The Democrats' Jerusalem Fiasco: Bring on the Blowback!

By Robert Wright

The Romney campaign, always eager to lighten the load of overworked journalists, has helpfully assembled a list of quotations about the Democratic convention's famous Wednesday-afternoon Jerusalem fiasco. The quotes tend toward the negative:

"Democrats fumble major Israel issue." --CBS New York

"Widely seen in pro-Israel circles as an embarrassment for the Obama campaign and a battle that needlessly rekindled mistrust of the administration by pro-Israel groups." --Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post

"An embarrassing moment for the party that is certain to be used in Republican television ads over the next two months." --Jon Ward and Joshua Hersh, The Huffington Post

After the list had been posted, Commentary added its two cents, saying the Democrats will "take hits" from "Israel supporters whose eyes have been opened to the nature of the Democratic Party" and that this "fiasco might do tremendous damage to Jewish support for Democrats."

I think it's true that, if your goal was to alienate people who, like Commentary and Jennifer Rubin, are "pro-Israel" in the right-wing sense of the term, you couldn't have done a much more thorough job than the Democrats did on Wednesday: First you leave Jerusalem out of the platform, arousing their suspicions; then you try to shoehorn it into the platform via amendment, conveying a suspiciously desperate insecurity; then you call for a voice vote that winds up suggesting that much of your party opposes the Jerusalem inclusion; then, reinforcing the sense of desperation, you undemocratically foist the amendment on a divided convention. (And, since this is all about optics, it doesn't help that, actually, the "no" voters had a variety of motivations, some of which had nothing to do with Israel.)

So this will be an interesting test. If Commentary indeed speaks for a formidable part of the electorate, then, as its analysis suggests, this will come back to haunt the Democrats big time. By the same token, if this doesn't come back to haunt the Democrats big time, that will suggest that maybe the importance of right-wing "pro-Israel" voices has been overrated--by, for example, the Democrats who staged this embarrassing attempt to please them. (I put "pro-Israel" in quotes because I believe these people, though no doubt convinced that they're supporting Israel's interests, are in fact not. If you want to hear a truly pro-Israel voice on the Jerusalem issue, read this piece by longtime Jerusalem resident Daniel Seidemann.)

So let's see what happens. If polls show an Obama dip beginning about now, particularly among Jewish voters, and if, say, Florida swings decisively into the Romney camp after the convention, and if the Democrats go on to lose the election, then Commentary's assessment of the damage done by this episode will seem that much more valid, and so will the administration's fears of the supposedly omnipotent "Israel lobby." But if, notwithstanding this episode, Obama goes on to win this election, complete with a majority of the Jewish vote, and maybe even with Florida in his pocket, then possibly it will be time for him and other Democrats to reconsider their sad and futile--and sometimes gravely consequential-- attempts to please the "pro-Israel" right. This could be the start of something good--for both America and Israel.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/09/the-democrats-jerusalem-fiasco-bring-on-the-blowback/262027/