Broken platforms


Platforms

Democratic platform omits language on Jerusalem, notes Iran military option


The 2012 Democratic Party platform omits language recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and suggests that military force is “on the table” as an option for addressing the Iranian nuclear issue.

The platform released late Monday night makes no mention of Jerusalem or of the issue of Israel's capital. By contrast, the 2008 platform stated that “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel.” The 2008 platform also stated that the parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations.”

The new platform touts President Obama's work on implementing tougher international sanctions against Iran. It says that Obama “is committed to using all instruments of national power to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

“President Obama believes that a diplomatic outcome remains the best and most enduring solution,” the platform states. “At the same time, he has also made clear that the window for diplomacy will not remain open indefinitely and that all options — including military force — remain on the table.”

The 2008 platform referred to “keeping all options on the table.”

On Israel, the new platform emphasizes the Obama administration's support for Israeli security measures such as Iron Dome and refers to Obama's “consistent support for Israel’s right to defend itself and his steadfast opposition to any attempt to delegitimize Israel.”

It also states that the president and his party are committed to seeking peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

“A just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian accord, producing two states for two peoples, would contribute to regional stability and help sustain Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state,” the platform states. “At the same time, the President has made clear that there will be no lasting peace unless Israel’s security concerns are met.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition, on Twitter, criticized the omission in the new platform of language describing Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The current Republican platform refers to Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The RJC also highlighted the absence from the new Democratic platform of language in the Democrats' 2008 platform calling for Hamas to be isolated, Palestinian refugees to return to a future Palestinian state rather than to Israel, and stating that “it is unrealistic to expect the outcome of final status negotiations to be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” The Republican platform also does not articulate these positions.

LAST LOOK: Where do McCain and Obama stand on the issues?


DOMESTIC POLICY

ABORTION

Abortion is an area of sharp disagreement between the two candidates. Obama said during the Oct. 15 presidential debate that he believes Roe v. Wade was “rightly decided,” although “good people on both sides can disagree.” He added that “women in consultation with their families, their doctors, their religious advisers are in the best position to make this decision,” and that the Constitution “has a right to privacy in it that shouldn’t be subject to state referendum, anymore than our First Amendment rights are subject to state referendum.”

At the same debate, McCain called Roe v. Wade “a bad decision” and said that decisions on abortion should “rest in the hands of the states. McCain says on his Web site that the ruling should be overturned. McCain has backed a ban on abortion except in cases of rape, incest or threat to the life of the mother, and he said at a presidential forum in August that his administration will have “pro-life policies.”

Obama in the same debate said he is “completely supportive of a ban on late-term abortions, partial birth or otherwise, as long as there’s an exception for the mother’s health and life.” He voted against a ban in the Illinois state Senate because it did not contain such a clause.

McCain has voted to ban such procedures, and at the debate said that exceptions for the health of the mother had “been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything.” This trend, he said, represented “the extreme pro-abortion position.”

Obama said at the August presidential forum sponsored by Pastor Rick Warren that “the goal right now” should be “how do we reduce the number of abortions” and talked about ways for those on both sides of the aisle to “work together” to reduce unwanted pregnancies. He said at the Oct. 15 debate that such efforts should include “providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby.”

McCain says on his Web site that he will “seek ways to promote adoption as a first option for women struggling with a crisis pregnancy” and that government must help strengthen the “armies of compassion”—faith-based, community and neighborhood organizations—that provide “critical services to pregnant mothers in need.”

The Republican nominee has criticized Obama for voting against legislation in the Illinois Senate that requires the state to provide legal protection and medical treatment to any fetus that survives an abortion. At the Oct. 15 debate, Obama said the bill in question would have “helped to undermine” Roe v. Wade and “there was already a law on the books in Illinois that required providing lifesaving treatment, which is why not only myself but pro-choice Republicans and Democrats voted against it.”

Obama has said that he does approve of the version of the bill that passed the Illinois Senate in 2005—after he had gone to Capitol Hill. That legislation had a specific clause stating that nothing in the bill “shall be construed to affect existing federal or state law regarding abortion.”

EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH

The Obama campaign has run an advertisement claiming that McCain has blocked embryonic stem cell research, but independent fact checkers have deemed the ad untrue. In fact, support for embryonic stem cell research is one issue on which the candidates essentially agree.

McCain and Obama later voted for legislation that would have allowed federal funding to be used for research on stem cell lines obtained from discarded human embryos originally created for fertility treatments. McCain has called his vote on the bill “very agonizing and tough” and said he went “back and forth, back and forth on it.” It finally came down to the fact that “those embryos will be either discarded or kept in permanent frozen status.”

Prior to the 2004 vote, the Arizona senator was one of 14 Republican members of Congress who signed a letter asking President Bush to lift federal restrictions on the research.

