The Republican candidates for president seem to be trying to outdo themselves in letting Jewish voters know that they are the best candidates for anyone who cares about Israel and its security. President Barack Obama and his supporters, meanwhile, seek to make the case that he is Israel’s true friend.
One candidate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, said that he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv if elected. Not to be outdone, Rep. Michelle Bachman said she would do so almost the moment she sets foot in the Oval Office for the first time. In fact, she said, “I already have secured a donor who said they will personally pay for the ambassador’s home to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”
A survey of past elections, however, shows that what a candidate or party says about Israel while running for office is vastly different from the post-election reality. The status of Jerusalem is the perfect example.
In 1976, the Democratic Party, in its presidential platform, declared that it recognized “the established status of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with free access to all its holy places provided to all faiths. As a symbol of this stand, the U.S. embassy should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”
It repeated this plank in 1980, although President Jimmy Carter’s supporters succeeded in adding a qualifier, “At the same time, it is recognized that the Democratic administration has special responsibilities resulting from its deep engagement in the delicate process of promoting a wider peace for Israel.”
The qualifier was opposed by Carter’s opponent for the nomination, Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. It effectively made the plank meaningless because it gave the president latitude not to move the embassy if he so chose.
A week after the platform was adopted, the United Nations Security Council voted to condemn Israel for declaring Jerualem its capital. The United States abstained on that vote, rather than veto it. Carter’s GOP rival, Ronald Reagan, attacked the resolution and Carter, too. The resolution, he said, “presumes to direct other nations, including our Dutch ally, to move their embassies from Jerusalem by prejudging this most sensitive issue.” Reagan then continued:
“I am shocked that the Carter administration, which has made so much of its attempts to bring about peace in the Middle East, abstained from voting. By doing so, it also encourages the unrelenting harassment of Israel rather than standing in firm opposition to it.”
Reagan’s statement was seen as an endorsement of the position that Jerusalem was Israel’s capital and that embassies should be located there, presumably including the U.S. embassy. His campaign did nothing to disabuse anyone of this. Rather, he and his minions continued to hammer away at the lack of a U.S. veto.
Yet, in 1982, Reagan said that while the United States remained “convinced that Jerusalem must remain undivided…, its final status should be decided through negotiations.” And in 1984, he threatened to veto a bill that would have recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and ordered the U.S. embassy moved to Jerusalem.
As vice president and then as a candidate for president, George H.W. Bush supported the Reagan position. However, as president, Bush took the United States a step back. On March 3, 1990, for example, during a White House press conference, he referred to east Jerusalem as occupied territory and said the United States did not support Israel’s claim to it.
In October 1995, Congress gave President Bill Clinton a golden opportunity to deal with the Jerualem issue once and for all. It voted to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, to require official documents to refer to “Jerusalem, Israel,” and to move the embassy. It added a qualifier, however, allowing the president to certify every six months that to move the embassy was not in the national interests, a fallback to the 1980 Carter qualifier in the Democratic platform.
In July 2000, Clinton said that he personally favored relocating the embassy, but he left office six months later without ever doing so.
George W. Bush routinely signed similar waivers every six months while in office. In October 2002, Congress passed a new law, this time adding the requirement that U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem be allowed to have Israel listed on their official papers as their birth country. Bush signed the law, but issued a signing statement explaining why his administration would not obey it.
Since taking office, Barack Obama has signed the Jerusalem waivers every six months, as required by law.