Democrats scrambled on Wednesday to amend the platform they had adopted only a day earlier, after Republicans attacked the party for failing to reaffirm Jerusalem’s status as the capital of Israel.
Democratic officials opened the second day of their convention Wednesday afternoon by calling for a suspension of the rules to amend the platform.
“President Obama recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and our platform should as well,” officials said.
The party also moved to reinsert a reference to “God” that had been left out of the new platform on Tuesday.
Campaign officials said President Barack Obama personally intervened to change the language in his party’s platform on Jerusalem and God.
The officials said Mr. Obama’s reaction on the omission of God from the platform was to wonder why it was removed in the first place.
Scores of delegates booed the amendments when officials announced them on Wednesday. Opponents of the changes seemed as loud as those in favour, leading convention chair Antonio Villaraigosa, the Mayor of Los Angeles, to repeat a voice vote three times before declaring that the new language had received the two-thirds support required for passage.
The amendments were made after Republican nominee Mitt Romney, stepping up his attacks on President Barack Obama’s policies toward a staunch U.S. ally, called the omission of Jerusalem’s status from the platform“shameful.”
Mr. Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan also attacked the Democrats’ decision to drop any reference to God in the platform: “I guess I would just put the onus and the burden on them to explain why they did all this, these purges of God,” Mr. Ryan told Fox News.
On Tuesday, delegates at the Democratic National Convention formally adopted a platform that omits previous descriptions of Jerusalem as the current and future capital of Israel. The new platform said that Mr. Obama and the party maintain “an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security” and favour a “just and lasting Israeli-Palestinian accord, producing two states for two peoples.” But the document did not refer to Jerusalem, whose status has been a bitter matter of dispute in Middle East peace negotiations.
Earlier on Wedesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Mr. Obama’s position on Jerusalem is consistent with that of previous administrations.
“I certainly didn’t hear leaders of the Republican Party during the George W. Bush administration saying that the position government that [the status of] Jerusalem needed to be resolved in final status negotiations between the two parties – Israelis and Palestinians – was shameful,” Mr. Carney told reporters. “I didn’t hear Mitt Romney say that. I certainly didn’t hear Paul Ryan say that.”
Republicans had seized on the new wording, hoping to mobilize traditionally Democratic Jewish voters in Florida and evangelical Christians in the GOP base. Mr. Romney, who is taking the week off to prepare for next month’s presidential debates, issued a statement saying it was “unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama’s shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.”
Mr. Obama’s desire to restore U.S. relations with the Arab world has led his critics to accuse him of jeopardizing Israel’s security and breaking with the unequivocal support for the Jewish state and its policies expressed by previous administrations.
Before the changes were proposed on Wednesday, most delegates seemed oblivious to the omissions and the controversy surrounding them.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal because the President’s support for the state of Israel and the people of Israel is unwavering,” said Steven Glass, 30, a New York delegate. “He’s proven that with his actions over the last three years and I don’t think alterations in the language of the platform is going to change that.”
Nevertheless, Republicans have accused Mr. Obama of undermining the “staunchest” U.S. ally more than any previous president. Mr. Romney has repeatedly said that Mr. Obama has “thrown Israel under the bus.”
Mr. Obama’s 2011 comment that Israel’s 1967 borders should be the basis for future peace negotiations riled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the U.S. Jewish lobby. The President qualified that statement by saying the final borders of the two states would be based on “mutually agreed swaps” of territory.
The 2012 Republican platform, adopted at the party’s Tampa, Fla. convention last week, says: “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.”
Mr. Romney has aggressively courted Jewish voters, who might make the difference in a highly competitive swing state like Florida. Like George W. Bush, Mr. Romney has promised to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv – though he qualified his support for the idea.
“My understanding is the policy of our nation has been a desire to move our embassy ultimately to the capital (Jerusalem),” Mr. Romney said on a trip to Israel in July. “I would only want to do so and to select the timing in accordance with the government of Israel.”
Prior to the trip, polls showed that Mr. Romney had failed to cut into the traditional Democratic lead among Jewish voters, who make up about 4 per cent of the electorate. In Gallup tracking polls in June and July, fully 68 per cent of Jewish voters picked Mr. Obama. Only 25 per cent chose the GOP nominee.
With a report from The Associated Press