The Cable

Democratic platform drafters defend Israel section

CHARLOTTE - Changes between the 2008 Democratic Party platform's language on Israel and the 2012 version were due to a deliberate effort to refocus the platform toward President Barack Obama's policies, two officials directly involved in its drafting process told The Cable.

Leading pro-Israel groups such as AIPAC were heavily involved in the platform-drafting process, saw final language of the draft platform, and told platform drafters they were satisfied with it, both officials said.

Certain parts of the pro-Israel community are up in arms this week over the fact that the latest version of the platform doesn't include certain passages from the previous version, such as language affirming that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, specific mentions of the terrorist group Hamas, and language spelling out the party's position that Palestinian refugees would be settled outside of Israel as part of any comprehensive arrangement to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

For its part, AIPAC denies signing off on the final language.

"Any assertion that AIPAC had prior knowledge of the deletion of language including on Jerusalem, Israel as the most reliable ally, Hamas, or the refugees is categorically false," AIPAC spokesman Patrick Dorton told The Cable. "AIPAC was never provided with a final copy of the Middle East part of the platform."

"Jerusalem as the capital was part of AIPACs written submission to the platform but we did not see, review, or sign off on the final text,” Dorton said.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney weighed in personally Tuesday, saying in a statement, "It is unfortunate that the entire Democratic Party has embraced President Obama's shameful refusal to acknowledge that Jerusalem is Israel's capital ... As president, I will restore our relationship with Israel and stand shoulder to shoulder with our close ally."

A Democratic official directly involved in the drafting process told The Cable that the drafters made a deliberate and conscious decision to reframe the Israel section of the platform around Obama's record, to limit the section to cover his existing policies, and to intentionally avoid any and all final-status issues.

"There's a difference between running for president and governing," the official said. "And when you govern on this issue, the official position of the United States has been for years and from administrations of both parties that the status of Jerusalem is a final-status issue."

The official listed a number of final-status issues, including borders and settlements, that the Obama administration has determined should be subject to negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians, so the platform drafters decided that the party should stay out of them as well.

"There is a difference when you're writing a platform for an incumbent president. We made a decision to make the platform very much a focus on what the president has been doing. It's not a purely aspirational document," the official said. "On Israel the decision was decided to focus the extraordinary support the president has given to Israel. The decision was to frame the platform plank around that."

Two GOP platforms during George W. Bush's leadership of the Republican Party called out Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and vowed to move the U.S. Embassy there, but Bush never actually carried out his promise, the official pointed out. He also pointed to the 2012 GOP platform, which no longer identified Israel as the "undivided" capital of the Jewish state.

"Is it the Republican position that Jerusalem should be divided?" the official asked. "We are the party in power, so the official administration positions on these final-status issues can't be irrelevant."

Here in Charlotte, a huge debate has erupted over whether or not the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) had seen the final draft of the 2012 DNC platform and been satisfied with it during a July drafting session in Minneapolis and another final drafting session in early August in Detroit. Some anonymous sources are telling reporters that AIPAC "loved" the platform while other anonymous voices saying that AIPAC "was not in the room" when the platform was being worked on.

The Democratic official involved in the drafting said that AIPAC had been consulted very closely, was fully aware of the final draft, and suggested some changes that were in fact incorporated, but never objected to the platform's failure to mention Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

"AIPAC was in the room in Minneapolis and Detroit and I know for a fact that AIPAC was shown the final copies of the draft language," the official said. "They were there for the entire time. They were shown the final draft by a number of platform committee members, and they offered suggestions. They just didn't mention Jerusalem."

What's more, at the second drafting session in Detroit, AIPAC's proxies had every opportunity to offer amendments if there was anything about the Israel plank of the platform they didn't like.

"In Detroit, the draft platform is made public to everyone was there," the official said. "If this was an issue they felt passionate about, they could have offered an amendment and there were no amendments offered by Jewish constituency groups. None."

The Israel platform language was drawn largely from speeches Obama has already made, the official said. The language was shared with certain members of the White House who are authorized to interact with the campaign, but there was no formal vetting of the platform by the administration.

Former Florida Rep. Robert Wexler, now the president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, was a member of the platform drafting committee and took part in the formation of the Israel section of the platform in Minneapolis in late July. Wexler independently confirmed to The Cable that AIPAC was present at all public parts of the drafting process and had regular interactions with drafting committee members, suggested some changes to the platform that were adopted, but never brought up the Jerusalem issue with him or others as far as he knows.

"The platform was not a checklist of final-status issues," Wexler said. "[AIPAC] told me they thought the language was pro-Israel and satisfactory. They had many opportunities to raise significant concerns and that definitely didn't happen."

"The firestorm that has been raised relates to final-status issues and Jerusalem. The Obama administration policy on Jerusalem is identical to that of Bush, Clinton, and every president since Lyndon Johnson. It's a false story," said Wexler. "The Likud position is American should not dictate final-status issues to the Israelis or to anyone, and that's what the platform does: It encourages the parties to negotiate without outlining their position."

Wexler also pushed back on the criticism that Hamas is not specifically called out in the platform, saying that the platform covers all Palestinian terror groups.

