Earlier today I discussed the surprising degree to which the 2012 Democratic platform differed from the 2008 and 2004 platforms in respect to Israel. The changes represent a significant tilt toward Palestinian positions on Arab refugees, Jerusalem and Hamas. It also leaves out prior language about helping Israel maintain a “qualitative military edge” over its adversaries.
The interesting question is “why did they change it?” A platform is not a binding document; it is intended as a general statement of a party or candidate’s positions. Its planks are generally written to appeal the broadest possible constituencies. Most voters never read platforms or care about them.
If they had not changed the 2008 text nobody would have noticed. And at a time when Republican opponents are doing their best to argue that Obama is an anti-Israel president, one would expect Democrats to avoid giving them ammunition.
Unless they think that being anti-Israel is a plus. This would also fit in with recent public statements and actions regarding Iran, which they present as a problem for Israel but not particularly the US.
But polls consistently show that the majority of Americans support Israel. So how can this make sense? To answer this, we need to look at who these pro-Israel Americans are; and by in large, they are not likely Obama voters. Most are white Evangelical Protestants, who are solidly Republican already. Some — a comparatively tiny number — are Jews for whom Israel is a major issue that influences their vote. Many of these have already abandoned Obama. The majority of Jews, however, lean Democratic on the basis of domestic issues and will not be affected.
If this tilt against Israel doesn’t hurt Obama too much, where does it help him? There are two groups that will take notice and approve of the change. One is his left-wing base. These are mostly students and others who have a “postcolonial” anti-Zionist (and anti-Western) point of view. It is critical for the Democrats to enlist these activists in the final get-out-the-vote effort.
It seems that just as Romney barely budged toward the center after receiving the nomination, so too Obama prefers to activate his troops rather than to reach out for undecided votes.
The second group of voters is the Ron Paul crowd. They have not as yet displayed much affection for either Obama or Romney, but they will find the suggestion of less military aid to Israel appealing. They are also happy to see Obama avoiding ‘complicity’ in a possible Israeli attack on Iran.These two groups, along with American Muslims, constitute an anti-Zionist bloc. This move locks it in for Obama.
There is another possibility that cannot be discounted. That is that the change is intended to send a message to the leadership of the Muslim nations that Obama has been courting since his 2009 speech in Cairo — Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc. — a message that he is taking concrete steps to weaken the “unbreakable bond” between the US and Israel. Perhaps he is finally working to fulfill his promise to pro-Palestinian activist Ali Abunimah that he would be “more up front” in helping the Palestinians in the future.