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Platforms and policies — clear as mud
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Platforms and policies — clear as mud

Terrorist attacks in Miami, Nice, Munich, and elsewhere coupled with reports and analysis of the Republican and Democratic conventions have kicked news about Israel — and the Middle East in general — off the front page. While Israel is still making news, you have to search a bit harder to find it.

Since Israel is still of interest to American politicos, I thought it would be informative to see how Israel is faring in the world of 2016 presidential politics.

As of this writing, the Republican National Convention has just wrapped up after nominating Donald Trump as its candidate. Political opposition and mainstream media have labeled him a fascist, Nazi, and anti-Semite, despite the fact that his daughter, Ivanka, converted to Judaism before marrying the Orthodox Jared Kushner — a NY publisher and real estate developer originally from New Jersey.

The Republican platform expresses “unequivocal support” for Israel and, significantly, removes past calls for a two-state solution. Branding Israel an “exceptional country,” the platform contains comparisons between the United States and Israel, characterizing Israel as a bastion of liberty. The document declares Jerusalem “the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state,” a key departure from the 2012 platform, which envisioned “two democratic states — Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine.”

The platform commits to Israel’s security, pledging to make sure its military always has an “edge” over its adversaries and rejecting the notion that the country is an “occupier.”

Despite not calling for a two-state solution, the GOP platform states that peace in the region is a primary goal: “The United States seeks to assist in the establishment of comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East, to be negotiated among those living in the region.”

Commenting on the Republican platform, The Jerusalem Post stated that the GOP “continued its slow embrace of the philosophy of…Donald Trump,” elaborating: “That newfound Republican isolationism has unexpected repercussions for Israel. The party’s decade-old embrace of a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians has now fallen by the wayside thanks to Trump, who does not favor a U.S.-brokered peace effort, according to his Mideast advisers.”

Israel is a sensitive subject for Democrats since American Jews overwhelmingly vote Democratic and are big financial contributors to both the party and its candidates.

In 2012, Israel was front and center at the Democratic convention. In a change from the 2008 platform, the Democrats took out references to Jerusalem being the capital of Israel. President Obama intervened to have the 2008 wording reinstated, which it was — after three contentious voice votes. In retrospect, the proposed change and combative vote presaged the emergence of progressives as the dominant faction of the Democratic Party this year.

Contender Bernie Sanders successfully pushed Hillary Clinton, and Democrats generally, to the left. To appeal to his supporters, Sanders was given substantial influence over the Democratic platform. Sanders is on record as wanting the United States to play a more neutral role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Two of Sanders’s appointees to the platform committee were James Zogby, a longtime activist for Palestinian rights, and Cornel West, an advocate for the BDS — boycott, divestment, and sanctions — movement that advocates economic war on Israel.

Writing in Haaretz, Asher Schechter said Sanders’s appointees on the platform committee reportedly tried to pass an amendment that would have called for an end to the Israeli occupation and “illegal settlements,” and called for rebuilding Gaza. The amendment would have reaffirmed American support for Israel, but would also have recognized Palestinian concerns. The amendment was ultimately defeated, leaving the final draft with a vague call for Palestinian “dignity,” without specifying what “dignity” actually means. 

Schechter’s evaluation of the Democratic platform on Israel was: “Essentially, the platform offers no movement on the traditional Democratic approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: obligatory lip service to the idea of a two-state solution combined with an uncritical support for Israel.”

Molly O’Toole, in Foreign Policy, had a different opinion. “Compared with past platforms, the subtle shifts are significant,” she wrote, explaining, “Underscoring the continued combustibility of the issue, both the DNC and supporters of Clinton and Sanders have kept the seemingly small but significant changes quiet.”

Another way of divining each party’s stand on Israel is to look at the bottom of the ticket.

Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, reports The Algemeiner, “is viewed as a strong advocate for the Jewish state who can bolster Trump’s sometimes shaky relationship with Jewish leaders.” Pence, an evangelical Christian, has noted that his strong support for Israel is rooted in his faith.

The Jerusalem Post writes that Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine has made the Middle East one of his fortes. He has been a vocal supporter of assistance to Israel but found himself at odds with the pro-Israel lobby and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Iran nuclear deal. He skipped Netanyahu’s March 2015 speech to Congress against the emerging deal, saying Netanyahu had not acted in good faith in coordinating the speech with Republicans. Subsequently, Kaine has worked to improve ties between the prime minister and Senate Democrats.

As Harry Belafonte sang, “It was clear as mud, but it covered the ground.” 

The Democratic convention takes place this week; the platform has not been officially released but there are reports that the Sandernistas will submit a minority platform plank on Israel.

I can’t wait for the presidential candidates’ debate on foreign policy for clarification.

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