After listening to Yossi Klein Halevi speak at Nessah last week on the deteriorating relationship between President Obama and Israel, the question on many people's minds was: Why?
Why has Obama acted the way he has toward Israel?
Halevi laid out a sober recap of the relationship, from Obama's visit to Sderot as a candidate in 2008 - when he beguiled many Israelis with his comment that he'd do anything to defend his house if bombs fell on his children - to the personal humiliation of Prime Minister Netanyahu last month, when, as Jackson Diehl wrote in The Washington Post, the Israeli prime minister was treated like a "third-rate dictator."
Halevi didn't buy the "tough love" argument. He sees Obama's actions more as a combination of bullying and naive incompetence. A couple of years ago the Israelis and Palestinians were negotiating directly about all the important issues. Since Obama began his active engagement, the Palestinians haven't even agreed to enter indirect "proximity" talks.
Obama's key blunder, Halevi said, was his reaction to the historic agreement by a Likud leader to endorse a two-state solution and a settlement freeze in the major settlement blocks. Instead of crediting Israel and turning to the Palestinians and saying, "OK, now what will you do?" Obama pressured Israel for even more concessions, including unprecedented ones, like stopping Jews from building in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem.
For about an hour, Halevi had us riveted with his anatomy of a deteriorating relationship. At the end, the big question lingered: Why would Obama act this way toward a great ally? If it's not anti-Semitism or tough love, is there a larger narrative that speaks to the soul of the man - a narrative that might explain why he bows to America's foes and mistreats America's friends?
Here's one possibility: Maybe Obama sees his calling as bigger than America, and he wants to be President of Humanity.
"His speeches and remarks are filled with references to himself in a ratio that surpasses anything yet seen in the history of the American presidency," writes professor James Ceaser in a recent piece in The Weekly Standard titled "The Roots of Obama Worship."
"He awakened at some point in the campaign to the realization that he was no longer running merely for president of the United States. He was being selected to the much grander 'office' of leader of a new world community."
Ceaser finds evidence for this grand narrative in many areas, like Obama's distaste for America's exceptionalism and his dogmatic stubbornness in foreign affairs: "Americans who thought that it is one thing to offer an initial hand to the likes of a Chavez or an Ahmadinejad think it something quite different to offer it after the hand has been flagrantly rejected. To persist is to invite dishonor, both for the office of the president and for the nation. Realism dictates an adjustment. The fact that such a change has been so slow in coming suggests that it is not realism that is Obama's guiding light, but a commitment to the dogmas of the Religion of Humanity."He finds similar evidence in stubborn Bush bashing:
Most seriously, Ceaser worries that
"Persistence bespeaks something more than political miscalculation. For the Religion of Humanity, the attack on Bush, both the man and the 'substance,' is a matter of dogma. If Obama were to desist, he would relinquish his higher office."
"the conflicting demands of the Religion of Humanity and the presidency of the United States have become most apparent in the administration's approach to dealing with the threat of Islamic terrorism.
"Supporters of the Religion of Humanity [therefore] believe they have good reasons to deny or minimize the danger of terrorism in order to save the world from the even greater danger of the triumph of the retrograde forces. This is the dogmatic basis of political correctness and Obama and his team have gone to considerable lengths by their policies and by their use of language to hide reality. But reality has a way of asserting itself, and it is becoming clearer by the day that being the leader of Humanity is incompatible with being the president of the United States."
It's hard to say how much truth there is in Ceaser's analysis, but it does add to the debate of understanding Obama's behavior toward Israel. At least it gives us something more noble than the hysterical "Obama's an anti-Semite" accusations that I see in my inbox every day.
And let's face it, there is something noble about having a heart for all of humanity.
The problem for Israel, of course, is that most of humanity already hates Israel, and if you're Obama and you want to woo all of humanity, well, I can see how tiny Israel would be a major irritant.
Maybe that's why Halevi was so sober when he spoke last week - he knows a conflict of interest when he sees one.