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August 27, 2008

Democratic platform sticks close to Jewish positions

Party line is the kind of change pro-Israel activists can believe in

http://www.jewishjournal.com/elections/article/democratic_platform_sticks_close_to_jewish_positions_20080826

DENVER (JTA) -- When it comes to the Middle East and Sen. Barack Obama's Democratic Party platform, things are staying pretty much the same -- which, in this case, is the kind of change pro-Israel activists can believe in.

The platform committee appears to have heeded recommendations by the National Jewish Democratic Council (NJDC) advising the party not to veer too far from previous platforms when it comes to the Mideast.

"The Middle East planks of previous platforms have been carefully crafted and have served us well as a party and a country," Ira Forman, the NJDC's executive director, advised the committee in July. "We urge the platform committee to stick closely to the 2004 platform language."

It was advice that hews to the overall strategy of the campaign to elect the Illinois senator as president: Reassure Americans that this young, relatively unknown quantity will bring "change we can believe in" -- but not too much of it.

The strategy is informing this week's convention in Denver, with former military officers and party elders -- chief among them former President Bill Clinton -- lining up to vouch for Obama's foreign policy credentials.

Notably, the preamble to the platform's foreign policy section emphasizes security and defense. Five of its seven points focus on building up the military and combating terrorism.

When it comes to Israel, the platform hews closely to traditional language.

"Our starting point must always be our special relationship with Israel, grounded in shared interests and shared values, and a clear, strong, fundamental commitment to the security of Israel, our strongest ally in the region and its only established democracy," the platform says in an unusually long passage titled, "Stand With Allies and Pursue Democracy in the Middle East."

"That commitment, which requires us to ensure that Israel retains a qualitative edge for its national security and its right to self-defense, is all the more important as we contend with growing threats in the region -- a strengthened Iran, a chaotic Iraq, the resurgence of al-Qaeda, the reinvigoration of Hamas and Hezbollah," it says.

The rest of the passage repeats talking points that would not be out of place on an American Israel Public Affairs Committee prep sheet: a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an undivided Jerusalem as Israel's capital, no return to the pre-1967 Six-Day War lines and no "right of return" for Palestinian refugees.

The intensification of concerns that Iran is nearing nuclear weapons capability post-dates the 2004 platform, but here, too, the Democratic Party platform sticks closely to the pro-Israel lobby's line.

The platform emphasizes Obama's preference for tough diplomacy: "We will present Iran with a clear choice: If you abandon your nuclear weapons program, support for terror and threats to Israel, you will receive meaningful incentives; so long as you refuse, the United States and the international community will further ratchet up the pressure, with stronger unilateral sanctions; stronger multilateral sanctions inside and outside the U.N. Security Council, and sustained action to isolate the Iranian regime."

Even as it plays up the possibilities of sanctions, the platform also includes the magic words: "keeping all options on the table" -- continuing the Bush administration's implicit threat of military action should Iran get to the nuclear brink.

The sharpest foreign policy departure from the Bush administration and from the position of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is in Obama's pledge to end the war in Iraq -- an area where polls have shown that the vast majority of American Jews agree with Democrats.

On domestic issues, the platform also stays close to positions favored by the Jewish community, a predominately moderate to liberal demographic. It advocates abortion rights, environmental protections, energy independence, expanded health care and poverty relief.

In one area, however, the platform diverges from traditional liberal orthodoxies on church-state separation: Obama advocates keeping Bush's faith-based initiatives, albeit with First Amendment protections.

"We will empower grass-roots faith-based and community groups to help meet challenges like poverty, ex-offender reentry, and illiteracy," it says. "At the same time, we can ensure that these partnerships do not endanger First Amendment protections -- because there is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and respecting our Constitution. We will ensure that public funds are not used to proselytize or discriminate."

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