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Democratic Party Platform Tilts Toward Obama-era Policies

The current platform reflects a policy that is largely similar to the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton view

Photo: AP Images

The Democratic Party platform approved last week is almost identical to that of 2016, when Hillary Clinton was the nominee. In that sense, it is a victory for Joe Biden over the left flank of the party — the Bernie Sanders wing — that wanted to include harsher language condemning Israel, including mentioning the so-called “occupation” of Palestinian lands.

Other rhetorical weapons raised by progressive Democrats in recent months included language conditioning foreign aid to Israel based on its policy toward the Palestinians, and requiring that US aid could not be used to implement any future annexation of parts of Judea and Samaria. These proposals did not ultimately find their way into the document, and the current platform reflects a policy that is largely similar to the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton view.

To understand why this is a victory for Biden over the growing progressive wing of the party, let’s take a step back. In 2016, I covered the Democratic Party convention in Philadelphia. The energy there was sky-high. During the convention, Bernie Sanders supporters protested everything from how to count the votes of superdelegates to the foundational policies of the party.

A review of the 2016 platform toward Israel shows that it reflects a mainstream Democratic view. Democrats state that the party will always support Israel’s right to defend itself, including by retaining its qualitative military edge, and will oppose any effort to delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.

In 2020, there are slight, but significant changes. The section discussing Israel reads, in part:

Our commitment to Israel’s security, its qualitative military edge, its right to defend itself, and the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding is ironclad. We oppose any effort to unfairly single out and delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, while protecting the Constitutional right of our citizens to free speech.

The last clause is notable. By including a call to protect the constitutional rights of citizens to free speech, the platform framers are echoing a position — argued in court in several states that BDS bans are unconstitutional based on a First Amendment guarantee to free speech. That position has been vigorously resisted by pro-Israel advocates, and in many states their view has been adopted by the courts. So pro-Israel advocates could see the small change in language as a loophole to allow state funding to public institutions that participate in the BDS Movement.

Regarding Jerusalem and future peace negotiations, the 2020 and 2016 platforms are substantially similar.

In 2016, the party platform read:

While Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations, it should remain the capital of Israel, an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths. Israelis deserve security, recognition, and a normal life free from terror and incitement.

And in 2020:

We believe that while Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations, it should remain the capital of Israel, an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.

Additionally, in 2016 and this year, the platforms included expressions of support for a two-state solution and a call to return to negotiations.

Both documents also express support for the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or the Iran nuclear deal. But in 2016, the agreement was already in force, while in 2020, Democratic Party support for the JCPOA can easily be interpreted as a call to return to an agreement that is anathema to many Israel supporters. The platform language reads:

Democrats will call off the Trump Administration’s race to war with Iran and prioritize nuclear diplomacy, de-escalation, and regional dialogue. Democrats believe the United States should not impose regime change on other countries and reject that as the goal of U.S. policy toward Iran. We believe the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) remains the best means to verifiably cut off all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear bomb.

Joe Biden’s top foreign policy advisor, former Obama administration deputy national security director Tony Blinken, said in May that if Iran returns to compliance with the deal framework “then yes, Joe Biden said we would do the same thing, but we would use that as a platform to try to build a stronger and longer deal working with our partners.”

So what does the 2020 platform include that the 2016 one did not? Opposition to annexation of the territories and an expansion of the settlements — two points that will certainly trigger red alerts in Jerusalem. Israeli officials may read that change as an indication that Biden will pursue an aggressive policy toward building in the settlements, as during the Obama administration. (It should be noted that annexation was not an issue in 2016.)

Another passage that appears in the 2020 platform refers to restoring American aid to the Palestinian Authority. While many Democrats (and some Republicans) see funding as essential to maintaining the stability of the PA, others will see the restoration of such aid as a contravention to the 2018 Taylor Force Act, which halted American economic aid to the PA so long as it continues providing lifelong stipends to terrorists and their families. Here is another area where Biden wants to turn the clock back to 2016 — or in this case, 2018 — when the aid was halted.

Another way to view the platform, however, is that it is not as critical of Israel as it could have been. Though the platform does include criticism of annexation and the settlements, and support for the JCPOA, it does not mention, for instance, the incendiary claim that Israel “occupies” Palestinian lands.

However, Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, told Mishpacha that he views the Democratic Party position toward Israel as troubling.

“Joe Biden has invited Bernie Sanders’ viciously anti-Israel foreign policy team onto his team,” he said. “[House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi endorsed the most anti-Semitic member of her caucus, Ilhan Omar, just this week. Supposedly pro-Israel groups on the left have stood by and tacitly supported the biggest pro-BDS voices in the party — Rashida Tlaib and Omar. So they can go ahead and push off the progressive wing from putting on paper that the Democrat Party is no longer a pro-Israel party, but the party leadership has already shown the world that Democrats have abandoned Israel.”

On the other hand, Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, told Mishpacha that the draft platform “is unequivocal in its support of the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

“It reiterates the Democratic Party and Joe Biden’s unwavering commitment to a safe, secure, democratic State of Israel and the ten-year, $38 billion Memorandum of Understanding finalized in the Obama administration,” she said. “It also affirms a commitment to a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, opposition to the global BDS Movement, and opposition to unilateral steps by either side that would impede a two-state solution. Language supporting First Amendment rights and restoring diplomatic ties with the Palestinians is in no way a diminution of support of Israel. These principles are consistent with our values as Americans and as Jews.”

Ultimately, it’s really a question of whether the glass is half-empty or half-full. True, the party beat back the most radical voices to express support for Israel, but at the same time the platform indicates that Joe Biden will likely return to the Obama administration’s policy toward the Jewish state, which many Israel supporters found lacking.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 821)


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