In response to a questionnaire from a coalition of scientists and engineers last month, McCain said, “While I support federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, I believe clear lines should be drawn that reflect a refusal to sacrifice moral values and ethical principles for the sake of scientific progress.”

McCain differs from both his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, and the Republican Party platform on the issue. The platform, adopted at the GOP convention, calls for an expansion of funding for research into adult stem cells but a ban on the use of human embryos for research.

In response to the same questionnaire from Sciencedebate2008, Obama was more emphatic than McCain on the issue. The Democrat said he will “lift the current administration’s ban on federal funding of research on embryonic stem cell lines created after August 9, 2001 through executive order, and I will ensure that all research on stem cells is conducted ethically and with rigorous oversight.”

Obama and McCain do disagree on the prospects for research on adult and other kinds of stem cells. McCain has expressed hope that advances in adult stem cells could make the debate over embryonic stem cells unnecessary, but Obama said embryonic stem cells are “the gold standard” and any research on other types of stem cells should be done in parallel.

SUPREME COURT

The presidential candidates demonstrated their contrasting views on the Supreme Court in August when they were asked by Pastor Warren which of the sitting justices they would not have nominated. Obama named two justices from the court’s conservative wing, saying Clarence Thomas was not qualified at the time of his nomination and Antonin Scalia because “he and I just disagree.”

McCain named twice as many justices, citing the four commonly identified as the left wing of the court—Ruth Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, John Paul Stevens and David Souter—because he disapproved of their “legislating from the bench.” But as a senator McCain voted for Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer—Stevens was nominated before he was elected to the Senate. At the Oct. 15 debate, McCain said he voted for them not “because I agreed with their ideology, but because I thought they were qualified and that elections have consequences when presidents are nominated.”

Obama as a senator has voted against both Supreme Court nominees, Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito. He said at the Warren forum that “one of the most important jobs” of the Supreme Court “is to guard against the encroachment of the executive branch” on the “power of the other branches,” and Roberts has been “a little bit too willing and eager to give an administration” more power than “I think the Constitution originally intended.”

McCain was also a member of the bipartisan “Gang of 14” formed to break an impasse over judicial nominations in 2005. The Democratic senators in the group agreed not to filibuster judicial nominees except under “extraordinary circumstances,” while the Republicans pledged not to vote for the “nuclear option”—a maneuver that would have allowed a majority of the Senate to change the rules requiring 60 votes to end a filibuster. Obama declined to join the group, and said in a newspaper interview in May that he didn’t think “it was a particularly good compromise” because “the Republicans got everything they wanted out of that.”

On his Web site, McCain says that he will “nominate judges who understand that their role is to faithfully apply the law as written, not impose their opinions through judicial fiat.” He also stresses the importance of federalism and separation of powers in his judicial philosophy.

At the Oct. 15 debate, McCain said he believed “that we should have nominees to the United States Supreme Court based on their qualifications rather than any litmus test” on abortion, although he added that “I do not believe that someone who has supported Roe v. Wade would be part of those qualifications.”

Obama has said that qualifications for the high court go beyond academic and professional accomplishment.

“What makes a great Supreme Court justice,” he said in a November 2007 primary debate, is “not just the particular issue but it’s their conception of the court. And part of the role of the court is that it is going to protect people who may be vulnerable in the political process, the outsider, the minority” and “those who don’t have a lot of clout.”

Sometimes, he added, “we’re only looking at academics or people who’ve been in the [lower] court. If we can find people who have life experience and they understand what it means to be on the outside, what it means to have the system not work for them, that’s the kind of person I want on the Supreme Court.”

More recent, during the Oct. 15 debate, Obama said he would look for judges “who have an outstanding judicial record, who have the intellect, and who hopefully have a sense of what real-world folks are going through.” The Democrat also rejected a “strict litmus test” on the abortion issue.

FAITH-BASED SOCIAL SERVICES

Obama and McCain both want to continue President Bush’s faith-based initiative providing federal money to religious groups to perform social services. But they differ on one key point: Obama has said he would not allow religious groups receiving government funds to discriminate in hiring, while McCain has concurred with Bush in saying he would.

In a July interview with The New York Times, McCain said, “Obviously it’s very complicated because if this is an organization that says we want people in our organization that are Baptists or vegetarians or whatever it is, they should not be required to hire someone that they don’t want to hire in my view.”

And in a response to an American Jewish Committee questionnaire, McCain said, “I would permit faith-based organizations to improve their volunteerism numbers by allowing them to hire consistent with the views of the respective organizations without risking federal funding.”

Obama in a July speech laid out a vision for his Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships that would include an allocation of $500 million a year specifically for faith- and community-based efforts to bolster summer learning programs for 1 million children. He said in the speech that Bush’s version of the faith-based initiative “never fulfilled its promise.”

