Far from home, Obama supporters living in Israel rejoice
The get-out-the-vote organization iVoteIsrael announced last week that it processed voter registration requests of some 80,000 U.S. citizens living in Israel.
The re-election of U.S. President Barack Obama ended a tense period for supporters of the Democratic candidate in Israel who attended a post-election party in Jerusalem Wednesday morning.
"Up until a week ago I was actually very nervous," acknowledged Efrat Benn, an executive officer of Democrats Abroad Israel and former coordinator of its Jerusalem branch. But she said the president's leadership in the wake of Hurricane Sandy last week helped deliver him a victory that was "well earned."
It was a special day for another reason for Benn, who revealed that on Election Day two years ago she met the man who would become her husband, when he inquired as to the whereabouts of his absentee ballot application. When asked whether she was marking the anniversary today, Benn, formerly of Washington, D.C., smiled.
"Well, sort of," she said. "We don't actually share political affiliation, but we share political passion. He's right of Republican."
An estimated 150,000 Americans were eligible to cast their ballots on Election Day. The get-out-the-vote organization iVoteIsrael announced last week that it processed voter registration requests of some 80,000 U.S. citizens living in Israel.
A handful of Democrats showed up at the Jerusalem Coffee Bean at 6:45 A.M. Wednesday morning - precisely as poll results pointed toward a decisive victory for Obama.
"It was planned as an election-watching party," said Gayle Meyers Cooper, Jerusalem coordinator of Democrats Abroad Israel, who thought the election finale between Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, would be far more suspenseful and continue well into the morning hours. "We didn't know that by the time the doors opened we'd have a victory party."
Yet, there was 41-year-old Cooper, a former Washington, D.C. resident, accompanied by her Canadian husband and two small children.
"Welcome," she greeted the group, which had swelled to 15 from its initial five by 7 A.M. But the eyes - and attention spans - of her audience members were clearly fixated on the elevated projection screen behind her, beaming the Fox News Channel: Former Bush chief of staff Karl Rove was still holding out hope for a Romney victory, while the far more candid Charles Krauthammer acknowledged that Obama's victory was a near certainty, though it lacked "a mandate."
That proved to be the final straw for one viewer, who quickly switched channels to the liberal MSNBC, where anchorwoman Rachel Maddow was holding court.
Minutes into their second term, the Democrats on Jaffa Street were clearly reasserting themselves.
Sheldon Schorer, counsel for Democrats Abroad, who could be heard on Israel's airwaves during election night, said he was relieved at Obama's election - though he acknowledged he does not expect a significant change in Obama's handling of the peace process in Israel, stressing the president's repeated position that "it's the parties who have to come to the table with a desire for peace."
He also said he did not think Netanyahu's public favoritism of Romeny would adversely affect relations, stressing it is a professional matter when the leaders of the two countries meet, whoever they are. "This level of professionalism has existed in the past and I expect will continue in the future," he added.
However, he told Anglo File yesterday that he does expect Obama to visit Israel in the next year or two.
"You come for a purpose, and the purpose would be to help spark the peace talks," said Schorer, 63, who grew up in New York City following his birth in a German displaced persons camp on November 2, 1948, the same day U.S. President Harry Truman was elected. "The most he can do is to serve as a facilitator and give a jumpstart."
Abraham Katsman, counsel for Republicans Abroad, who was invited to the event at the Coffee Bean, said he did not fear an Obama backlash against the Netanyahu administration, citing the welcome it extended to Romney during his visit to Israel this summer, and his participation at a Republicans Abroad Israel-sponsored event.
"I don't think it's going to happen," he said. Describing the peace process as "dormant," Katsman said he did not believe Obama would initiate a new Middle East peace effort anytime soon.
Natalie Mendelsohn, 62, says she came to watch the returns at the Coffee Bean because as far as she knows she is the only American living in the Jerusalem suburb of Ramat Rachel.
"I wanted to be with my landsmen," said Mendelsohn, a native of Chicago, Illinois, and a resident of Israel for 30 years, employing the Yiddish for "fellow countryman."
Mendelsohn sat quietly at a table, sipping coffee and keeping her eye on the television monitor. She was reserved, her words measured. "I feel great - not as ecstatic as the first time," she said, referring to Obama's first victory in 2008. "My main hope is that he'll make good on the promises he made during his first term. I think he can do more with Congress as well."
Tova Scherr of Boston, who works at an economic development project at an Israeli NGO on a work visa, said, "This election is more than just about one issue, and it really frustrates me living in Israel - the fact that so many people living in Israel only care about what the candidates have to say about Israel is crazy to me," she said.
"Like it or not, the relationship is not going to change. If it is a Democrat or Republican, America is always going to have a special relationship [with Israel]. But there are so many other local and national issues in an election," Scherr said. "I think that if you are voting in an election for a country overseas, you need to think about what's best for the people overseas, not just in your own personal district."
As someone who worked on political campaigns in college, she deliberately sought out a group of people with whom she could watch the returns, she said. "It's not the same to watch on TV at home," said Scherr, 30. "I wanted to be around other Democrats celebrating and have a celebratory cup of coffee on my way to work."
(Steven Klein contributed to this report. )