Akiva Eldar, the chief political columnist and editorial writer for Israel’s Ha’aretz daily, has a clear message for US President-elect Barak Obama before he assumes office as America’s 44th president.
"Obama has nothing to fear from the right-wing Jewish lobby," the prominent Israeli journalist and author wrote on Monday, November 10.
The Israeli lobby, led by the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is usually seen as a major factor in sharing America’s Middle East foreign policy, especially regarding the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.
Obama had promised to be actively engaged as an Israeli-Arab conciliator early on in his term.
He once dismissed Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories as "not helpful."
"My interest is in solving this problem not only for Israel but for the United States."
But fears of excessive pro-Israel bias were stoked by Barak appointment of Rahm Emanuel, an American Jew who had volunteered at an Israeli army base during the Gulf war, as his chief of staff.
Dr. Benjamin Emanuel, Rahm’s father, said he was convinced that his son’s appointment would be good for Israel.
"Obviously he will influence the president to be pro-Israel," he was quoted as saying by the Jerusalem Post.
"Why wouldn’t he be? What is he, an Arab? He’s not going to clean the floors of the White House."
Emanuel personally escorted Obama last June when he gave a strongly pro-Israel speech to AIPAC and held a private meeting with AIPAC’s Executive Board.
But Eldar, who served as Ha’aretz US Bureau Chief in the 1990’s, believes Obama has all what it takes to break free from the strains of the Jewish lobby in the US.
"Obama won the Jewish electorate’s sweeping support (78 percent)."
He stressed that Republican John McCain’s pledge to move the American Embassy to occupied Jerusalem did not sway the Jewish voters.
"Last week’s election proved again that domestic issues are of greater interest to American Jews than relations with Israel. The group that believes that territories are more important than peace is negligible."
The Israeli journalist notes that Obama will be serving in a far favorable atmosphere, giving him bigger room to draft his Mideast foreign policy.
"In contrast to the first president Bush, most of Washington’s power centers will stand beside the first black president: The two houses of Congress have Democratic majorities, the press is in love."
He said a new generation of politicians who advocate an active American involvement in the Middle East peace process is being aided by J Street, a new Jewish lobby challenging AIPAC.
Eldar added that at least 31 Congressional candidates adopted by the organized Jewish peace camp defeated their opponents.
This, believes the Israeli journalist and author wrote, gives a new meaning for the "friend of Israel" concept which had become a synonym for supporters of the Israeli occupation.
The same argument was made earlier this week by Gideon Levy, another journalist for Haaretz and former spokesman for Shimon Peres.
"When we say that someone is a ‘friend of Israel’ we mean a friend of the occupation, a believer in Israel’s self-armament, a fan of its language of strength and a supporter of all its regional delusions," he wrote.
"When we say someone is a ‘friend of Israel’ we mean someone who will give Israel a carte blanche for any violent adventure it desires, for rejecting peace and for building in the territories," added Levy.
"Let us now hope that Obama will not be like them.
"That he will put his whole weight behind a deep American involvement in the Middle East…That he will help end the siege on Gaza and the boycott of Hamas, that he will push Israel and Syria to make peace, that he will spur Israel and the Palestinians to reach a settlement," added the Israeli journalist.
"Let him use his clout to end the occupation and dismantle the settlement project. Let him remember that human and civil rights also apply to the Palestinians, not only to black Americans."