Democrats' platform on Jerusalem restored after 'omission'

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer speaks with people during

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer speaks with people during the New York State Democratic delegation breakfast at the Doubletree, in Charlotte North Carolina. (Sept. 4, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- President Barack Obama himself "directly ordered" the Democratic Party platform to restore planks recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel following an outcry, Sen. Charles Schumer said Thursday.

Schumer (D-N.Y.), who also intervened in the matter, called the bungle, which took place at the party convention here on Wednesday, "an act of omission and not commission."

"It was a mistake," Schumer told reporters here. He said the platform committee "focused on Iran and focused on Iron Dome," an Israeli missile defense system, which he said are the two greatest security issues for Israel."

The party platform is a political document and has no impact on U.S. policy. Still, the omission caused the Democrats some embarrassment.

Republicans tried to use the gaffe to cast doubt on Obama in the minds of Jewish voters.

"Now is the time for President Obama to state in unequivocal terms whether or not he believes Jerusalem is Israel's capital," said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul.

It's unclear, however, whether the omission will cause any long-term damage.

Schumer said he made "lots of calls" -- including to the White House -- upon finding out that the plank had been dropped from the platform.

"I said, 'What is going on here? This has always been the Democratic Party position. Why is it changed?' " Schumer said. He said Obama personally ordered the Jerusalem clause reinstated.

 

It 'would have caused damage'

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Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx) called the reversal "a tremendous victory," correcting what could have been a huge mistake.

"I think it would have caused damage if the platform had remained the same as before the president intervened," said Engel, whose district is largely in Westchester County. Engel said he called the White House and "fanned the flames" for the platform change by calling numerous congressional colleagues.

Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) sat in on a meeting Wednesday that included Jack Lew, Obama's chief of staff. Lavine said the quick reaction of upset delegates had an impact.

"That [plank] has been in our platform for years and deserves to remain in the platform," said Lavine, who called himself a Zionist.

 

'Error' wasn't major, some say

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) said the omission wasn't significant. He noted that even though Republican and Democratic presidents have supported Jerusalem as Israel's capital, no administration has acted to move the U.S. embassy -- currently in Tel Aviv -- there.

But restoring the clause required a voice vote on the convention floor and Los Angeles Mayor and Democratic Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa had to ask three times before the "yes" votes clearly outshouted the "no" votes.

Analysts, using a tennis term, called it an "unforced error" on the Democrats' part.

"Whatever you think of the merits of a complicated, nuanced issue, taking that language out without giving a heads-up to Jewish activists . . . has to be one of the dumbest political mistakes," said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.

Levy said that, unlike years ago, standard-bearers of either party now distance themselves from platforms and voters don't pay much attention to the documents. He added, however, that the issue had become a distraction Obama didn't need.

On the eve of Obama's nomination-acceptance speech, Levy said, "You don't want to have to be doing damage control with a constituency that in a few swing states could be important."

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