DNC platform on Israel expected to reflect Biden, not Bernie

plank patrol

The party's 2020 platform is slated to be unveiled and voted on today

Steve Bott

The 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

The Democratic National Committee is expected to unveil and vote on the party’s 2020 platform in the final meeting of the drafting committee on Wednesday, a month before the party’s convention. While specific details have yet to be released, party insiders with knowledge of this year’s drafting process told Jewish Insider that the platform’s Israel plank will include language that seeks to balance Palestinian aspirations with a commitment to security funding for Israel. 

The committee consists of 15 members appointed by DNC chairman Tom Perez, and is chaired by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who is on the shortlist of possible vice presidential candidates. 

The committee has held a series of online forums in recent weeks before finalizing the draft platform, which will be approved by the full platform committee at the end of July. The platform draft generally reflects the views of the likely presidential nominee. 

The bulk of the three hearings focused on the government’s response to COVID-19 and domestic issues, with no public discussion on foreign policy, a shift from prior years. 

Last week, allies of both former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) unveiled a set of joint policy recommendations, submitted by six policy task forces, in an effort to preserve party unity, but none were related to foreign policy. In lieu of a public forum, a number of organizations that focus on Middle East issues submitted written testimony and shared recommendations with the Biden campaign. 

“As our friends in the former Soviet Union used to say, it is not a coincidence that there was not a task force on foreign affairs,” Mark Mellman, president and CEO of the Democratic Majority for Israel, said on a Zoom call hosted by the American Jewish Committee on Tuesday. “I think it’s fair to say that it was felt that that would not be productive with respect to foreign policy and so it was not done, with reason.”

Greg Rosenbaum, a former chairman of the National Jewish Democratic Council who served as a vice chair of the platform committee in 2016, told JI that the fact there was no public discussion about foreign policy makes it unlikely that committee members will clash on the Israel plank. 

An individual with knowledge of the internal process told JI that while the committee discussed including a reference to occupation — a proposal from J Street — the panel drafted language that more closely mirrors the views expressed by the Biden campaign in recent weeks: a commitment to the two-state solution, concern regarding potential Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank, support for the U.S. commitment to the 10-year MOU signed between the Obama administration and Israel in 2016, and opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. 

DMFI’s Mellman told JI he’s expecting a “strong pro-Israel platform that reflects Joe Biden’s long and firmly held views on Israel.” 

In 2016, committee members appointed by Sanders pushed for revisions to the platform, with a focus on elevating Palestinian rights and revised wording about the U.S.-Israel relationship that suggested a more even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Those amendments were ultimately voted down

Arab American Institute President James Zogby, who was appointed by Sanders — who is in second place in the total delegate count — to the 2016 platform committee, told JI that he expects Sanders representatives to succeed this year in including language “that creates a balance between Israeli and Palestinian rights.” Zogby also anticipates that the final platform will include references to “occupation” and the legality of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, as well as conditioning aid to Israel over its now-delayed efforts to unilaterally annex portions of the West Bank. 

“After 53 years, there’s no reason for us to continue to lag behind where Democratic public opinion is on this question,” Zogby explained. “There’s support for Israel, of course, but there’s not support for the policies being pursued. I want our platform to be a precursor of what our policy will be, and if we can’t say it in our platform, then we’re not going to be able to say it in our policy.” 

In May, a group of 32 former diplomats and national security officials sent a letter urging party officials to draft a platform that spells out “what a comprehensive effort to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should look like under a future Democratic administration.” The letter was backed by J Street, whose leaders have met with foreign policy advisors on the Biden team and held discussions with members of the committee. 

“I think it’s vital that the platform on Israel-Palestine reflects where the party is, and I do think there’s an emerging consensus within the party about how to best address these issues,” Ben Shnider, vice president of political affairs at J Street, told JI. Shnider said J Street recommended that the platform stress support for the alliance between Israel and the U.S. while acknowledging the rights and national aspirations of the Palestinian people — a “call for an urgent end to the occupation, and strong opposition to annexation,” Shnider said. 

Rosenbaum stated that he is almost certain the word “occupation” won’t make it into the final platform. “Based on knowing the party, knowing the players, and knowing Joe Biden as I do — Joe Biden who has never used the term occupation in the past, even when he has addressed organizations that might be favorable to hearing that word — it is unlikely he’d let that language make it into the platform,” he said. 

While current hearings are taking place virtually due to coronavirus-related restrictions, Zogby said the issues pushed by Sanders allies in 2016 will be raised during Wednesday’s meeting and before the final vote later this month. 

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer, who signed the letter sent to DNC leaders, predicted “it’s likely to be a contentious debate.” 

Shnider expressed hope that the final language will include the points J Street advocated for “and sidestep any sort of public fight” over the Israel plank of the platform at a time where “the party is making an additional effort to give voice to racial justice issues and concerns.”

Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, told JI that she’s “confident” the platform “will continue the party’s longstanding support for Israel, its security and a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” that “will reflect Joe Biden’s ironclad support of the U.S.-Israel relationship, as demonstrated by his decades of leadership in the Senate and role finalizing an unprecedented security assistance agreement with Israel in the White House.” 

On a conference call in April, Perez reassured Jewish Democrats that the platform would be one “that you can be proud of” and a platform “that, again, reaffirms our commitment to a two-state solution — negotiated directly by the parties.”

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