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What's Up With Israel? Explaining Democrats' Jerusalem Flap


Democrats found themselves defending their position on Israel as they rallied in North Carolina. But the Democratic National Convention got off to a rocky start when the party had to explain why their platform did not cite Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.  The language eventually found its way back into the document, but only after Republicans attacked the omission and Democrats held a contentious vote on whether to put it back in.

Every election cycle, Republicans and Democrats slug it out over which party is more pro-Israel. Political Scientist Gerald Murray, a retired University of Florida faculty member, says he believes the primary reason for that is because Israel is a sort of religious litmus test for the candidates.

“Principally, because of the conflict with the Palestinians. That’s a hot-button topic that separates conservatives and liberals.”  

The conflict Murray refers to is the Israeli-Palestinian dispute over Jerusalem. Historically, both Republicans and Democrats have supported Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but Palestinians, who are mostly Muslim, want the region the city is in to become part of an independent Palestinian state.


Israel is also a point of interest because there are more Jews in the United States and the community is interested in what happens over there. Israel also sits in a place that holds significance for many different religions, including Christians.

“Not all Christians, but conservative Christians, tend to favor the rights of Israel in the current conflict with the Palestinians. More liberal churches tend to be more favorable to the Palestinians," said Murray.

Historically, both parties have endorsed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and the language was in the Democrats 2008 platform. But Republicans were quick to point out the omission this election cycle. In an Interview with FOX news, GOP Presidential nominee Mitt Romney called the omission an example of President Barack Obama, “Throwing Israel under the bus.”

“I think it’s a very sad day when we have our best friend in the Middle a nation which shares our values…a nation that’s is under duress when nations around it like Syria and Egypt are going through tumult of their own...for us at a stage like this, to take an action of that nature, to cease calling Jerusalem the capital of Israel, it’s a very troubling development," Romney said.

Democrats found themselves on the defensive as they tried to explain the missing language in the Party Platform. Party Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz said actions, not words are evidence of support. And she cited President Barack’s Obama’s engagement with Israel during his time in office.

“President Obama has uniquely and consistently supported a strong U.S.-Israel relationship. Making sure that the Palestinians don’t declare a Palestinian state, being there for Israel during 3 am emergencies like the Carmel forest fireand the Cairo embassy where the Israeli’s were barricaded in. Standing up for Israel at the U.N.”   

As Democrats struggled to get control of the Israel issue, former Florida Congressman Robert Wexler, repeated the mantra that Democrats support Israel in his speech to convention-goers:

“Over the past four years, the President has proven his commitment time and time again in both word and deed. And the Democratic Party platform reflects the President’s unflinching commitment to Israel’s security and future as a Jewish state.” 

Eventually, at the urging of President Barack Obama, Democrats re-inserted the language on God and Jerusalem as Israel’s capital back into the party platform. But not before a contentious vote on the issue revealed deep divides within the party.


"A candidate’s stance on Israel is not going to be the factor that most Americans look at when they decide to vote either Democratic or Republican. The main issue is the economy," said Gerald Murray.

He adds that nationally, the Israel-issue may not be that big a deal.

“But In a swing state like Florida which has played a major role in recent elections, this issue, which is really secondary in most people’s minds, could sway enough votes to have a major electoral impact.”   

And that’s what Republicans are counting on. During the 2012 election, more than 70 percent of Jewish voters supported President Barack Obama and the group tends to vote largely Democratic. Florida, which is a must-win state for Republicans if they want to get the Presidency, has a very large share of Jewish voters.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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