A summary of the Obama plan released by his campaign states that recipients of federal funds “cannot discriminate with respect to hiring for government-funded social service programs” and “must comply with federal anti-discrimination laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Obama also said he would undertake a pre-inauguration review of all executive orders related to the faith-based initiative, especially those having to do with hiring. He also said he would consider elevating the director of the initiative to a Cabinet-level post.

SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE

Both candidates have expressed support for the principle of the separation of church and state. But McCain sparked controversy in a September 2007 interview with Beliefnet in which he said, “I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation.” He quickly added that all religions are welcomed, “but when they come here they know that they are in a nation founded on Christian principles.”

A spokeswoman later said that McCain believes “people of all faiths are entitled to all the rights protected by the Constitution, including the right to practice their religion freely,” but that the “values protected by the Constitution” are “rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition. That is all he intended to say to the question, America is a Christian nation, and it is hardly a controversial claim.”

In response to an American Jewish Committee questionnaire, Obama called the separation of church and state “critical” and said it has “caused our democracy and religious practices to thrive.” On the same questionnaire, McCain said, “choosing one’s faith is the most personal of choices, a matter of individual conscience. That is why we cherish it as part of our Bill of Rights.” He added that “all people must be free to worship as they please, or not to worship at all. It is a simple truth: There is no freedom without the freedom of religion.

Obama told a Christian Broadcasting Network interviewer in July 2007 that “whatever we once were, we’re no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation and a nation of nonbelievers. We should acknowledge this and realize that when we’re formulating policies from the state house to the Senate floor to the White House, we’ve got to work to translate our reasoning into values that are accessible to every one of our citizens, not just members of our own faith community.”

Asked by the AJC whether they would back legislation directed at strengthening the obligation of employers to provide a reasonable accommodation of an employee’s religious practice, both candidates expressed support.

I believe firmly that employers have an obligation to reasonably accommodate their employees’ religious practices,” Obama said. “I would support carefully drafted legislation that strengthens Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to further protect religious freedom in the workplace.”

“I am committed to ensuring that no Americans are discriminated against in employment because of their religious beliefs. I will support any legislation that improves our commitment to a pluralistic society, both inside and outside the workplace.”

As to vouchers for private and parochial schools, Obama said he is against them because he believes “we need to invest in our public schools and strengthen them, not drain their fiscal support.”

McCain supports voucher plans, arguing that “it’s time to give middle- and lower-income parents the same right wealthier families have—to send their child to the school that best meets their needs.”

FOREIGN POLICY

IRAN

Obama and McCain both back isolating Iran to bring an end to its suspected nuclear weapons program and have said that the military option should remain on the table. This summer, senior surrogates from both campaigns signed onto a position paper from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy advocating intensified U.S.-Israel dialogue aimed at preventing an Israeli attack on Iran.

The campaigns differ on how to isolate Iran and the degree of engagement with the Iranian government such an effort would prohibit. McCain has criticized Obama for suggesting he’d be willing to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In response, Obama has compared McCain to Bush, accusing both of hurting America’s standing in the world by turning their backs on diplomacy.

The Obama campaign has committed itself to the full list of sanctions currently advocated by Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, including targeting Iran’s central bank, getting the five major players in the re-insurance industry to boycott Iran and stopping the export of refined petroleum to Iran. The McCain campaign expresses generic support for sanctions but has resisted sharing details. In the Senate, Republicans have blocked sanctions legislation without explaining why. The Bush administration opposes the AIPAC/Israel list in part because, the White House claims, the list would upset sensitive efforts to bring the Europeans, Russia and China on board with the effort to keep nuclear weapons out of Iran.

Obama campaign officials say that after rallying international support for tighter sanctions—a top priority that would take place as soon as February, they say—they would start reaching out to Iranian officials with “carrots.” These incentives would be aimed at getting the Iranians to end uranium enrichment. No one says so out loud, but the implication is that one such carrot would be to recognize Iran’s preeminence as a regional power, giving it veto power over military decisions in the region. Other incentives would include expanded trade.

McCain’s campaign does not speak of such incentives; rather, it emphasizes isolation and sanctions as the means to bring Iran around. It also favors isolating Iran through a “league of democracies.” That formula would exclude China and Russia, undercutting a key element to Israel’s strategy on Iran, which is to cultivate Russia and China. Overall, McCain’s strategy suggests confrontation with Russia, particularly over the expansion of NATO.

Last year, Obama opposed a non-binding amendment that would have designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist entity. Obama was not present at the vote, but 76 senators favored the amendment, sponsored by Sens. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), including top Democrats. The amendment was also backed by AIPAC.

McCain favored the amendment, and his campaign has accused Obama of pandering to the Democratic base, noting that his primaries rival Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) voted for the amendment and suffered the consequences.

