With the exception of 1988, every Democratic platform from 1972 onwards included language either describing the city as Israel’s capital, supporting moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, or both.
The 2012 document, however, is completely silent on a subject, one of the most intractable political issues in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Palestinian leaders, who frequently dispute Jerusalem’s 3,000 year-old Jewish heritage, want to establish the capital of a future Palestinian state in the city, a demand they say is a precondition for a peaceful negotiated settlement.
Although no president, Republican or Democrat, has taken any steps once in office to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a move required by U.S. law since the late 1990s – both parties’ support for Israel’s claim to the city has been viewed as symbolically important.
Voicing support for moving the embassy has also become a regular feature of presidential campaigns, including those of Democrats Hillary Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry, and Republicans George W. Bush, John McCain, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich.
Republican 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney reaffirmed in July that he supports moving the embassy to Jerusalem, in consultation with the Israeli government. The GOP’s 2012 platform, unveiled in Tampa last week, stated, “We support Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state with secure, defensible borders; and we envision two democratic states – Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine – living in peace and security.”
As a candidate in 2008, Barack Obama told a pro-Israel audience that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided” – then backtracked somewhat after Palestinian leaders protested.
Still, the Democratic platform that year declared, “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”
Of the 11 Democratic platforms between 1972 and 2012, this year’s is only the second to omit a reference to the status of Jerusalem.
From 1972 to 1984, the platforms included these or similar words: “We recognize and support the established status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with free access to all its holy places provided to all faiths. As a symbol of this stand, the U.S. Embassy should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”
In 1988, Jerusalem was not mentioned. Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis that year did voice support for Israel’s claim to the city, however, telling the Los Angeles Times “if Israel wants its capital in Jerusalem, then as far as I’m concerned, it’s capital is in Jerusalem.” Dukakis was defeated by Republican George H.W. Bush.
Jerusalem returned to the Democratic platform four years later, in 1992, although the reference to moving the U.S. Embassy to the city was dropped – and has not made a reappearance in any Democratic platform since.
Jerusalem has featured in every GOP platform since 1980.
“It is unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama’s shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital,” Romney said in a statement Tuesday. “Four years of President Obama’s repeated attempts to create distance between the United States and our cherished ally have led the Democratic Party to remove from their platform an unequivocal acknowledgment of a simple reality.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said that the shifts regarding Israel “should not come as a complete surprise.”
“Just last week, the Obama campaign stated that the Democratic Party platform ‘will represent where the President is and where he wants to take the country,’” he said. “If that is true, I call upon all friends of Israel to condemn the President’s abrupt break with our closest ally in the Middle East.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition urged Democratic leaders to “restore the missing pro-Israel language” to the document, especially the expression of support for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“This should not be a partisan issue,” said RJC executive director Matt Brooks. “The vast majority of American Jews support Israel and recognize Jerusalem as its capital. It is unconscionable that the Democrat Party does not see fit to do the same.”
In a statement responding to the criticism a Democratic National Committee spokesperson said “The Obama Administration has followed the same policy towards Jerusalem that previous U.S. Administrations of both parties have done since 1967” and reiterated the stance that it is an issue to be resolved in “final status” negotiations.
The statement did not explain the decision not to mention Jerusalem in the platform.
At the party’s national convention in Charlotte, N.C., Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin was asked by Fox News’ Bret Baier about the platform’s silence on Jerusalem, along with the absence of any references to God.
“To suggest that this document and the insertion of two words here and one word there, it now defines politics in America, suggests to me that you’re not focusing on the real issues that Americans care about,” Durbin retorted.
“The Democrats and Republicans are committed to Israel’s future and security, and I’m one of them,” he added.