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Berkley says she urged pro-Israel change in Democratic platform, opening rift among Nevada delegates

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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev. waves to supporters before a stump speech by President Barack Obama, Aug. 22, 2012, in North Las Vegas.

Updated Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012 | 9:52 p.m.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Nevada Rep. Shelley Berkley found out at an American Israel Public Affairs Committee breakfast this morning that the Democratic platform didn’t include a nod to Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel and immediately sprung into action.

“We notified a number of people, including (DNC chairwoman) Debbie Wasserman Schultz,” Berkley said. “I was very forceful in my sentiments.”

“Several hours later, the president insisted that the language be put in,” Berkley said, adding: “I think that was the appropriate thing to do.”

Berkley, who is Jewish, is well-known for being one of the staunchest Israel supporters in Congress, and when it comes to Jerusalem, her position is unapologetically Zionist.

“I believe that Jerusalem is the eternal undivided capital of the state of Israel,” she said Wednesday night. “As you know, I have worked very hard over the last several years to move the American embassy to Jerusalem.”

But her apparent instigation of a change in the Democratic platform has upset many other members of the Nevada delegation.

“I had no idea they were going to do this,” said Cynthia Trigg, a delegate from Northern Nevada. “This has nothing to do with agreeing or disagreeing with either philosophy [on Israel]. But why did they have to take that bargaining chip off the table?”

Most members of the Nevada delegation were not in the convention hall when the chairman of the convention, Antonio Villaraigosa, called for a vote on changing the platform approved Tuesday by the delegates. The amendment inserted references to “God” and to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. They were at a cocktail party with Harry Reid — and had no idea it was even happening.

“I didn’t even know there was a vote going on,” said a very frustrated Nevada delegate Theresa Navarro, of Reno. “I’m gong to be here before 5 (o’clock) tomorrow. We fight to be a delegate and I want to be a part of it.”

“That’s not fair to our delegation,” said Nevada delegate Edith Byrd, of Las Vegas. “They didn’t inform us.”

“I have a real issue with having a vote on a platform that was supported unanimously,” said Nevada delegate Joetta Brown, of Gardnerville. “They should have called for credentials, and gotten the numbers … where was the parliamentarian?”

The vote was not listed on the day’s schedule, and was held almost immediately after the convention was called to order at 5 p.m. Wednesday, while most delegates were still trickling in, the party platform the furthest thing from their minds.

And once it happened, it was messy.

The Democratic Party had passed its platform unanimously on Tuesday night. But shortly after gaveling in the second session of the convention, Villaraigosa recognized a delegate to read the amendment. The speaker emphatically mentioned that President Barack Obama backed the motion.

While Obama has said that Jerusalem would be an issue for negotiations in a two-state Israeli-Palestinian solution, he’s been adamant that Jerusalem ought to remain the undivided capital of Israel. But he’s been under tremendous pressure to prove his pro-Israel stripes for other reasons, most notably after delivering a speech to AIPAC in which he spoke about a two-state solution along 1967 lines.

Israelis and Palestinians both claim Jerusalem as their capital city; the United Nations recognizes a border between the two lands that runs through the city.

Obama also took a lot of heat from Republicans for being weak on Israel and anti-God in the approximately 24 hours between when the Democratic Party adopted its platform and when they amended it.

But amending the platform wasn’t straightforward or easy. After the amendment was read, Villaraigosa called for the ayes and nays. The audible split was fairly even.

Villaraigosa then called for a second vote. From the press stands, just off stage right behind the podium, the nays sounded slightly louder than the ayes.

An uncomfortable-looking Villairagosa looked to the parliamentarian and the sergeant-at-arms before saying he was confused about the outcome, and called for a third vote. Those in favor belted out an affirmative cry that was slightly louder than the no-voters, and Villaraigosa claimed that two-thirds of the body had supported the motion.

Many booed at Villaraigosa’s ruling, and complained that he had made up the two-thirds vote. But Democratic Party leaders insisted the matter was settled.

Berkley, who was not on the floor during the amendment vote, blamed the apparent problems on process.

“It’s my understanding that very few people were involved in the platform process and consequently it came out without what I think is an appropriate vetting for a platform,” she said.

There was certainly some confusion — enough that the two delegates who happened to be in the hall during the vote abstained.

“I would have liked some information,” said Nevada delegate Simone Simpson, who added that the proceedings moved very quickly. “I needed more information.”

But the Nevadans who missed the votes were also split over the substance of the platform change — a division that appears to separate elected officials from other delegates.

“We should not be pushing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel because that leads to all sorts of sticky complications,” said Nevada delegate Michael Greedy. “Those kinds of questions are going to take diplomacy and years and years and years.”

“I am strongly in favor of a peaceful settlement in Israel,” said Nevada delegate David Blackman. “But I am proudly in favor of Jerusalem being the capital.”

“I can’t believe Democrats are ashamed of their original platform,” said Nevada delegate Christopher Preciado. “They ought not succumb to pressure from Republicans.”

“Regardless of Democrats, Republicans, or independents, I am in favor of God and our recognition of Jerusalem as the capital,” said Nevada delegate and state Sen. Steven Horsford, who is running to represent Nevada’s fourth congressional district this fall.

Through his spokeswoman, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid also expressed support for the platform change.

"He was pleased President Obama intervened to change it," said Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthaman.

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