Obama said that he backed similar language in different legislation but opposed the amendment because it tied Iran to attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq—language that he said could be used by the Bush administration as a pretext to launch an attack on Iran. Obama has said he supported Bush’s subsequent issuance of the executive order declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist entity and subject to relevant U.S. sanctions.

ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT

Both campaigns have endorsed a two-state solution, voiced strong support for Israel, called for U.S. backing of Palestinian Authority leader Mahoud Abbas and signed on to the policy of boycotting Hamas. They have also counseled caution and exuberance when it comes to the Bush administration’s late-term push for peace.

In the Obama campaign, Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Egypt, favors intensified involvement in the peace process, and has advocated—in the context of his own writing, not as a campaign spokesman—open pressure on Israel and the Palestinians. Dennis Ross, a former top Middle East negotiator and the Obama campaign’s top adviser on Israel, says that an Obama administration would be fully engaged in brokering Israeli-Palestinian talks. But, he adds, it would avoid setting any artificial timelines for a deal. Ross says that Palestinian statehood would be impossible as long as Hamas terrorists control the Gaza Strip.

Two top McCain advisers, historian Max Boot and diplomat Rich Williamson, have expressed the same concerns as Ross, but they say the Israeli-Palestinian track will not be a top priority. The GOP running mate, however, has sounded a different note: Gov. Sarah Palin said a McCain government would sustain the Bush administration effort launched by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and said that reaching a two-state solution was a top priority. McCain himself has promised to be the “chief negotiator.”

Both candidates back an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while leaving the city’s final status to Palestinian and Israeli negotiators.

Obama stumbled when he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in May that he would strive to keep the city undivided and Israel’s capital. Palestinians, and Arabs in general, were infuriated by Obama’s remark, leading to clarifications from Obama’s campaign claiming the candidate “misspoke.”

What Obama meant, the campaign and the candidate said, was that while Obama doesn’t want to see Jerusalem divided, the city may well be shared one day by Palestinians and Israelis and that Jerusalem’s final status should be left up to negotiators. McCain’s backers used the clarification to portray Obama’s remarks as inconsistent. On substance, however, the campaigns’ positions are identical.

McCain, however, has pledged to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem right away; Obama has not. Many candidates-turned-presidents have made such pledges in the past; none have delivered.

SYRIA

Syria is an issue where there are clear differences between the candidates.

Some in the McCain campaign, like the Bush administration, have made clear McCain would discourage the Israeli-Syrian negotiations currently taking place under Turkish auspices. The thinking is that the negotiations allow Syria to maintain some degree of hegemony in Lebanon, which the United States opposes.

The Obama campaign says this opposition to Israeli-Syrian talks preempts Israel in its ambitions for peace. However, Kurtzer, in a private capacity, has warned Syrian officials that they should not expect deep U.S. involvement until the talks truly are at an advanced stage. That would consist of Syria showing a serious effort toward meeting the key Israeli demand that it peel itself away from Iranian influence.

—- Jewish Telegraphic Agency

GOP platform offers strong support for Israel, veers right domestically


MINNEAPOLIS (JTA)—John McCain’s Jewish supporters characterize him as a Republican maverick who shares his party’s bedrock support for Israel and combating anti-Semitism. Critics dismiss him as the standard-bearer of a staunchly conservative party at odds with the Jewish community on a host of issues.

They’re both right, judging from the platform approved this week at the Republican convention in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

The platform includes a call for an end to all government-funded embryonic stem-cell research and a ban on all abortions—positions that, polls show, are contrary to those of most Jewish voters. Of course, they also do not conform to the views of McCain, who has said that he would revoke President Bush’s restrictions on federal funding for stem-cell research, permit abortions in cases of rape, incest and threats to the life of the mother.

On immigration, McCain, the U.S. senator from Arizona who is the presumptive Republican nominee for president, has pressed for legislation that would provide undocumented workers with a path toward citizenship, but the platform declares: “We oppose amnesty.”

The McCain campaign reportedly decided to avoid significant fights over the platform rather than upset leaders of the party’s conservative base, many of whom have expressed concern over the GOP nominee. His supporters argue that the platform is irrelevant to understanding McCain and that voters will make their decisions based on how they view the candidate.

Texas state Sen. Florence Shapiro, the only Jewish female Republican in her state legislature, said that the platform is “not what guides my everyday” decision-making and doubts voters will be using it to make decisions either.

They will and should be “looking at John McCain and his positions and record,” she said.

Another Jewish delegate from Texas, Houstonian Stuart Mayper, said the strong “pro-life” language in the platform could be a problem for some Jews. But, he quickly added, the platform contains language strongly supportive of Israel that should be attractive to the Jewish community.

