language, amid much contention.)
The 2012 platform gets worse. It calls for the creation of a Palestinian state, but, unlike in 2008, no longer calls for that state to be democratic; unlike 2008, the 2012 version no longer mentions isolating Hamas until it recognizes Israel and renounces terrorism; it no longer suggests that any Palestinian state be the home of all Palestinian refugees, implicitly recognizing a potential Palestinian "right of return" to Israel; and whereas the 2008 platform called a return to Israel's pre-1967 armistice lines "unrealistic," the 2012 version has scrapped such language.
Among the wide assortment of public convention events are a few focused on Israel. All of them are run by J Street, chronic bashers of Israeli defense and government policy. One J Street event, in fact, was co-hosted by the Arab-American Institute (AAI), long associated with undermining the America-Israel relationship. So, where are the more mainstream pro-Israel Democrat-leaning organizations? There are unconfirmed reports that the Democratic powerbrokers told vocal pro-Israel Democrat groups to stay away from the convention or to keep a low profile. If that is true, it is to the shame of both the party and every organization which complied.
There is no such low profile from the AAI, which boasts a record 55 Arab-American delegates, or from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), proudly announcing that over 100 Muslim delegates are present in Charlotte. And there's certainly no low profile for J Street.
The Democrats are nervous enough about the growing perception that they are abandoning Israel that they made a last-minute addition of Obama apologist Robert Wexler to the roster of convention speakers to deflect such charges and defend the platform. Wexler's credibility disappeared long ago, having declared Obama "100% kosher" in 2008, around the same time he slandered Sarah Palin by spreading an outrageous lie that she had once backed a Nazi-sympathizer. He's never uttered a critical word regarding Obama's record on Israel. Willing to say absolutely anything for the Obama cause, Wexler dutifully defended the alarming changes to the platform, mostly by ignoring them and changing the subject.
Meanwhile, far from the convention, Iran ominously approaches nuclear breakout and ratchets up its apocalyptic threats to Israel. One would think this would be a time for an ally like the U.S. to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel. And one would expect a pro-Israel party to rally around their Israeli friends, just as the Republicans did last week. Yet the Obama administration continues to put "daylight" between the countries.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey announced that America does not want to be "complicit" in an Israeli attack, and the U.S. drastically downsized a key joint military exercise with Israel. Administration officials now publicly entertain the dangerous fantasy that gentle Iran may not be pursuing nuclear weapons, after all. Obama seems to be signaling Iran that America won't be a part of any offensive, in order that Iran not hit America in retaliation for an Israel-only attack.
If you're looking for an explanation of why over 80% of Americans in Israel -- including the majority of Democrats -- are voting Republican this year, this is all a good start.
Where are the usually outspoken Zionist Democrats, such as Martin Peretz, Alan Dershowitz, Charles Schumer, or Ed Koch? Even if they eventually speak up, do they any longer speak for their party?
Not long ago, the Democratic Party was home to many solidly pro-Israel candidates and voters, including my own once-Democratic entire American-Zionist family. Now, however, we wonder whether the word "Zionist" will be even be heard at this convention in any positive context, or whether only with apology or derision.
Once upon a time, the Democrats were full-throated defenders of the State of Israel. Once, the party was led not by J Street and Barack Obama, but by the likes of Senators Henry "Scoop" Jackson, Pat Moynihan, and Hubert Humphrey, and by men like JFK, RFK, and LBJ. There was no doubt where that party stood in terms of protecting tiny, embattled Israel. No more. Sadly, those men are gone, and their party's unflinching support for Israel has gone with them.
Abe Katsman is an American attorney and political commentator living in Israel. He serves as counsel to Republicans Abroad Israel.