Former Rep. Wexler defends Democratic platform’s Israel language

Robert Wexler, President of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace and former Representative from Florida, addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012.
Robert Wexler, President of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace and former Representative from Florida, addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2012.
J. Scott Applewhite / AP

By Ben Adler

As I reported for The Nation on Wednesday evening, Mitt Romney, his Jewish surrogates, and the right-wing Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) have attacked the Democratic party platform for supposedly abandoning Israel. They had three grievances: first, that unlike in 2008, the platform adopted at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte this week did not declare Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital; second, that the platform did not condemn Hamas by name; and third, that it did not say Palestinian refugees should only be settled in a Palestinian state instead of in Israel proper. 

Romney’s statement on Tuesday said, “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 [that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital].”

Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL), is an ardent supporter of Israel as he made clear in his Tuesday speech to the Democratic National Convention. “Four years ago, I stood at the convention podium in Denver affirming Barack Obama’s heartfelt, steadfast commitment to the state of Israel,” said Wexler. “Over the past four years, the president has proven this commitment time and again, in both word and deed. And the Democratic platform reflects the president’s unflinching commitment to Israel’s security and future as a Jewish state.”

Wexler went on to list Obama’s policy achievements on Israel’s behalf, from standing up to Israel’s critics at the United Nations, to sanctioning Iran, to the security cooperation that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has praised as “unprecedented.” 

On Wednesday evening, I caught up with Wexler inside the DNC arena and asked him if he has a response to the GOP criticisms of the DNC platform’s language on Israel. Wexler said that the criticisms are all misleading. Regarding Jerusalem, he noted that the DNC had just amended its platform to reinstate the language from the 2008 platform. ”That’s actually stronger than the Republican platform, which took out the call for the U.S. to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” said Wexler. 

Regarding Hamas, Wexler pointed out that the DNC platform does address the group’s objectionable stances. “The platform says that any Palestinian partner must forswear violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and agree to any past agreements with Israel,” said Wexler. “It does not say ‘Hamas,’ but it is stronger not to specify Hamas.” 

Asked why ECI—which is chaired by Weekly Standard editor William Kristol—leveled these criticism at Obama, Wexler was incredulous, asking if I was serious. “They’re a political committee of the Republican Party,” said Wexler. “They’re Romney’s Jewish community campaign arm. The goal is not to help Israel prosper; it’s to create a wedge issue of Israel in the American Jewish community.”

In fact, Wexler argued, this political polarization does not actually serve Israel’s interests at all. “The net result is bad for the U.S. and for Israel,” he said. “The strength of America’s relationship with Israel is its bipartisan support.”

Although Wexler says that Obama’s record on Israel is above reproach and that merely telling the Jewish community about his record will ensure his continued support among Jews, the DNC’s decision to amend its platform seems like an acknowledgment that there was some political risk in leaving out the commitment to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. 

Ironically, the whole issue is moot. Every four years the presidential candidates of both parties pledge to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and none of them actually move the embassy there. That’s because, as Daniel Seidemann explains in The Daily Beast, “There is a shared, bi-partisan perception that Israel can achieve what it most richly deserves—recognition of Israeli Jerusalem as the capital of Israel—only in the framework of a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians.” What is really in Israel’s best interest on all fronts, including this one, is a U.S. president who will help advance the peace process.


Former Rep. Wexler defends Democratic platform's Israel language