There were red, white and blue balloons arranged in the shape of an enormous Star - Spangled Banner, a girl band rocking out to Dolly Parton classics, hot dogs, hamburgers, rather terrible coleslaw, corn on the cob, and mounds of chocolate chip cookies. There were hundreds of American flags strung up across the hotel ballroom, banners hanging on every wall, free election buttons, and a guy on stilts dressed up as Uncle Sam.
Welcome to U.S. election night, a la Tel Aviv, where, at the invitation of U.S. ambassador Daniel Shapiro and his wife Julie, several hundred Israelis, “friends of the embassy,” as they were described by the embassy staff, gathered to party.
No, there were no winners yet – the polls in the U.S. would close long after everyone here had already gone home and the staff of the Dan Panorama was done vacuuming- and no, this was not a Democratic or Republican affair. Rather, it was just a celebration of the elections in general, of the democratic process, and, as the ambassador put it in his welcoming speech, over and again, of those everlasting ties between the U.S., no matter who is in charge, and Israel, its closest friend and ally in the Middle East, no matter what it says or does.
OK, it's true, he did not actually say “no matter what it says or does.” but “everlasting,” “unshakable commitment,” “stand squarely together,” and “the American people support Israel,” all got serious playtime - and applause. And, then, speech over, and everyone once again reassured that all would be fine for Israel, no matter who squeezed into the oval office Tuesday night. The party took off.
There was a U.S. election trivia quiz. Quick, who ran against Bill Clinton in the 1996 elections? How many electoral votes needed to secure the White House? With miniature rubber ducks dressed up as different U.S. presidents (yes, such rubber ducks exist) as prizes for the correct answers (Bob Dole, 270). There was a mock debate – with probing topics such as “What’s better: American football or basketball? And, “Who do we like more: Madonna or Michael Jackson? And there were photo opportunities galore with what was probably the event's most popular attraction, outside the cash bar-- life size cut outs of President Barak Obama and Governor Mitt Romney, standing side by side at the ballroom entrance, each looking, strangely, about ten years younger than they are.
And while poll after poll in recent weeks has shown that Israelis overwhelmingly prefer Romney, this Haaretz reporter’s own personal exit poll, based on preferences of party goers for one or another of the cut outs, showed some surprising results.
“Try not to get Romney in the shot,” two girls in high heels and tight black dresses instruct an orthodox man they have entrusted with their iPhones. “Stand here sweetheart, on Obama’s other side, not near Romney,” says a hippie to his girlfriend as another hippie stands by to frame the shot. Where are all the supposed Romney supporters? “Eh,” says Haim Katz, president of the Israel Association of Baseball, lining up next to Obama and flashing a smile, “The guys who voted for Romney are not here. They are all in the Shtachim [territories]. It’s a pain to come into Tel Aviv.”
“Better to have the party now,” says Shapiro, in between shaking hands and politely deferring the endlessly repeated question as to how he personally voted “…when everyone is excited and anything is possible.” Tomorrow, once results were in, he knows, not everyone will be in mood to celebrate. Although, of course, the relationship between the U.S. and Israel will remain strong, he wants to stress – cue “everlasting,” and “unshakable commitment.”
So, how would he sum up the evening, Uncle Sam is asked as it nears 1 a.m. and the celebrations start winding down. “A triumph for democracy,” says Sri Kulkarni, director of the American Center in Jerusalem, itching at his fake beard and swaying slightly on the stilts. And how exactly, if one may be allowed a follow up question, did he get roped into his particular party role? “My boss said “election night -everyone has a job, and you are Uncle Sam,” he explains simply. “That was that.”
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