Sources familiar with the formation of the platform say the language dealing with Israel and fighting anti-Semitism was drafted in consultation with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other Jewish groups.

The platform echoes AIPAC’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling for a two-state solution but placing the onus on the Palestinians to take several key steps and calling on nearby Arab countries to play a more constructive role. It also declares support for “Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel and moving the American embassy to that undivided capital of Israel.”

Both McCain and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the Democratic nominee, have said that the status of Jerusalem ultimately would be decided in negotiations between the two sides. McCain has pledged to move the embassy to Jerusalem right away—a promise that the Obama campaign rejected, essentially calling it a lie.

The GOP platform calls for the isolation of Hamas and Hezbollah and vows to maintain Israel’s qualitative edge in military technology over its enemies—all positions shared by Obama and McCain.

In several contexts, the platform stresses the need to combat anti-Semitism—on university campuses, in Europe and across the world—and declares that “discrimination against Israel at the U.N. is unacceptable.”

It says that Iran cannot be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons, calls for a “significant increase in political, economic, and diplomatic pressure” on Tehran and insists that the United States “must retain all options” in dealing with the situation.

Without naming Obama, the platform draws a contrast with the Democratic nominee’s previously stated willingness to meet with the Iranian president. It states: “We oppose entering into a presidential-level, unconditional dialogue with the regime in Iran until it takes steps to improve its behavior, particularly with respect to the support of terrorism and suspension of its efforts to enrich uranium.”

Democratic platform sticks close to Jewish positions


DENVER (JTA) — When it comes to the Middle East and Sen. Barack Obama’s Democratic Party platform, things are staying pretty much the same — which, in this case, is the kind of change pro-Israel activists can believe in.

The platform committee appears to have heeded recommendations by the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) advising the party not to veer too far from previous platforms when it comes to the Mideast.

“The Middle East planks of previous platforms have been carefully crafted and have served us well as a party and a country,” Ira Forman, the NJDC’s executive director, advised the committee in July. “We urge the platform committee to stick closely to the 2004 platform language.”

It was advice that hews to the overall strategy of the campaign to elect the Illinois senator as president: Reassure Americans that this young, relatively unknown quantity will bring “change we can believe in” — but not too much of it.

The strategy is informing this week’s convention in Denver, with former military officers and party elders — chief among them former President Bill Clinton — lining up to vouch for Obama’s foreign policy credentials.

Notably, the preamble to the platform’s foreign policy section emphasizes security and defense. Five of its seven points focus on building up the military and combating terrorism.

When it comes to Israel, the platform hews closely to traditional language.

“Our starting point must always be our special relationship with Israel, grounded in shared interests and shared values, and a clear, strong, fundamental commitment to the security of Israel, our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy,” the platform says in an unusually long passage titled, “Stand With Allies and Pursue Democracy in the Middle East.”

“That commitment, which requires us to ensure that Israel retains a qualitative edge for its national security and its right to self-defense, is all the more important as we contend with growing threats in the region — a strengthened Iran, a chaotic Iraq, the resurgence of al-Qaeda, the reinvigoration of Hamas and Hezbollah,” it says.

The rest of the passage repeats talking points that would not be out of place on an American Israel Public Affairs Committee prep sheet: a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, no return to the pre-1967 Six-Day War lines and no “right of return” for Palestinian refugees.

The intensification of concerns that Iran is nearing nuclear weapons capability post-dates the 2004 platform, but here, too, the Democratic Party platform sticks closely to the pro-Israel lobby’s line.

The platform emphasizes Obama’s preference for tough diplomacy: “We will present Iran with a clear choice: If you abandon your nuclear weapons program, support for terror and threats to Israel, you will receive meaningful incentives; so long as you refuse, the United States and the international community will further ratchet up the pressure, with stronger unilateral sanctions; stronger multilateral sanctions inside and outside the U.N. Security Council, and sustained action to isolate the Iranian regime.”

Even as it plays up the possibilities of sanctions, the platform also includes the magic words: “keeping all options on the table” — continuing the Bush administration’s implicit threat of military action should Iran get to the nuclear brink.

The sharpest foreign policy departure from the Bush administration and from the position of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is in Obama’s pledge to end the war in Iraq — an area where polls have shown that the vast majority of American Jews agree with Democrats.

On domestic issues, the platform also stays close to positions favored by the Jewish community, a predominately moderate to liberal demographic. It advocates abortion rights, environmental protections, energy independence, expanded health care and poverty relief.

In one area, however, the platform diverges from traditional liberal orthodoxies on church-state separation: Obama advocates keeping Bush’s faith-based initiatives, albeit with First Amendment protections.

“We will empower grass-roots faith-based and community groups to help meet challenges like poverty, ex-offender reentry, and illiteracy,” it says. “At the same time, we can ensure that these partnerships do not endanger First Amendment protections — because there is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and respecting our Constitution. We will ensure that public funds are not used to proselytize or discriminate.”

