Why is US President Barack Obama coming to Israel today? In 2008, then president George W. Bush came to celebrate Israel's 60th Independence Day, and to reject Israeli requests for assistance in destroying Iran's nuclear installations.
In 1996, then-president Bill Clinton came to Israel to help then-prime minister Shimon Peres's electoral campaign against Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu.
It is possible that Obama is coming here in order to build up pro-Israel bonafides. But why would he bother? Obama won his reelection bid with the support of the overwhelming majority of American Jews. Their support vindicated his hostility toward Israel in his first term. He has nothing to prove.
It is worth comparing Obama's visit to Israel at the start of his second term of office, with his visit to Cairo at the outset of his first term in office.
Ahead of that trip, the new administration promised that the visit, and particularly Obama's "Address to the Muslim World," would serve as a starting point for a new US policy in the Middle East. And Obama lived up to expectations.
In speaking to the "Muslim World," Obama signaled that the US now supported pan-Islamists at the expense of US allies and Arab nationalist leaders, first and foremost then Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Moreover, in castigating Israel for its so-called "settlements"; channeling Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad by intimating that Israel exists because of the Holocaust; and failing to travel from Cairo to Jerusalem, preferring instead to visit a Nazi death camp in Germany, Obama signaled that he was downgrading US ties with the Jewish state.
In sharp contrast to the high expectations the Obama White House cultivated in pre-Cairo visit statements and leaks, Obama and his advisers have downplayed the importance of his visit to Israel, signaling there will be no significant changes in Obama's policies toward Israel or the wider Middle East.
For instance, in his interview with Israel television's Channel 2 last week, on issue after issue, Obama made clear that there will be no departure from his first term's policies. He will continue to speak firmly and do nothing to prevent Iran from developing the means to produce nuclear weapons.
He will not release convicted Israeli agent Jonathan Pollard from federal prison despite the fact that Pollard's life sentence, and the 28 years he has already served in prison are grossly disproportionate to all sentences passed on and served by offenders who committed similar crimes.
As for the Palestinians, Obama repeated his fierce opposition to Jewish communities beyond the 1949 armistice lines, and his insistence that Israel must get over its justified fears regarding Palestinian intentions and withdraw from Judea and Samaria, for its own good.
Given that all of these are positions he has held throughout his presidency, the mystery surrounding his decision to come to Israel only grows. He didn't need to come to Israel to rehash policies we already know.
Much of the coverage of Obama's trip has focused on symbolism. For instance, the administration decided to boycott Ariel University by not inviting its students to attend Obama's speech to students from all other universities that is set to take place on Thursday in Jerusalem. In boycotting Ariel, Obama's behavior is substantively the same as that of Britain's Association of University Teachers. In 2005 that body voted to boycott University of Haifa and Ben-Gurion University in the Negev. But while the AUT's action was universally condemned, Obama's decision to bar Israelis whose university is located in a city with 20,000 residents just because their school is located beyond the 1949 armistice lines has generated litte attention.
Then again, seeing as Obama's snub of Ariel University is in keeping with the White House's general war with anyone who disputes its view that Judea and Samaria are Arab lands, the lack of outrage at his outrageous behavior makes sense. It doesn't represent a departure from his positions in his first term.
The only revealing aspect of Obama's itinerary is his decision to on the one hand bypass Israel's elected representatives by spurning the invitation to speak before the Knesset; and on the other hand to address a handpicked audience of university students - an audience grossly overpopulated by unelectable, radical leftists.
In the past, US presidents have spoken before audiences of Israeli leftists in order to elevate and empower the political Left against the Right. But this is the first time that a US president has spurned not only the elected Right, but elected leftist politicians as well, by failing to speak to the Knesset, while actively courting the unelectable radical Left through his talk to a university audience.
Clinton constantly embraced the Israeli Left while spurning the Right - famously refusing to meet with then prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu in 1997 while both leaders' jets were parked on the same tarmac at Los Angeles International Airport.
Clinton's assiduous courtship of Israel's Left enabled him to portray himself as a true friend of Israel, even as he openly sought to undermine and overthrow the elected government of the country.