In the traditional State of the Union speech yesterday, President Barack Obama mentioned one group of people (politicians aside) more than anyone else: the lobbyists. In pointing to their potential to have a negative impact on the work of his government – on financial reform, "the lobbyists are already trying to kill it" – and what he describes as their "outsized influence", does this signal an end to the effectiveness of the Israel lobby in the USA?
Mr. Obama mentioned Afghanistan and Iraq; Al-Qaeda and terrorism; but no Israel-Palestine peace process in his speech. It is a significant omission but not necessarily in the way that we may think. His emphasis on the lobbyists indicates that he is fed up with the way that wealthy and powerful self-interest groups not only seek to influence US policy but also turn the American people away from politics. The Obama administration has thus "excluded lobbyists from policy-making jobs or seats on federal boards and commissions" as part of the President's effort to "close the credibility gap" and rebuild the trust in the face of "deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years". Israel and the Israel lobby may not have been mentioned by name, but who was Obama thinking about when he said, "I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities"?
It is a fact that many US politicians in the Senate and in the House of Representatives receive vast sums of money from supporters of Israel to make sure that Congress puts Israel first, right or wrong. This must stop, said Mr. Obama: "It's time to put strict limits on the contributions that lobbyists give to candidates for federal office." And he wants to make sure that in a more open administration and government deals that are not really in the best interests of the United States are not struck behind closed doors: "It's time to require lobbyists to disclose each contact they make on behalf of a client with my Administration or Congress."
On respect for human rights, the President was emphatic that the American people have a huge role to play on the world stage. He ended a section of his speech that covered the relief effort in Haiti, girls' education in Afghanistan, support for the women of Iran and human rights in Guinea with a sentence that the Palestinians – in both Gaza and the West Bank – should repeat to Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and US peace envoy George Mitchell when next they come calling: "For America must always stand on the side of freedom and human dignity." His Nobel Peace prize acceptance speech carried the same promise. We must remind Mr. Obama of this and not let him overlook the legitimacy of Palestinians' rights in the quest a just solution to the conflict in the Holy Land.
So maybe – just maybe – we have seen in President Obama's speech the chink of light at the end of the long, dark tunnel of Zionist control of American politics. Let us hope so, although not, it must be stressed, for it to be replaced by an unjust bias in any other direction; a fair and balanced approach to the Middle East peace process that makes the United States a true honest broker would be refreshing. The first year with Barack Obama at the helm of American politics was not the year of freedom and justice that many – somewhat unfairly expected. Maybe he now has the courage to make real change in his foreign policy. The rhetoric says that he has.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.