JEWS DECIDE: 2004


Republicans promise that a substantive, tough party platform this year will present Jewish voters with a sharp contrast from the relatively scrawny Democratic document — but they may find that delving into details could prove devilish.

The Bush campaign is emphasizing its adherence to old-fashioned platform-writing techniques, going into particulars, yet leaving open an element of surprise by allowing a platform committee to hash through the proposed document on the eve of the convention next week.

That means the platform is more likely to approach the 100-some pages of the GOP’s 2000 version than the svelte 37 pages of the Democrats’ 2004 platform, said Ginny Wolfe, one of the senior Republican platform staffers.

Going into such detail will help reinforce Bush’s reputation as a friend to Israel, but it carries risks for the president on domestic issues, where Republican views are less in line with those of many U.S. Jews.

Wolfe said she could not go into specifics before the delegates get the draft platform but offered some guidance based on the 2000 platform.

"There will be an extensive section on foreign policy and our commitments around the world and strong support for our friends around the world, including the State of Israel," she said. "The difference between the Republican platform and Democratic platform is that ours is both broad and substantive. It reflects the principles and policies; it will very much reflect our party and presidential candidate."

Democrats, stung in the past by Republican accusations that the party is divided and weak, wanted to avoid the raucousness often associated with platform drafting. They therefore sought to avoid issues that divide the party base, focusing instead on unifying issues such as job creation, health care and promotion of alternative forms of energy.

The result is that the Democrats devoted just 223 words to the Middle East, against the thousand-plus words the Republicans gave the issue in 2000 — and which Wolfe suggested the GOP will match this year.

"This section of the document will reflect a deep understanding of world realities today," Wolfe said. "There are many friends around the world, and there are those who are not so friendly. It will reflect that understanding and will again make clear the president’s accomplishments in these areas."

Wolfe said the platform likely would reflect Bush’s historic recognition in April of some Israeli claims to the West Bank and rejection of any "right of return" for Palestinian refugees to Israel. The Democratic platform echoed those assurances.

Also likely to make an appearance, Wolfe said, is Bush’s goal of a Palestinian state, the first such explicit call by a U.S. president.

"All of these issues that he has made public will be reflected in the draft working document that delegates receive," Wolfe said.

Such detail is likely to work for Bush in areas where his administration is in accord with Jewish voters. For example, the length of the 2000 platform allowed Republicans to slam not only Iranian extremism but the persecution of Iranian Jews. That document also repeated three times the party’s commitment to maintaining Israel’s military edge over its Arab neighbors.

On the other hand, where Bush’s record is less popular in the Jewish community, there’s likely to be some concern. For instance, the 2004 Democratic platform mentions abortion only once, saying that "abortion should be safe, legal and rare."

By contrast, the Republicans’ 2000 platform mentions the topic eight times, using words like "infanticide" and "shocking." If this year’s platform repeats that language, it’s unlikely to attract the vast majority of Jewish voters who consistently say they favor reproductive choice.

Wolfe complained that the Democratic platform tries to be all things to all people.

"Lay them side by side; you’ll see a huge difference," she said.

Still, meeting some issues head-on could alienate Jewish voters. In the 2000 platform, for example, Republicans call embryonic stem-cell research — endorsed by the Democrats and by all Jewish religious streams — an "abuse."

Dems Finalize New Pro-Israel Platform


The Democratic Party wants to send the right message to the American Jewish community about its priorities in the Middle East, but its platform fails to include several positions Jewish groups recommended.

The platform, finalized this weekend in Miami, resolves to uphold the close relationship between the United States and Israel. It also negates a Palestinian refugee “right of return” to Israel and says the armistice line ending Israel’s 1948 War of Independence — known as the Green Line — cannot be the basis for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, implicitly recognizing some Israeli claims to the West Bank.

“It is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice line of 1949,” the draft reads.

Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.), who drafted the language, expressed delight that her proposal was adopted “word for word.”

“It’s perfect,” she said.

However, the platform ignores calls from several Jewish organizations to explicitly endorse the “road map” plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace, support Israel’s plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank and justify Israel’s West Bank security fence.

“A party platform is not supposed to specifically negate or support every item of a country’s agenda at the moment,” said Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), who helped write the Middle East section of the platform. “The language that is contained in the platform is entirely consistent and supportive of the road map.”

The American Jewish vote is being watched closely in this year’s presidential election largely because of President Bush’s support for Israel and Jewish approval of the policy positions Bush has laid out in the Middle East.

The platform could be an opportunity for Democrats to solidify their traditional base of American Jewish support with policy positions that match Bush administration support for Israel.

