In caving on Jerusalem, Dems pulled back the curtain on the lobby
By Philip Weiss, September 6, 2012
Last night was an amazing moment at the Democratic National Convention; for an instant, we saw the Israel lobby naked on the national stage. When party bosses stuffed the phrase, “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel,” back into the platform, reportedly at the command of the president himself, and the Democratic rank-and-file on the floor bridled at the command and booed, and even the convention chair, Mayor Villaraigosa, looked to be following orders, the curtain was pulled back on the wizard of Oz– to use the great conspiratorial figure of a previous American century– and the press and the informed public were left to discuss what we had all just seen.
The moment will be remembered for the two attractive and disgusted Arab-American delegates featured on-camera in the video of the botched votes above, at :25 and 1:00 — and in the report on NBC Nightly News last night: the man with his “Yalla the Vote” (Get out the Vote!) tshirt, and the woman with her Arab-Americans sign.
Most of the press subsequently performed damage control. Larry O’Donnell of MSNBC poohpoohed it as routine platform-management. Andrea Mitchell changed the subject to the weather shifting tonight’s venue, and balloons. Only one commentator truly distinguished himself. Chris Hayes of MSNBC said that it was a “craven” moment and went right to the policy implications, that Israel’s claim to Jerusalem is “untenable” and one cause of the endless conflict in the Middle East. Rachel Maddow quickly turned the subject to the other word the Dems had reinserted in the platform– God– to get the conversation back on safe ground.
Here is a roundup of some of the reporting and some of the responses:
when AIPAC says jump, an entire political party asks “how high?” Every now and again, you see the stranglehold and you realize just how contorted this debate is in Washington.
Ali Abunimah at IMEU sees the upside in the exposure; we might actually talk about policy:
“By adding Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to their platform under pressure from the Israel lobby, Democrats hoped to relieve such pressure. Instead they are likely to have made it worse as video clearly shows that even after three votes delegates were unhappy with the change. The fact that the chair declared the “ayes” had it anyway is a neat summary of how decisions are made when it comes to Israel. Both parties are in a bidding war to appease Israel’s most extreme supporters at home and abroad. If this means riding roughshod over American and world opinion, international law and the basic rights of the Palestinian people, then so be it.”
Not so fast, says Nancy Pelosi. A friend watching CNN at 9 PM last night reports:
Nancy Pelosi just told Anderson Cooper it’s a waste of time to discuss what happened this afternoon. That’s spitting in the face of millions of people.
Another friend says that PBS’s NewsHour’s liberal voice, Mark Shields, also went into humminah humminah humminah mode:
The NewsHour had an odd encounter this evening. Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill (about 30 minutes in and 50 minutes) tried to get Mayor Villaraigosa and then Mark Shields to talk plainly about the Democratic party division over a plank endorsing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel….Mark Shields later was just as craven, under less pressure. “This is a–ah, ah–core issue, for both parties. And it’s–ah, ah–not unexpected that there would be a flap over it.” And that was all. Gwen and Judy trying to do their job–but trying with the usual MSM timidity: no follow-up questions, no information. The interviews succeeded in totally dodging any possible point; the average listener would have been baffled to guess what all this was about.
This morning on NPR’s Morning Edition, Steve Inskeep suggested that the move had to do with Jewish donors and Anna Sale stated that it had to do with Florida voters, a few of whom might shift the election. I believe the stakes are bigger than that; Rahm Emanuel, who has just left the Obama campaign to be a fundraiser for the Obama Super PAC Priorities USA, has good standing in the Jewish community and dismisses the issue of Jerusalem as a “red herring”; Republicans have the same position. As if that’s a good thing.
Yousef Munayyer, from IMEU, describes the issue as a tragicomic cave to “pro-Israel interest groups”:
“This most recent incident of Israel pandering in American politics would be comical if it didn’t have such grave implications for people in the region. It seems someone at the DNC made the calculation that the best way to refute GOP accusations of weakness on Israel was to display weakness to pro-Israel interest groups at the expense of the voices of Democratic party members. But again, this is just the most recent episode in a long and pathetic saga adding further proof to the argument that the United States is in no position to ever be an even-handed mediator.”
