After celebrations, U.S. Jews' thoughts turn to ties with Israel
While President Obama's supporters are contented, the results show a divided nation and a serious erosion of the Jewish Democratic vote.
Chicago - On Election Day, Obama volunteers here made last-minute calls to the swing states. Most of them them were so confident in Obama's victory it was unclear why they even bothered to spend hours talking to strangers, some of whom were outright rude. Frank Diaz, a former banker volunteering at the location on South Wabash street, with cardboard figures of the President and the First Lady at the entrance, spent three weeks, five hours each day, making these calls, although he had "no doubt, not for a second" Obama would remain in the White House.
"I just wanted to make sure I did everything I could to help," he said. Diaz says he never met Obama in person, but has been following his career for years.
On Tuesday, Barack Obama made some phone calls with volunteers, some interviews (with the swing states media ); played the traditional Election Day basketball game - and even managed to squeeze in a dinner at the family residence that stands empty most of the year and will remain empty for another four years. His motorcade went on to the Fairmont Hotel in downtown Chicago, to watch the elections results with his family, close friends and aides (some of whom are all three ). Obama arrived at his victory party at 12:22 A.M., but the many excited supporters there were busy celebrating, ignoring the clock.
It was a long night for Obama's supporters gathered at McCormick Center. At times, faces became tense - when Mitt Romney pulled ahead in the electoral count, for example. But when California and other states brought a boost to Obama, the celebration began, long before the candidate garnered 303 electors, passing the 270 needed for victory. The cheering began, and didn't subside until the end of the night. Human "waves" began, and some dancing too, as far as the densely crowded place allowed. The crowd was typically Obama's, or Democrat: mixed, inclusive, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Jewish, young, old, hands holding phones, flags, and Obama's photo.
Mitt Romney, probably waiting for Ohio results, delayed his concession speech and some in Obama's crowd grew impatient, asking whether he could at least lose gracefully - and finally, he did, with a short speech at his Boston headquarters. In Chicago, the Obamas went on stage - many noted how the two girls, Malia and Sasha, had grown up.
'E pluribus unum'
This time, there was a roof above and a rainy night outside. It was a classical "e pluribus unum" speech, with Obama congratulating his rival and saying he intends to sit with him and talk over how this country can move forward. With a big electoral victory but only a slim popular vote advantage, Obama tried to push for the togetherness feeling in a deeply divided country. Every message was greeted with loud cheers. "Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated," he said (some in Israel could certainly identify with that ). "And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy. That won't change after tonight - and it shouldn't." "These arguments we have are a mark of our liberty, and we can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today."
"I have never been more hopeful about America. And I ask you to sustain that hope," the President said. Someone from the crowd yelled: "We've got your back!"
Among those celebrating was Alan Solow, former Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an early Obama supporter and one of his campaign co-chairs. Like many at McCormick Center, he had had a long day.
"I have always felt the President would prevail because he was the superior candidate," he told Haaretz. "He took office at a challenging time and has turned our country around. We believed the race was essentially stable for a long period and that the President would win a relatively close election."
"Tonight," he added, "is a great night for our country. A person of great integrity who has lived up to his commitments has been re-elected as President. As someone who has known him for many years, I am thrilled at this affirmation of his leadership. As one of his national campaign co-chairs, I am delighted with our victory. As a Jew who cares deeply about Israel, I am certain that he will continue to enhance the important relationship between the U.S. and Israel, and I know he is committed to preventing Iran from having a nuclear weapon."
At the Jewish DC-based "hub" that led Obama's outreach effort to the Jewish media, people didn't try to conceal their joy. Steve Rabinowitz, former Clinton White House press aide, the man behind the effort, bragged: "We were out-spent by Jewish Republicans by over $40 million dollars and they only have four points and another four years in exile to show for it. Some mazel." (For the Republican Jewish Coalition, it took until Wednesday morning to properly congratulate President Obama on his reelection, mentioning, however, that "one clear take-away from the outcome of this election is that the Jewish community spoke loudly and clearly regarding their concerns about the policies of the Obama administration. Early exit polls results indicate a significant erosion of support for the President from 78 percent of the Jewish vote in 2008 to 69 percent in 2012. The trend in the Jewish community is unmistakeable" ).
Challenges, however, were quickly put back on the table. The pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, along with other Jewish organizations, congratulated Obama on his victory. "We look forward to continuing to work with him and his Administration to further strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship," said their statement. "President Obama has made it clear during the past four years that he and his Administration are strongly committed to solidarity with Israel in confronting the many security challenges that she and our own nation face. As the President stated in the campaign, Israel 'is our greatest ally in the region.' President Obama has also promised that Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon as long as he is president. To this end, we look forward to working with him and his Administration and Congress in the coming months to thwart Iran's nuclear quest."
What is striking, they pointed out, is that "both candidates for the Presidency were firmly supportive of the U.S.-Israel relationship. Their commitment is reflected in the newly elected Congress which will strengthen the bi-partisan, rock-solid bond between America and Israel."
The Congress, by the way, will remain as gridlocked as it was, with the House controlled by the Republicans and Senate by the Democrats (with some new faces to greet at the halls of the Capitol - Elizabeth Warren retook Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts seat, defeating the Republican senator Scott Brown and becoming the first woman - and a liberal one - to represent the state in the U.S. Senate. In Wisconsin, the same story with Tammy Baldwin, who also became the first openly gay U.S. Senator, defeating former Governor Tommy Thompson.
In the Jewish field, there were some inevitable dramas. In Nevada, one of the staunchest supporters of Israel, Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV ), lost her bid for the Senate. The National Jewish Democratic Council lamented the loss: "Shelley Berkley has been a key voice on so many Jewish communal issues - from her powerful voice on Israel, to reproductive freedom, to essential social safety net issues - that it is deeply disheartening to know that her voice will not be returning to Capitol Hill in the next Congress." In California, redrawing of districts brought about a clash of two prominent Jewish members of Congress - Howard Berman and Brad Sherman. Sherman won. Here, NJDS was obviously torn - congratulating one on victory and regretting other's defeat.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach's race in New Jersey's ninth congressional district was lost to Congressman Bill Pascrell - but Boteach wrote in his blog: "Thank G-d, I'm in a good place and miraculously in a good frame of mind. ... I don't feel sadness but contentment, I feel we met many of those goals and I'm grateful to G-d for having made it through the campaign with a positive message."