The passages define Democratic Party policy for the next four years. The draft platform as a whole now goes for an up or down vote at the convention; no one expects it to be defeated.

The American Jewish Committee (AJCommittee) and Anti-Defamation League (ADL) laid out policy recommendations for both political parties last month that included support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan.

No word is expected on the Republican platform until next month — the Republican convention isn’t until the end of August, a month after the Democratic one — but Bush already has endorsed Sharon’s plan.

The AJCommittee also advised the platform committees to endorse the road map that the United States crafted with the United Nations, European Union and Russia, and to express support for Israel’s right to construct its security fence. The fence has drawn fire because it juts beyond the Green Line in some areas into land the Palestinians want for a future state.

“What we came to say is, in these cases, you should be supporting these things,” said Rabbi Gary Greenebaum, executive director of the AJCommittee’s Los Angeles chapter, who addressed the Democratic platform committee last month in Santa Fe, N.M.

He said he told the platform’s writers that “the Jewish community is watching this very closely, very carefully.”

One drafter suggested that references to the road map were avoided in the Democratic platform because the Democrats were not interested in endorsing a plan shaped by President Bush and touted by Republicans as more effective than President Clinton’s earlier efforts.

“No, we somehow didn’t mention Republican proposals,” the drafter said.

Instead, the draft platform forsakes such details for more general themes.

“We will ensure that under all circumstances, Israel retains the qualitative edge for its national security and the right to self defense,” the draft reads.

Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, said it’s unrealistic to expect the Democratic Party to go into great detail in its platform because it must touch on so many topics. Platform crafters still hope to streamline the document this year.

Forman said Jewish Democrats did not have to push hard for a strong platform.

“I’ve seen nothing come out but good stuff,” he said.

The current platform reinforces aspects of the 2000 Democratic Party platform, including support for Israel’s qualitative edge in national security.

It also reiterates Democratic support for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and a commitment to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Those who have seen the draft say it also reiterates Democratic support for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and a commitment to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“It’s a good statement of policy. It incorporates what has increasingly become a bipartisan expression of support for the general outlines of an ultimate resolution of this problem,” Jess Hordes, director of the ADL’s Washington office. “We’re

pleased.”

Hordes was not worried that the platform did not go into specifics on issues like the security barrier.

“A platform does not have to cover every specific aspect. The candidate has made his position clear on the fence, as has the administration,” he said.

Democrats say a fuller exposition of their views on Israel may be found in statements that the campaign of presidential nominee Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), put out late last month to Jewish supporters.

That document highlights positions Kerry has outlined in Congress and on the campaign trail, such as support for the Gaza withdrawal plan and the security fence. It also lays out Kerry’s guiding principles for Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which include not forcing Israel to make concessions that compromise security, requiring a credible Palestinian partner for peace talks and increasing funding and coordination for Israel’s fight against terrorism.

As a vice-chairman of the platform committee, Wexler traveled to Israel and met with senior leaders there, including Sharon, to gauge the country’s priorities. Wexler said Sharon expressed concern about Iran’s nuclear capabilities, which will be reflected in the platform document.

“A nuclear-armed Iran is an unacceptable risk to us and to our allies,” Wexler said.

Wexler also stressed the need for the United States to reassess its ties with Saudi Arabia, given Saudi financial support for Palestinian terrorist groups and recent suggestions from Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah that Zionists have been responsible for terrorist attacks in the kingdom.

The final draft excoriates the Bush administration, saying its polices “have failed to take effective steps to stop the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs.”

Democrats repeatedly have pointed to Bush’s support for Saudi Arabia as a weak point in the administration’s Middle East policy.

Bush appeared to be showing sensitivity to the Saudi linkage, vigorously defending the kingdom’s record in a speech Monday.

“Saudi Arabia is working hard to shut down the facilitators and financial supporters of terrorism,” Bush said in Oak Ridge, Tenn. “The government has captured or killed many first-tier leaders of the Al Qaeda organization in Saudi Arabia, including one last week. Today, because Saudi Arabia has seen the danger and has joined the war on terror, the American people are safer.”

The ADL and AJCommittee pushed for the parties to resolve to fight international anti-Semitism as well as enforce sanctions against Syria for supporting terrorist groups.

Domestically, the Jewish groups asked for an expansion of hate crimes legislation and support for a bill that would expand religious freedom rights for employees on the job. They also reiterated opposition to vouchers that could be used by students in private or parochial schools, and to faith-based initiatives, the federal funding of religious social services programming.

But Jewish Democrats said they have focused less on the platform’s domestic policy aspects, confident they would meet the approval of most Jewish voters.

“The only area we have to compete with the Republicans is with U.S.-Israel relations,” Forman said. “I’ve never felt so good about our ability to do so as we do today.”

Making Marriage Work


Like marijuana?

