Democratic Party activists in Tel Aviv had come to party on Tuesday night, but the mood transitioned from cautiously upbeat to utter shock as Donald Trump surged toward the White House.
“Oyoyoy” and “Omigod” were common refrains heard in the early morning hours, as state after state was called in the Republican presidential nominee's favor.
The Israeli branch of Democrats Abroad had gathered in the early hours at a popular Tel Aviv youth hostel.
As they watched the results come in on a big overhead screen, some bit their nails. Others held their heads in disbelief, shaking themselves as if out of a bad dream.
“It shouldn’t be this close. It shouldn’t be this close,” said Tally Zingher, the unofficial spokeswoman of Democrats Abroad, still unwilling to concede defeat.
“It’s still too early to call,” she said. That sentiment was echoed by many other party volunteers on hand.
“Yes, it’s far tenser than we anticipated. But there are still several key states we can take,” said Hadass Tesher.
Meanwhile, in a comfy chair slightly away from the action, Sam Baum had just awoken from a snooze. Asked how he could sleep at such a time, Baum – who is not an American citizen but is an avid Clinton supporter – explained: “It’s obvious that Trump’s taken it.”
Meanwhile, there was a completely different mood in Jerusalem, where the patrons in the crowded Mike's Place bar were transfixed by the TV screens – cheering and clapping each time Trump was projected to win a state, and booing when Clinton did.
The excitement mounted as, in race after race, the Republican nominee surpassed pollsters' expectations. As victory seemed within reach, chants of “Trump, Trump, Trump” and “Lock Her Up” broke out.
They could have easily been mistaken for American sports fans cheering on their favorite team in a championship ball game. But the midnight gathering of 70 election-watchers at the Jerusalem bar, organized by Republicans Overseas, was all about politics.
Presiding over the group, nearly all young men, was Marc Zell, the cochair of Republicans Abroad. He has spent the past months intensely focused on the Trump campaign.
Zell sat with a group of his organization’s leadership, all sporting white “Make America Great Again” baseball caps. There had been talk of him flying to New York City to watch the returns come in, together with the Trump campaign. But in the end he stayed home because, he said, “This is where I wanted to be.”
As the night wore on, all but the most committed members of the group had headed home. But Zell and a committed group of about 50 Republicans didn’t budge as the election remained uncertain.
The mood in the room took a significant turn at 4 A.M. Israel time – after Trump clinched Texas and swing states remained neck and neck but with their candidate having a real chance at victory – and tension turned to celebration.
Cautious at first, Zell said he was afraid to say what he was thinking out loud – but ultimately couldn’t resist the urge. “I think we’re on track for something really astounding,” he said.
As Trump’s showing continued to defy the predictions, Abe Katsman – counsel for Republicans Overseas – said, “This is just like Brexit, and just like Netanyahu’s victory in 2015. The polls were wrong.”
Indeed, it seemed as there was a significant gap between what voters told pollsters and how they behaved in the voting booth.
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