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THIS WHOLE episode might be considered trivial, or even funny, were it not for the question: Why did President Obama put forward this controversial figure in the first place?

An obvious answer is: Revenge. Obama is a master of controlling his emotions. During all the months of Netanyahu supporting Mitt Romney, Obama did not react. But his anger must have been building up inside.

Now the time has come. Appointing Hagel and openly humiliating the pro-Israel lobby was one way. More of this can be expected to come. Any slight nudge from America is bound to be felt by Israel as a heavy blow.

By the way, this blow could be used by the opposition parties here to to expose Netanyahu's rank incompetence. Supporting Romney was plain stupid. All the more so as Netanyahu, who was raised in the US, depicts himself as an expert on US affairs. But no party dares to raise this subject in our election campaign, for fear of being considered less than super-patriotic.

I don't expect President Obama to change the US treatment of Israel in the near future, beyond some small punitive acts like this one. But when we raise our eyes towards the horizon, the picture looks different.

There is already a marked difference between Obama I and Obama II. When he was elected the first time, he chose Chas Freeman, a highly respected diplomat, to head the National Security Council. The pro-Israel lobby raised a storm, and the appointment was withdrawn. Obama then preferred public humiliation to a confrontation with the lobby. How different this time!

This change may well become more marked in Obama's second term and far beyond. The lobby's stranglehold on Washington DC is loosening, slightly, slowly, but significantly.

Why?

I believe that one of the reasons is that the perception of the American Jewish community is changing. American politicians are beginning to realize that Jewish voters are far from unanimously behind the lobby. American Jewish "leaders," almost all of them self-appointed and representing nobody but a small clique of professional representatives, as well as the Israeli embassy and some right-wing billionaires, do not control the Jewish vote.

This became clear when Netanyahu supported Romney. The great majority of Jewish voters continued to support Obama and the Democratic Party.

This is not a sudden development. For years now, American Jews -- especially young Jews -- have distanced themselves from the Zionist establishment. Becoming more and more disillusioned with official Israeli policy, alienated by the occupation, disgusted with the pictures of Israeli soldiers beating up helpless Palestinians, they have quietly dropped away. Quietly, because they fear an anti-Semitic backlash. Jews are indoctrinated from early childhood that "we Jews have to stick together" in face of the anti-Semites.

Only a few brave American Jews are ready to openly -- though ever so timidly -- criticize Israel. But US politics are slowly adjusting to the fact that much of the lobby's strength is bluff, and that most American Jews don't let Israel determine their voting pattern.

AMERICANS MUST be a race of angels -- how else to explain the incredible patience with which they suffer the fact that in a vital sphere of US interests, American policy is dictated by a foreign country?

For five decades, at least, US Middle East policy has been decided in Jerusalem. Almost all American officials dealing with this area are, well, Jewish. The Hebrew-speaking American ambassador in Tel Aviv could easily be the Israeli ambassador in Washington. Sometimes I wonder if in meetings of American and Israeli diplomats, they don't sometimes drop into Yiddish.

I have warned many times that this can't go on forever. Sooner or later real anti-Semites -- a disgusting breed -- will exploit this situation to gain legitimacy. The hubris of AIPAC bears poisonous fruit.

Since Israel is dependent on US support in almost every sphere -- from the UN Security Council to the battlefields of future wars -- this is a real existential danger.

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