U.S. President Barack Obama personally intervened to order Democrats to change language in their party platform to add a mention of God and declare that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, campaign officials said Wednesday.
Chaos erupted briefly 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 on Jerusalem in an embarrassing turnaround.
The party also restored wording mentioning God. Democrats changed the platform language to say government should help people "make the most of their God-given potential."
But the most controversial change was about Israel. Campaign officials said it was ordered by Obama himself to reflect his own personal views. Obama was also opposed to the God language being removed, a campaign official said on condition of anonymity.
The platform now reads, "Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths."
The party also pledges to "maintain an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security" adding that "the President’s consistent support for Israel’s right to defend itself and his steadfast opposition to any attempt to delegitimize Israel on the world stage are further evidence of our enduring commitment to Israel’s security."
In addition, the platform outlines the security assistance Obama has provided to Israel, stating, "despite budgetary constraints, the President has worked with Congress to increase security assistance to Israel every single year since taking office, providing nearly $10 billion in the past three years. The administration has also worked to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region. And we have deepened defense cooperation — including funding the Iron Dome system — to help Israel address its most pressing threats, including the growing danger posed by rockets and missiles emanating from the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Syria, and Iran."
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 to the capital, out of a belief that the future of Jerusalem should be decided through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
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 risked hurting a president's support from the Jewish-American community.
"We welcome reinstatement to the Democratic platform of the language affirming Jerusalem as Israel's capital," the influential pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC said in a statement. "Together, these party platforms reflect strong bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel relationship."
Hoping to make an issue out of the platform language flap, Andrea Saul, the spokeswoman for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney 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.
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. He looked uncertain as to how to proceed when the "no" votes seemed to be louder than the "yes" ones.
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.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on the Air Force One flight that brought Obama to Charlotte that the president 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.