Jim Zogby says:
“Today’s amendment to re-insert the language on Jerusalem was a clear case of putting pandering above responsible politics… it also flies in the face of decades of policy,” Zogby’s group Arab American Institute wrote in a statement.
“i know you’re nervous about the Jewish vote,” he said about Democrats. But “you’ve got to be nervous about the Arab American vote.”
“It didn’t look good for the president, it didn’t look good for the party, and it didn’t look good for the country,” Zogby said.
A wise friend:
The most depressing part is that the issue seems “normalized”: everyone knows what’s happening, lots of people know its very bad, and yet nobody seems willing to take it on. The Perkovich quotation in the WaPo last week [“If you want to get ahead, you don’t talk about it; you don’t criticize Israel, you protect Israel. You don’t talk about illegal settlements on the West Bank even though everyone knows they are there”] really sums it up: people in DC know not to even mention it, because it is a career-killer.
Ben Smith reports that the Jerusalem fire began at a power lunch featuring Obama’s chief of staff Jack Lew, an observant Jew, and several Jewish senators. AIPAC had been marginalized during the platform process, but AIPAC was there and upset:
Tensions over the Democratic Party’s official stance on Israel came at the Levine Museum of the New South at midday today, when top officials of the pro-Israel group AIPAC lunched with several U.S. Senators, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, and White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, who sometimes also serves as a liaison to the Jewish community.The senators — described by one attendee as about a third of the Senate Democratic caucus — stood up one after another to express their disagreement with a Democratic Party platform that had elided the usual mention of Jerusalem.
Smith says that some in the party wanted Obama to “sack up,” but Obama caved, to the delight of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations:
More left-leaning Jewish leaders who welcomed a step toward a Jerusalem compromise were furious.
The Administration should “grow a sack,” one said — on the condition of anonymity.
But the pro-Israel forces welcomed the move.
“It was a show of force by President Barack Obama,” the chairman of the Council [sic] of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, Alan Solow, told BuzzFeed.
Rabbi David Wolpe gave the benediction to end the second day of the convention, and he worked in a criticism of the party over the Jerusalem issue. From Tablet:
On Wednesday, reference to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was removed from the DNC platform, before being forced back in by party leadership over the protests of many delegates. Wolpe had accepted his speaking slot last Thursday, with no notion that he would capping a day of such turmoil and consternation on the convention floor and within the American Jewish community. Tasked with delivering the day’s closing benediction, Wolpe chose to take a stand.
“You have taught us that we must count on one another; that our country is strong through community, and that the children of Israel on the way to that sanctified and cherished land, and ultimately to that golden and capital city of Jerusalem—that those children of Israel did not walk through the wilderness alone,” he stated, placing special emphasis on the word the DNC had almost omitted.
Here is Scott McConnell reflecting on the historic importance of the floor demonstration against the political leaders:
Until yesterday, AIPAC and other players of the Israel Lobby were able to create, and then bask in, the illusion that Israel enjoys unqualified support from both parties, whatever it does. “Pro-Israel” congressional resolutions are regularly rolled through by votes like 420-10, creating the sense that any respect for Palestinian rights and aspirations is completely marginal among the American public. But such votes don’t reflect the underlying reality. Israel is popular in America, Israelis more liked than Palestinians. There is a widespread consensus–in which I share–in favor of Israel’s security. But the consensus is not that one-sided, there is growing recognition that Palestinians too have a legitimate claim for rights in the lands and cities in which they and their ancestors dwell. If you look at the poll data, Americans favor Israel over Palestine by margins like 3-1 (but not 20-1). Perhaps forty percent of Americans believe US policy should favor Israel no matter what the circumstance. But an equal or greater number (depending on the poll) believe the United States should attempt to be even-handed, not favor either side. This division in American public opinion is not reflected in our one-sided congressional votes. But it made itself heard on the floor of the Democratic convention, I believe for the very first time.