How to Understand the DNC's Jerusalem Imbroglio

The whole set-to is about nothing, actually, except the exploitation of neurosis.

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Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa calls for a vote to amend the platform at the Democratic National Convention. (AP)

David Wolpe, the chief rabbi of Goldblog (and also America's top rabbi, according to Newsweek, which for some reason ranks rabbis -- though you never see them rank priests, do you?), suddenly has a challenge before him -- when he was picked to give the benediction tonight at the Democratic National Convention, who knew that the status of Jerusalem would become such a contentious issue that it would force the Democrats to stage a banana republic-style platform adjustment? Good luck, David.

The whole set-to today is about nothing, actually, except the exploitation of neurosis. There are obviously supporters of Israel in America who believe that President Obama will sell Israel down the river if he's reelected, and there are many people affiliated with the Republican Party who want to advance that idea, and so play on this fear. That faction won big today. This was an unforced error by the Democrats, but an error about nothing meaningful (I haven't seen anything to suggest that Jerusalem was dropped from the initial platform because Democratic Party leaders don't believe that Jerusalem is, or should be, the capital of Israel.)

There are better issues on which to judge Obama's record on Middle East issues than Jerusalem (though, just to underscore this point, he's never suggested that Jerusalem wasn't the capital of the Jewish state), including joint missile defense work, military-to-military cooperation, the robust defense of Israel by the U.S. at the United Nations, and, of course, on the Administration's handling of Iran, which is the actual pressing, existential threat facing Israel. Obama has done more to thwart Iran than any other world leader (and more than his predecessor, who identified Iran early on as a member of the Axis of Evil), and he has publicly committed himself to stopping Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold by whatever means necessary. Obviously, more needs to be done, and on other issues, he's made serious missteps -- the demand for a unilateral settlement freeze with no thought to follow-up. But overall, there's nothing in Obama's record to suggest some sort of deep hostility to a strong Israel, safe from Iran, with Jerusalem as its capital.

And, by the way, the notion that the U.S. should move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (which is what this dispute is ultimately about) is a flawed one. In a perfect world, the U.S. would move the embassy to a neighborhood of West Jerusalem that has been part of Israel since the state's founding, but it's not a perfect world, and the U.S. -- and Israel -- need Arab support on many different issues, including counterterrorism and Iran. Moving the embassy would cause an eruption in the Middle East, where people have been led to believe by propagandists that Jews have no right to Jerusalem, and no connection to Jerusalem. Again, in a perfect world, this wouldn't be so, but reality is what it is. Why the U.S. should waste political capital on an issue like this when there is so much actual work to be done is beyond me.  

As for the booing by convention delegates when the issue was reopened, some of it was motivated by anti-Israel feeling, I'm sure, but much of it, from my impression, was motivated by the ridiculous manner in which the issue was put to the convention.

More later. 

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.


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