CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (Reuters) - Democrats resurrected language in their party platform on Wednesday declaring Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel after Republicans accused them of showing weak support for the longtime U.S. ally.
Chaos ruled on the floor of the Democratic National Convention as delegates and convention leaders were forced to call a voice vote three times to reinstate the language in an embarrassing turnaround.
Also restored was wording mentioning God. Democrats changed the platform language to say government should help people “make the most of their God-given potential.”
The most controversial change was about Israel. Campaign officials said it was ordered by President Barack Obama himself to reflect his own personal views. Obama was also opposed to the God language being removed, a campaign official said.
Presidents from both parties over the years have declared their support for making Jerusalem the capital of Israel, but have never taken the step to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv out of a belief that the future of Jerusalem should be decided through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Still, declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel is a powerful statement of support for the most important U.S. ally in the Middle East and to do otherwise risks hurting a president’s support from the powerful Jewish-American community.
Obama’s opponent in the November 6 election, Republican Mitt Romney, is eager to drive a wedge between Obama and Jewish voters.
He traveled to Israel in July and received a warm welcome from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has had a cool relationship with Obama since the president proposed returning Israel to its pre-1967 borders.
Hoping to make an issue out of the platform language flap, Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said Obama needs to state “in unequivocal terms whether or not he believes Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.
“Mitt Romney has consistently stated his belief that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel,” she said, adding that the Democrats’ convention voice vote “was unclear.”
Four years ago, during the last presidential campaign, the Democratic Party’s platform had said “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel.”
But this year that language was dropped to try to demonstrate a more even-handed position in the long-running Arab-Israeli dispute.
To reinstate the language, Democratic convention chair Antonio Villaraigosa, the Los Angeles mayor, had to call for a voice vote three times and looked uncertain as to how to proceed when the “no” votes seemed to be louder.
Eventually, he declared the measure had been approved by a two-thirds vote, prompting some shaking of heads among those in the crowd who had supported leaving the Jerusalem language out.
The status of Jerusalem is fiercely contested between the Palestinians and Israel, which seized eastern Jerusalem during the 1967 war, and is among the thorny “final status” issues to be determined in any peace negotiations.
Most countries, including the United States, have not recognized Israel’s declaration of Jerusalem as its capital and keep their embassies in Tel Aviv.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on the Air Force One flight that brought Obama to Charlotte that Obama had been consistent on the issue.
“The position on Jerusalem held by this administration, this president, is exactly the same position that Presidents and administrations have held since 1967 — presidents of both parties, administrations of both parties,” he said.
Editing by Alistair Bell and Alden Bentley