Remarks by Former Ambassador Daniel Shapiro at U.S. Election Night Party (as prepared)

Good evening and welcome everyone!  I would like to thank the Public Diplomacy and Security staff of the U.S. Embassy for planning and organizing this event.  I would also like to thank SheRock and Dblues for performing for us tonight with some great classic American hits.

We are thrilled you could all be here tonight to celebrate our 57th U.S. Presidential Elections.  It is great to share this exciting time in our nation’s history with you.

As we speak, polls across America are at work, with voters lining up to cast their ballots for not just their choice for the President, but for every other election you can imagine from the Senate and the House of Representatives, to state level positions of governor and legislators, to local elections for school board members and county sheriffs.

Hundreds of volunteers are at work across the country, knocking on doors to encourage their fellow citizens to vote.  Countless texts, tweets, facebook messages and more will go out to encourage people to get out the vote.  Yes, even the U.S. Embassy will tweet and facebook about the elections– by the way, if you haven’t already, please feel free to go ahead and tweet about this event.

Every news channel and every pundit is eagerly telling its viewers what the latest projection is, asking if Sandy did indeed blow the candidates off course, analyzing which way Ohio will swing, and noting how crucial and important women voters will be to the outcome.

No matter what the pundits say, or how in-depth their analysis gets, as we watch the results tonight, whether you are American or Israeli, let’s not forget, indeed—let’s celebrate—what a privilege it is to be able to vote and actively participate in choosing our government.  A government, as Abraham Lincoln famously said, that is of the people, by the people, and for the people.

The way to ensure it is a government of the people and for the people, is to make sure it is a government BY the people, which is why we VOTE! It is critical that we exercise our freedoms in a democratic society, and as citizens, we have a responsibility to inform ourselves and exercise our vote and our voice.
Israelis know this well.  Like America, Israel was built largely by immigrants, who came to a new country and built a pluralistic democracy, despite the fact that most of them came from non-democratic societies.  As Israelis enter their own election season, they are preparing, once again, to vigorously exercise their rights by voting, something they have always done proudly and in large numbers.

Tonight, our thoughts are with Americans on the East coast, where Hurricane Sandy struck the hardest, devastating communities and taking over 100 lives.  The recovery effort continues, and those without homes, without power, without infrastructure will have a long road back.  In addition to the vigorous effort of the federal, state, and local governments, I urge whoever can to find a way to offer support to those in need.

In addition to everything else they have to deal with, communities recovering from the storm have an election to run today.  Polls in New York and New Jersey have been flooded and damaged, some without power to operate voting machines or even to provide updates on websites, others have been cut off by roads needing repair.  Some polls were to be held in schools, which have been transformed to shelters for people displaced by the storm.  Despite these obstacles, election officials vowed that elections would go on, no matter what.

In New Jersey, generators have been sourced to light polls and operate election machines.  Special accommodations have been made so that residents displaced by the storm can vote by email or fax.  In New York, absentee ballot deadlines were extended and temporary polling sites were built in tents in some of the worst-hit neighborhoods.

Indeed, what may be one of the greatest yet least noted stories tonight is not the which way this or that group voted, or how social media supported “Get out the Vote” efforts.  The greatest story may be how dedicated citizens ensured, despite some of the most difficult obstacles imaginable, the right to vote, and that despite the hurdles and other true hardships, Americans joined with their fellow citizens in the greatest of all democratic exercises- voting.

That is our history.  It is a great pride in our nation that in our over two hundred year history, we have never postponed or cancelled a national election, durin wartime, or the Great Depression, or natural disasters, or following acts of terror.

Americans know that regardless of which party or candidate wins, the United States will continue to be a free and democratic country, whose government derives its power from the people.

We know that Israelis share this commitment to a robust democracy, and are feeling this excitement build as the Israeli elections also draw near.  Our shared commitment to democracy makes celebrating together in Israel, our great friend and democratic ally, even more special.  And the Israeli public’s interest in the U.S. elections has been extraordinary, which can only be expected given the closeness of our relationship.

Shortly after the party here ends this evening, polls will be closing in the first six states, with all eyes on the tally of electoral votes.

At 2:30 AM our time, three more states will close their polls, including Ohio and North Carolina.  If these counts are close, then we may not know the outcome right away.

At 3:00 AM in Tel Aviv, more pieces will fall into place, as polls close in Washington, DC and 16 more states, including Florida and New Hampshire.  Throughout tonight and the early hours of tomorrow morning, all fifty states will have their votes counted – with the last of polls closing at 8am our time in Alaska.

As the American journalist Tom Brokaw said yesterday, “Bring your jammies, it’s going to be a long night.”

The President of the United States is an almost unique figure among international leaders.  Unlike in many systems, he serves as both a head of state and a head of government.  He is both a leader, and a symbol of our country.  And I look forward eagerly to the day when I can say, SHE is a leader and symbol of our country.

But the President of the United States is also looked to by people around the world for inspiration and leadership, and so we know the world watches our elections with us.

I have been asked many times about the impact of these elections on U.S.-Israel relations, and my answer is always the same.  Whatever the outcome is and regardless of who wins, the U.S. – Israel relationship will remain strong and close, because it is based not on any one election, or any one leader, or any one party, but is on common interests, shared values, and people-to-people ties that are deeply rooted.

The U.S.-Israel relationship is based on America’s unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security, demonstrated by our robust military assistance, our joint development of military technologies, and our intelligence cooperation and joint military exercises.

It is based on our deep economic and commercial ties – our role as Israel’s largest trading partner, importing $25 billion in goods annually, and directly employing 60,000 Israelis through American companies based here.

It is based on our substantial educational and cultural ties –not just our English language programs in Israeli high schools, Fulbright exchanges, and other cultural programs and partnerships– but the people-to-people connections that occur naturally between citizens, organizations, universities, scientists and businesses of our two countries.

We saw evidence of these deep, personal ties during the presidential campaign, where so much attention was focused on Israel and its legitimate concerns during this time of great uncertainty and change in the Middle East.

And what we heard was both President Obama and Governor Romney pledging to continue the long tradition of U.S. support to ensure not only Israel’s ability to defend itself – should the need arise – but its actual right to defend itself.  We heard both candidates reaffirm that Israel is our greatest ally in the region, and that we will stand by our friend and ally through thick and thin, defending her security and her legitimacy.

We heard both candidates commit to continuing our coordination with Israel to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon – a goal that is critical to both our interests.  And we heard both candidates renew the call for resumption of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians towards a solution of two states for two peoples, an agreement that ensures Israel’s security while creating an independent and peaceful Palestine.
While the outcome of tonight’s elections will surely be significant for America’s future, the election process itself has reaffirmed an important truth – that the relationship between the U.S. and Israel is and will remain strong, because it is the American people, as well as the American government, that supports a flourishing, secure, Jewish, democratic State of Israel.

Thank you again for coming, and thank you for sharing this momentous occasion with us.  Please, enjoy the party and let’s celebrate democracy in action. Thank you!