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Democrats in Charlotte flummoxed on God, Jerusalem

Published: Monday, Aug. 3 2015 6:12 a.m. MDT

President Barack Obama, left, joins former President Bill Clinton, right, at the Democratic National Convention, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (Pablo Martinez Monsivais, ASSOCIATED PRESS) President Barack Obama, left, joins former President Bill Clinton, right, at the Democratic National Convention, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais) (Pablo Martinez Monsivais, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Bill Clinton's speech to the Democratic National Committee on Wednesday shared a cluttered marquee with confusion over the party's stance on two words in the party platform: Jerusalem and God.

The 2012 platform, as adopted, stripped language from the 2008 platform referring to "god-given potential" and elsewhere an unrelated passage declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel.

Israel's capital is Jerusalem, but due to unresolved tensions over the final status of Palestine, the U.S. has retained its embassy in Tel Aviv and withheld formal recognition of Jerusalem.

As Republicans sought to exploit these omissions, the party went to a floor vote on Wednesday to restore the language.

"Villaraigosa called the vote three times," ABC's Jake Tapper reported. "The first two voice votes, which require a two-thirds majority to pass, were tied between "ays" and "nos." On the third vote it was still hard to tell whether he "ays" were audibly louder than the "nays" in the half-full arena."

Los Angeles Mayor and Democratic Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa calls for a vote to amend the platform the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)  (Associated Press) Los Angeles Mayor and Democratic Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa calls for a vote to amend the platform the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) (Associated Press)

"When Villaraigosa announced "the ays have it," loud boos erupted across the arena," Tapper added.

Later, Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schulz insisted that the process had not been controversial, a stance CNN's Anderson Cooper labeled "an alternate universe."

Later that evening, Wasserman Schulz canceled at least two interviews, Politico reported.

The controversy simmered all week. New York Senator Chuck Schumer, a long-time supporter of Israel, expressed the confusion dogging the Democratic Party over its relationship with Israel on Tuesday when he could not or would not state the White House position on Israel's capital.

In an effort to shore up American Jewish support, Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schulz on Monday told a group of Jewish Democratic leaders that the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. opposed Republican policy on Israel.

President Barack Obama joins Former President Bill Clinton on stage during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)  (Associated Press) President Barack Obama joins Former President Bill Clinton on stage during the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (Associated Press)

"As she was wrapping up her remarks," reported Philip Klein at the Washington Examiner, "she claimed that, 'We know, and I’ve heard no less than Ambassador Michael Oren say this, that what the Republicans are doing is dangerous for Israel.'"

The Israeli Embassy then issued a statement refuting the claim.

“I categorically deny that I ever characterized Republican policies as harmful to Israel,” Oren said in an email statement Tuesday, the Jewish Daily Forward reported. “Bipartisan support is a paramount national interest for Israel, and we have great friends on both sides of the aisle.”

Pressed on the contradiction in a Fox News television interview, Wasserman Schulz flatly denied that she had made the statement.

“I didn’t say he said that,” Wasserman Schultz told Fox News. “And unfortunately, that comment was reported by a conservative newspaper. It’s not surprising they would deliberately misquote me. What I always say is that unfortunately the Republicans have made Israel a political football, which is dangerous for Israel. And Ambassador Oren has said that we can’t ever suggest that there is any daylight between the two parties on Israel because there isn’t. And that that’s harmful to Israel. That’s what I said, and that is accurate.”

President Barack Obama stands with Former President Bill Clinton after Clintons' address to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012.  (Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press) President Barack Obama stands with Former President Bill Clinton after Clintons' address to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. (Carolyn Kaster, Associated Press)

Philip Klein then released the audio of her statement, which made it clear that he had, in fact, quoted her precisely.

Asked by another conservative publication Wednesday night if she would apologize to Klein, Wasserman Schulz said, "definitely not."

The contortions and frank dissembling this week over U.S. policy toward Israel has long precedent on both sides of the aisle, as candidates scramble for Jewish support in key states like Ohio and Florida, and then slip back into Realpolitik after the elections are over.

Presidential candidates routinely promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, but once in office fail to deliver. "The vow is almost entirely about domestic politics," wrote Lisa Lerer in Bloomberg. "Once in office, politicians have done little to enforce the policy, largely because it would undermine attempts to forge a peace deal in the region."

This is borne out in a fact check at the Washington Post, which outlines Republican party platform statements on the question going back to 1996, always calling for the U.S. Embassy to move, but once in office George W. Bush quietly dropped the push.

Former President Bill Clinton hugs President Barack Obama after President Obama walked on stage after Clinton's speech the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)  (Associated Press) Former President Bill Clinton hugs President Barack Obama after President Obama walked on stage after Clinton's speech the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (Associated Press)

In 2008, Barack Obama followed suit in a speech before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided," he said. But once in office, he quickly backtracked.

The contortions have resulted in some curious exchanges, such as when White House spokesman Jay Carney on July 26 repeatedly ducked a direct question about the White House policy on Jerusalem, insisting that the policy had not changed, but declining to state what it was.

Eric Schulzke writes on national politics for the Deseret News. He can be contacted at eschulzke@desnews.com.

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