CHARLOTTE, NC — Tensions over the Democratic Party's official stance on Israel came at the Levine Museum of the New South at midday today, when top officials of the pro-Israel group AIPAC lunched with several U.S. Senators, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, and White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew, who sometimes also serves as a liaison to the Jewish community.
The senators — described by one attendee as about a third of the Senate Democratic caucus — stood up one after another to express their disagreement with a Democratic Party platform that had elided the usual mention of Jerusalem. Hoyer then stood to stress, repeatedly, Israel's close friendship with the United States, in contrast to the on-and-off alliances with various Arab countries. He also mentioned that he was about to embark on his own 13th trip to the Jewish State.
By the time Lew spoke, he felt obliged to discuss Jerusalem, which he acknowledged he had not planned to do: "Jack let us know that he knew it was an issue, and that the president understood the importance of Jerusalem" — without making clear what would happen to what was by then a bitterly contested platform plank.
People involved in 48 hours of intense disputes over the platform — first reported by the conservative Free Beacon, laid the blame squarely on President Obama and his allies for a gambit that they did not ultimately intend to carry through. A member of the Platform Committee itself said the language was drafted by staffers — notably former national security aide Colin Kahl — and overseen by former Rep. Robert Wexler, and that even some committee members did not see it until this Monday night.
The Democrats, meanwhile, chose not to bring on-and-off allies in the pro-Israel Jewish community — had in past years been consulted on the drafting process — on this year's platform, instead opting to consult only national security staffers who were concerned with not committing to so called">Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin reported. The Democrats, meanwhile, chose not to bring on-and-off allies in the pro-Israel Jewish community— who had in past years been consulted on the drafting process — in on this year's platform, instead opting to consult only national security staffers who were concerned with not committing to so called">Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin reported.
Complicating the process: Some White House allies told reporters that AIPAC had signed off on the language, when — in the view of the group's leaders — it had been only on the bare margins of the process, and had been taken by surprise by the language; an AIPAC statement to reporters suggested otherwise.
As the senators lunched in Charlotte, the issue turned from a Twitter storm into something that got the attention of the White House. Obama, who had long since turned away from the politically costly, and unpromising, Middle East peace process, had little interest in re-litigating it in a nonbinding political document and told aides, in the words of one former senior White House official, "Just fix it."
The abrupt reversal left Villaraigosa and the Democrats in the hall perplexed.
More left-leaning Jewish leaders who welcomed a step toward a Jerusalem compromise were furious.
The Administration should "grow a sack," one said — on the condition of anonymity.
But the pro-Israel forces welcomed the move.
"It was a show of force by President Barack Obama," the chairman of the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, Alan Solow, told BuzzFeed.
Hoyer, encountered in the convention hall after his speech, said he was "glad" of the shift.
"It's a very good thing for the Democratic Party and it reflects the values of the Democratic Party," he said.
Ben Smith is the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed and is based in New York.
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