Obama Will Be 'Great President, Great Friend of Israel,' U.S. Envoy Says

Obama win could spell the end of U.S. ambassador James B. Cunningham's short stint in Tel Aviv.

Barack Obama will be "a great president and a great friend of Israel," the American ambassador to Israel said yesterday at an election breakfast reception, even though Obama's victory could have dramatic implications for the diplomat's less than 3-months-old stint in Tel Aviv.

"We now begin a transition stage in the United States," Ambassador James B. Cunningham said. "I want to remind everybody that we have one president at a time, so I don't speak for the incoming administration, but I can assure you that [Obama's] regard and support for this country and his determination to promote Israel's security and to promote peace and stability in this part of the world are second to none."

John McCain had already delivered his concession speech by 7:00 AM, when 200 to 300 American and Israeli diplomats, party officials and journalists gathered at the King David Hotel. Perhaps in anticipation of a dramatic finish, the embassy had erected several large televisions tuned to CNN, but most guests were more interested in schmoozing and checking out the breakfast buffet. Though both Republicans and Democrats were represented neither jubilation nor mourning dominated the atmosphere.

Cunningham, the host, began his posting in Tel Aviv on August 18. As a matter of formality incumbent ambassadors usually submit their resignation when a different party enters the White House.

Itzhak Oren, a retired Israeli ambassador who also served as minister for congressional affairs in Israel's Washington embassy, told Haaretz he hoped Obama would allow Cunningham to keep his post. "It's heartbreaking to come in August and to have to leave in February," he said. Obama will be inaugurated on January 20, 2009. "Cunningham will be as professional and pragmatic as possible and will be waiting anxiously to see what happens next," Oren sais.

Meanwhile, most attendees were more focused on Obama and what his victory means for Israel and the world. "I am very happy with the outcome," said Tom Weiss, 35, a former New Yorker who immigrated to Israel about 15 months ago. "I think Obama will open up conversations around the world, from Kenya to Jerusalem." Weiss, who was wearing a stars-and-stripes polo shirt, said he believed Obama would help the world shoulder the current economic crisis. "We are very fortunate in Israel because of the way [Bank of Israel governor] Stanley Fischer has protected us, so it doesn't come out so much here, but around the globe I think Barack Obama is needed."

The president of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, Debby Milgram, did not want to reveal which candidate she favored, but said she was happy about an exciting campaign.

An estimated 50 to 100 Americans gathered at 3:30 A.M. yesterday for an election gathering at the Jerusalem branch of Mike's Place. According to Efrat Benn, a volunteer coordinator for Democrats Abroad-Israel, the mood was "somewhat mild due to the late hour, but very excited."

"There was significant cheering when individual states were called," she told Haaretz. "When it was clear that the networks were going to call California [for Obama], the people in the bar did a countdown. They reached one exactly when California was announced and when effectively they called the elections for Obama." The mood suddenly became very jubilant, she added, but then it quieted down for McCain's concession speech. "But right after that was over, the celebrating and the noise started again."