In reversing the decision of the Democratic platform committee to omit a plank declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel, President Obama may have intended to deny the Republicans another attack line, but he also added to the disenchantment of some progressives, says Lawrence Davidson.
By Lawrence Davidson
On Sept. 5, in the middle of the Democratic Party convention, U.S. democracy took a big hit. Essentially the convention managers rigged a vote in the manner of those dictatorships that stuff ballot boxes and then announce that 99 percent of the voters support the dictator in question.
Worse yet, the Democrats did this on national TV so millions of other Americans could watch them do it. Here is how it went:
The Democratic platform committee had decided to keep all issues pertaining to a final treaty between Israelis and Palestinians out of the platform. After all, Israel and Palestine are foreign nations. Among these issues is the final status of the city of Jerusalem.
However, the Republican platform “envisions” Israel with Jerusalem as its capital. Having set this gold standard, the Republicans were trying their best to make the status of Jerusalem a major campaign issue.
So, President Barack Obama apparently decided that the politically savvy thing to do was to match the Republicans and put into the Democratic platform language declaring that “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel.”
To amend the platform at this point in time required a two-thirds majority vote from the convention floor. So on Sept. 5, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was chairing the Democratic convention, confidently called for the amending vote.
Here is what happened next. Villaraigosa called for the vote three times. And each time he obviously failed to get the desired result. If you watch the video, you will note that between the second and third time a mystery woman pops into the screen and, in essence, tells the chairman that the delegates can do whatever they want, but he has to rule in favor of the change in wording.
So, after the third vote, which again fell short of the two-thirds required, Villaraigosa straight out lied and said the delegates had approved the change in wording, and that was that.
He then quickly announced that some bishop would bless the proceedings – perhaps also absolving Villaraigosa (who I assume is a good Catholic) of the sin he had just committed.
At this point one has to ask what Mr. Obama and his advisers think they gained from publicly making a mockery of their own rules in order to kow-tow to American Zionists more concerned with Israel than with the United States? Here are some possible answers:
Answer One: Corralling the Jewish Vote. One often sees headlines or editorial comments that begin with something like, “Going after the Jewish vote.” Was that what the Democratic leadership was doing?
This explanation actually makes very little sense. The only place in the United States where “the Jewish vote” is demographically significant is the New York City metropolitan area. In that region there are now about 1.5 million Jews. Their numbers particularly count in Brooklyn where Jews make up almost 25 percent of the population.
Overall there are about six million Jews living in the U.S. with about 5 million of them old enough to vote. That doesn’t mean they actually do vote. However, they have a reputation of being more politically involved than other groups, so let’s be generous and assume that 60 percent of eligible Jewish voters turn up at the polls for a presidential election. That means about 3 million votes scattered across the country.
And just how many of these voters are going to be swayed one way or another on the basis of whether the Democratic Party platform mentions Jerusalem as the capital of Israel? Other than some of the Orthodox Jews, and the more fanatical Zionists, the answer is, not many.
According to a number of Jewish observers, among them Peter Beinart in his recent book, The Crisis of Zionism, today’s generation of American Jews is secular and liberal in their political orientation (which means most of them are inclined to vote Democrat) and have little commitment to Israel.
What this means is that, unless Obama’s electoral advisers are completely out to lunch, the stupid move on national television was not done to chase the “Jewish vote.”
Answer Two: Follow the Money. There is no doubt that a handful of wealthy Jewish donors account for a disproportionately high percentage of Democratic Party funds. Some have estimated that one-third of Democratic Party money comes from individual Jewish donors.
So it would seem to make sense that it is this donor base that Obama and his advisers are trying to hold on to with their anti-democratic contortions. However, despite the propaganda of the Republicans and the musing of the increasingly demented Ed Koch (former Democratic mayor of New York City and staunch Zionist), both insinuating that Jewish donors would turn their backs on Obama because he periodically disagrees with the radicals running the Israeli government, this has never been a serious threat.
For instance, David Pollack, the former chairman of the New York State Democratic Party, declared the report of such defections nonsense. ”I think anyone who would not give money to Barack Obama because of his remarks [about Israel] wasn’t giving money to him in 2008.”
Even Haim Saban, billionaire entertainment executive, who was reportedly disenchanted with Obama because of his less-than-110-percent support for Israel, was back on board in August with a check for a million dollars. “I have, and always will be, a champion of the Democratic Party,” he said.
It is a very good bet that, if the Sept. 5 incident never took place and the Democratic platform said not one word about Jerusalem, Jewish donors would still be contributing to Democratic Party coffers because they are strong partisans of the party. Of course, there are Jewish donors such as casino czar Sheldon Adelson, but he is a far-right devotee and would never give a nickel to Obama.
The point here is that those big Jewish donors likely to give to the Democratic Party are in fact already doing so, and the Jerusalem platform plank has nothing to do with their motivation. So something else has to be going on.
Answer Three: Fear. Could it be that the Jerusalem platform stunt was committed out of fear of Zionist attack ads. There is a strong contingent of American Zionist radicals, allied with the Israeli government, who are determined not only to deny Obama a second term, but also to continuously scare all other Democratic politicians into full compliance with Israeli demands.
It may be that Obama’s kow-towing to AIPAC and similar groups during his first term is an expression of the concern of both the President and the congressional Democrats over the potential viciousness of such organizations.
Perhaps this is part of a larger strategy of moving the Democratic Party to the right, not only to capture independent votes, but also to forestall “swift boat” style attacks from the radical right-wing generally. Thus, fearing a barrage of media propaganda from such sources, Obama has consistently tried to deny them ammunition by anticipating their complaints and moving to satisfy them before they become big political issues.
It would seem that this fear has become an obsession with President Obama and his electoral advisers. And, because they are obsessed with it, they have failed to balance their tactic of satisfying their foes with the damage it does among their friends.
The assumption the Democratic electoral gurus act on is that American progressives really have nowhere else to go other than the Democratic Party. Staying home on Election Night or voting for the Green Party would be “throwing your vote away” and, in essence, helping the Republicans. Such behavior would not reflect rational decision-making. Alas, this turns out to be a naive assumption even if its corollaries are true.
The sad truth is that repeated disappointment saps a person’s will to play the political game at all. Barack Obama might be a more rational choice for president than Mitt Romney.
However, it may come as a shock to the Democratic Party leadership that the accumulated disgust of being abandoned repeatedly on issues of high principle is sufficient to overcome “rational decision-making” in the name of something akin to personal virtue.
How many progressives will feel this way and not follow the Democrats’ path of “rational choice”? It is very hard to say. Of course, Obama may win anyway and then the progressives will have been proven unnecessary to the Democratic Party.
At that point, a Democratic Party progressive may become as rare as a truly moderate Republican. If, on the other hand, Obama loses, it will be too late to say I am sorry to progressives who, from the beginning, should have been recognized and treated as a vital part of the Democratic Party constituency.
Four years down the line, the Democrats can try to patch things up and create a new political approach that brings the progressives back into the fold in a meaningful way. But that is then and not now.
For now, one can only conclude that, come Nov. 6, it will be a lose-lose situation for progressives and their ideals.
Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.