by Joe Shea
September 5, 2012
JERUSALEM PLANK VOTE MAY DERAIL DEMOCRATIC CAMPAIGN
CORDELE, Ga., Sept. 5, 2012 -- In an impressive if demeaning display of Israel's power to shape America's political destiny, the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte today was forced to adopt a once-discarded platform plank that names Jerusalem as Israel's capital over the objections of thousands of delegates. The short-lived battle over the issue threatens to derail the entire Democratic presidential campaign and alienate its most generous donors.
DNC Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa, the Mayor of Los Angeles, found himself in a profound dilemma when, at the request of President Barack Obama, he asked convention delegates to approve reinstatement of the platform plank by voice vote, but found that the result did not satisfy the requirement of two-thirds approval for the measure. Instead of then proceeding to a vote by show of hands, as parliamentary rules require, he took a second voice vote. That, too, was not definitive, and after consultation with other officials, Villaraigosa asked for an unprecedented third voice vote and declared that "in the opinion of the chair," the platform language was adopted.
After ringing and widely praised speeches Tuesday night by First Lady Michelle Obama, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and former White House chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, it seemed like the Democratic campaign had shunted all thought of the Republicans aside. Suddenly, though, a dagger of deep division has been introduced into the Democratic body politic, and it now remains to be seen whether the victim can recover before the November elections.
In addition to the parliamentary gaffe by Villaraigosa, who is a former Speaker of the California State Assembly and should have known better than to not simply rule the roar of the delegates as a two-thirds majority, as is common in many parliamentary settings, the handsome Latino mayor took the democratic aspect of the vote perhaps too seriously when the true outcome was unknown. Presumably, someone armed with a device that measures decibels of sound could have quickly determined if the noise level of one side was twice that of the other side of the question. As it was, CNN commentator Wolf Blitzer, who is Jewish, said he thought the "no" vote had a majority at least once and suggested that even the third vote, which seemed more approving, was insufficient to signal acceptance of the Jerusalem plank.
At the same time, it was unclear why platform committee members had removed the standard language of 2008's platform from the 2012 version. The committee also removed a lone mention of God from the platform, drawing extensive criticism from all sides. At a time when the party's star seemed to be in the ascendancy, the multiple issues raised by the oft-ignored party platform seemed to snag the Democrats, perhaps fatally.
The platform problems sprang up like a quick summer thunderstorm whose flash floods can often leave a community in disarray. There was little if any coverage of any opposition to the Jerusalem plank prior to the convention, and it remains unclear why those opposed were able to muster so much vehemence today.
Most Americans remain largely unaware of the issue, which revolves around the historic place of Jerusalem in the three major religions of Earth: Christianity, Islam and Judaism. All three have special reverence for sites like the Dome of the Rock and other religious venues in the city, whose ownership was long divided between Jewish Jerusalem proper and Arab-dominated East Jerusalem. In recent years, Jewish expansion into East Jerusalem has raised the issue to a global level, even while the U.S. Embassy remains in Tel Aviv, Israel's political capital and home of its parliament, known as the Knesset. Support for moving the U.S, Embassy to Jerusalem is seen as a litmus test for national politicians by many American Jews and Israelis, and the apparent resistance to the idea symbolized by the erring triple voice vote is likely to thrust it into the center of the debates that surround the election.
Republicans have tried to make U.S. support for Israel a centerpiece of their campaign against the Obama Administration, saying that the current White House has been pusillanimous at best when confronting Israeli-engendered issues, which bears with them the larger question of whether the United States expressly supports an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities by Israel. The Christian right has pushed support for Israel for its own religious reasons and have largely allied themselves with the GOP to advance their ideas. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is a Mormon; it is unclear whether the Church of Latter Day Saints has taken any position with respect to Israel's claims and agenda.
The compelling question for many observers is why the capital of Israel is something to be addressed by a Democratic national convention. Surely if many New Yorkers demanded that New York City, a world capital, should be the capital of the United States - since it was where the nation's first capital was established by George Washington - instead of Washington, D.C., the ensuing uproar would engage both parties. But what if the question of whether the capital of Saudi Arabia should be moved to Mecca from Riyadh to placate the majority Wahabi sect of Islam? Would that be a matter for consideration and approval by either party's platform committee.
Ironically, the issue arose on a day when he national co-chair of the Obama campaign, Chicago Mayor and former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel - probably the most influential Jew in the first two years of the Obama Administration - resigned from the campaign to lead a fundraising "super PAC" that will support Democrats. The platform controversy has probably made his job much tougher as millions of Jewish voters and donors assess the fervent opposition on the platform plank. In turn, in the hard fight for the Oval Office ahead the Democratic campaign may find itself meaningfully challenged by Jewish voters and donors for the first time as they collectively assess the party in light of the triple voice vote.
As Parliamentarian of the Democratic Executive Committee of Manatee County - a quiet and lovely oasis on the Gulf shore of Florida - and a member of the Florida Assn. of Parliamentarians, I would have been guided by the desire of the President to include the Jerusalem plank when I heard the first "No" vote. I would have ruled with the President for approval.
Yet it took uncommon courage and a truly deep commitment to the democratic process by DNC chairman Antonio Villaraigosa to call for the additional voice votes to assure fairness. It was unprecedented and, as we shall learn shortly, a very costly if just decision.