Believe in men’s rights? Want a secular state?

If you happen to have an offbeat or nonmainstream platform
for Israel, now is the time to run in the Jan. 28 parliamentary elections. One
lesson to be learned from the list of the 30 parties vying for Knesset (see
page 18) is that Israelis are disenfranchised, and looking for alternatives to
the major National Security issue.

And while Aleh Yarok (Green Leaf) — the party promoting
marijuana legalization — always seems to hit the headlines a week or two before
elections (despite publicity before the last elections in 1999, the party
mustered 34,029 votes, representing slightly more than 1 percent of the
electorate — 15,000 votes short of the 1.5 percent threshold for Knesset
membership), other parties with less headline-grabbing platforms are really set
to win big.

Take Tommy Lapid’s Shinui (change) Party (see page 22).
Their two-page campaign booklet doesn’t get to their political leanings until
the second page. The self-described “democratic, secular, liberal, Zionist,
peace-seeking party” platform includes creating “a secular state, a free-market
economy, [obligatory] military service.”

Does 2 percent of the country really believe legalizing pot
is the most important issue? Are 12 percent really going to vote for Lapid, a
former in-your-face talk-show host whose primary goal is to secularize the
country? (Incidentally, Shinui is attempting to do for the secular what the
religious parties — and in particular, Shas — have done for years: exchange its
vote on security for social benefits such as money for schools.)

“I’ve covered a lot of Israeli elections, but I have never
seen one like this. I’ve never seen the Israeli public less interested in the
two major parties — indeed, in the whole event,” Thomas Friedman wrote in The
New York Times on Jan. 19.

What this means for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is an even
bigger headache on Jan. 29 than he had on Nov. 5, 2002, when he called for new
elections (can anyone actually remember why?). But it also means that the major
parties had better start looking at secondary campaign positions if they want
to be relevant to the Israeli people.

Israelis, in answer to the question, “How is everything?”
might reply: “Hakol B’seder, chutz mimah she’lo b’seder” (Everything is all
right, except for what isn’t all right). The situation with the Palestinians is
so not all right, and the Israelis feel so powerless, that everything else just
seems so much more important.

 

Meanwhile, here in Los Angeles, the tide seems to be turning
the other way vis-à-vis involvement. These last 10 days in Los Angeles has seen
a flurry of Israel-related events and visitors almost as busy as the Oscar
buildup. The University of Judaism’s lecture series featuring Foreign Minister
Shimon Peres and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, turned out nearly
6,000 people. Peres also gave an informal talk to some 100 of Hollywood’s
glitterati (including Barbra Streisand, Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, Annette
Benning and Warren Beatty), hosted by fellow countryman and producer Arnon
Milchen (“L.A. Confidential”).

A similar group of impressive Hollywood stars turned up at
the home of DeVito and Perlman to hear out another set of visitors, Mohammed
Darawshe and Daniel Lubetsky, of One Voice: Silent No Longer, a grassroots
petition effort seeking more than 1 million Arab and Israeli signatures urging
an end to the violence and a commitment to peace.

“My eight-year-old child came up to me and said he aspires
to become a soccer player, a doctor and a martyr,” Darawshe told some 70 people
last Wednesday at a more public event at Wilshire Boulevard Temple. Darawshe, a
Palestinian, is working with Lubetsky to enact change in Israel, and now “my
son doesn’t want to become a martyr, but a leader. I showed him that a leader
was the best.”

And finally, on Sunday, Jan. 19, some 400 people attended a
full-day workshop at Temple Beth Am, “Learn[ing] how to defend Israel: on
campus, in the media, to the White House, at your office.” The StandWithUs
Advocacy Conference actually had to turn away more than 100 people from the
intense and practical seminar, which included talks on European anti-Semitism,
by the Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper; effective lobbying by Dianna
Stein, the American Israel Public Affair Committee’s deputy director for the
Southern Pacific Region, and Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Dist. 24); and writing
letters to the editor by this column’s most frequent contributor, Rob Eshman.

What does all the activity on this side of the Atlantic mean?
While the Israelis are deciding between indifference and apathy, the American
Jews are finally beginning to wake up from their 30-year slumber.  When I lived
in Israel I remember screaming at my friends in America how important some
issue was, and how can they not know about it, and why do they want to talk
about the lastest Spielberg movie?

Now, I find it’s the reverse: from Los Angeles, I’m calling
them for their opinions on the upcoming elections, the latest diplomatic effort
and no, I don’t want to talk about the latest Spielberg movie.

It might take two to make a marriage work — but usually it’s
one party’s commitment that balances a lack of it on the disinterested one’s
part. American Jews’ increasing involvement in a process that Israelis are ready
to throw the towel at — well, that’s just what the marriage counselor ordered.
That, maybe, instead of a toke of the green stuff. 

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