"That's a bunch of junk," Wexler said about the criticism. "The platform doesn't say ‘Hamas,' but it says that any potential Palestinian partner has to meet the conditions necessary for peace. That's even stronger and of course it applies to Hamas."

He said the outcry is overblown and that the media storm over the platform is simply a reflection of Republican attempts to politicize the Israel issue ahead of the election.

"The Democratic platform's language relative to Israel is undeniably, 100 percent pro-Israel," he said.  "To make Israel a wedge issue is harmful to both the U.S. and Israel. And the centerpiece of America's decades-long relationship with Israel is that it's a bipartisan issue. If you deeply care about the well-being of Israel as an American, then you will realize that this kind of rhetoric is not good for either Israel or the United States."

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The Cable

State Department international convention guests all support Obama

CHARLOTTE - The State Department sponsored a group of international youth leaders to visit both national conventions this year. Every single one of them interviewed by The Cable prefers President Barack Obama over GOP candidate Mitt Romney.

U.S. embassies around the world selected youth leaders for an all-expense paid trip to Florida and Charlotte to see the American political process up close. Many of the youth leaders had obvious predispositions towards the Democratic party, while others said they were convinced to be in favor of the Democrats after seeing both conventions and hearing from both teams.

Alex Buliga is a member of the political executive board of the youth organization of Moldova's Democratic Party. He told The Cable that the Moldovan Democratic Party is similar to the American Democratic Party in many ways.

"We are keeping in close touch with the [American] Democratic Party and our vice president and the chief of foreign affairs of our parliament are here [in Charlotte] and are supporting President Obama," he said. "For the last four years, the relationship between the USA and Moldova is much better in comparison to how they were in the Bush administration. Mitt Romney is a Republican like Bush, so that's why we support Obama."

The U.S. Embassy in Moldova called him personally and asked him to write an essay to apply for the trip, Buliga said. He said that after his Tampa experience, he can't trust the Republicans.

"We saw how many lies the Republicans tell. We watch Politifact and we saw how they lie and if you tell lies you don't deserve to become president," he said, referring to the independent fact-checking website Politifact.com.

Sara Ibrahim is a barrister in London and was invited by the U.S. Embassy there to attend the conventions. As a former liaison between the embassy and the Young Fabians, a group full of what she called "well-known left leaning figures," her political inclinations were not a secret.

"I'm very much supporting President Obama," she said. "I think Obama actually understands the economy. I have been amazed how the Republicans have been saying things which are completely contrary to the economic orthodoxy... In the UK, we've got a conservative government and a lot of cuts, and let me say to the American people it's not very pretty when you've got to face austerity."

Amadu Gallow is the founding of a youth advocacy and pro-development group called This Generation in Gambia. Unlike other State Department guests, he was not supporting Obama before the trip, but he is now. Gallow said the Romney team didn't impress him on foreign policy.

"Before I came here I wasn't sure, but now I'm with Obama," he said. "I have not heard anything concrete from the Romney team on foreign policy, especially their readiness to give aid to Africa. There was nothing said on Afghanistan. At least a minute of silence should have been given to those people who are fighting and dying out there."

Romney's singling out of China and Russia as foes also turned him off to the Romney campaign, Gallow said.

The guests' experiences were colored by the fact that the State Department couldn't get them actual credentials to enter the arena in Tampa, so they had to watch the convention events on a television and get periodic briefings from GOP officials. They do have credentials here in Charlotte and are looking forward to attending Obama's speech Thursday.

Gobi Alam from Bangladesh runs an NGO and teaches youth there. He sits on the U.S. ambassador's youth council and was nominated by the embassy for the Tampa-Charlotte experience. He said he is also supporting Obama, partially because he thought the Republicans didn't treat him and the rest of the group well in Tampa.

"I think Obama didn't do great over the last four years but he did enough to secure his place," Alam said.  "We tried to reach out to Republican speakers and very few of them responded. But we are here in Charlotte and we have a lot of contacts and we have tickets as well."

Qiu Chen is a journalist from Hong Kong whose magazine pushes for freedom of expression and focuses on youth issues. She was nominated for the trip by the U.S. consulate there. She said the trip has convinced her to support Obama over Romney and most of the other State Department guests feel the same way.

"All my friends in the program like Obama," said Chen.

The Cable asked the State Department contractor in charge of the program, Karen Shatin, what she thought about the fact that all the guests seem to be Obama supporters. She said there were some right-leaning guests who were just not around at the moment. She also said the GOP didn't give the international guests enough foreign-policy information to go on.

"I think they've already heard a lot more about foreign policy here in Charlotte in a few minutes than they heard the whole time in Florida," she said. "The Obama campaign seems to be talking a lot more about foreign policy."

The group is a guest of the International Visitor Leadership Program, which is part of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

"The goal of the program is to expose the group to the U.S. political process. It's really a person-to-person exchange program, building relationships between the visitors and their U.S. counterparts," Shatlin said.

One of the Republicans who did meet with the group was Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform, and several of the guests said Norquist heavily criticized Romney's policies.

"It didn't seem like he was a huge fan of Mitt Romney but he is definitely not a fan of President Obama," said Shatin. "He definitely knows what he stands for, and that's about all I can say."