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Democrats stumble on party platform language

A last-minute effort at the convention to reinsert language invoking God and affirming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel gives the GOP new fodder on values.

September 06, 2012|By Matea Gold and Christi Parsons, Los Angeles Times
  • Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa drew boos at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., after he declared that a voice vote had successfully reinstated language on God and Jerusalem into the party platform.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa drew boos at the Democratic convention… (Brian van der Brug, Los Angeles…)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The second night of the Democratic National Convention began in confusion and dissent Wednesday over a last-minute effort to reinsert language in the party's platform invoking God and affirming Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, an embarrassing episode that marred what otherwise has been a highflying gathering.

The maneuver triggered booing by delegates in Time Warner Cable Arena and raised questions about how President Obama's campaign overlooked the omissions in the drafting process — a failure that handed the Republicans fresh fodder to levy attacks about the administration's values.

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As both GOP presidential challenger Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul D. Ryan, piled on Wednesday, Obama himself intervened to clean up the mess, directing top political aides to get the language reinserted.

Four years ago, the party document called for a government that "gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential." The platform also said Jerusalem "is and will remain the capital of Israel" and "should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths."

It does not appear that any leaders noticed the omissions this year — or realized the trouble they could cause.

On Wednesday, Romney told Fox News that the absence of the word "God" in the Democratic platform showed that the party "is veering further and further away into an extreme wing that Americans don't recognize."

Obama was also taken aback by the omission, according to a Democratic official, who said the president asked, "Why was it changed in the first place?"

Democrats noted that the document used the word "faith" 11 times. Some party activists said there was an effort to use the most inclusive language possible when referring to religion, especially in the aftermath of the shooting this summer at a Sikh temple.

The platform's silence on Jerusalem was puzzling. The city is a key sticking point in Israeli-Palestinian relations: Though Jerusalem is the country's capital under Israeli law, it is also where Palestinians want to locate the capital of an independent state. The matter is to be resolved in final peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Because of the controversy, the United States has maintained its embassy in Tel Aviv, despite a 1995 law passed by Congress that called for it to be moved to Jerusalem. Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama blocked its implementation, calling the law an infringement on the executive branch's authority.

Several experts on the Middle East participated in the platform drafting, including former Florida Rep. Robert Wexler and Colin Kahl, an associate Georgetown University professor and former Pentagon senior policy advisor.

People familiar with the drafting process said the committee focused on highlighting Obama's accomplishments and did not make an overt decision to remove the Jerusalem reference.

"It wasn't like it came out," Wexler said in an interview. "That wasn't the case. The whole thing was redrafted."

Wexler said the administration wanted the platform to be "a list of achievements that the president is rightfully proud of."

Matters that are considered "final status" items for the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate "were not included in the platform, in large part because there are no negotiations now," he added.

The absence of the reference to Jerusalem was not raised by any advocacy groups in public hearings, according to people familiar with the process.

One Democratic strategist involved with Jewish issues said that none of the groups — including the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee — compared the 2012 platform side by side with the 2008 version.

"If you look at it in a vacuum, it's a very strong pro-Israel statement," the strategist said. "It's only if you look at it in comparison with four years ago that you realize this one sentence is missing.… Shame on all of us that we didn't do that."

Amid the furor, less attention has been paid to the fact that the Republicans also changed the language in their official platform this year, eliminating a sentence referring to Jerusalem as the "undivided capital of Israel" and supporting moving the U.S. Embassy there.

Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said the GOP platform "is unequivocal in its support of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel."

When Democrats moved to reinsert references to God and Jerusalem back in the party platform Wednesday evening, a large contingent of delegates on the floor objected.

After three voice votes, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the convention chair, declared the motion had passed with two-thirds support. In response, the arena echoed with boos and shouts of objection.

In interviews, several said they were bothered by the reference to God. Terri Holland, a delegate from New Mexico, said she thought the word was put back in "to kowtow to the religious right," something the party should never do.

"I don't think it has a business in anybody's platform," she said.

matea.gold@latimes.com

christi.parsons@latimes.com

Times staff writers David Lauter, Michael Memoli and Alana Semuels contributed to this report.

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