It’s the expectation of the apologia that is remarkable. I can’t think of another situation where an American president, speaking to an American audience on American soil, would find it necessary or dignified to plead his bona fides in a similar way. (About England? Italy? Canada? Mexico?)
I recognize the uniqueness of Israel’s history and the importance of “trust” in a president’s word and intent. But the oddity of the AIPAC ritual is worth noting, and not in a good way.
Part of this has to do with the frequency and intensity of partisan and ideological attacks on Obama for his many supposed slights to Israel. More than any other during his presidency, Obama’s handling of the U.S.-Israel relationship has come under withering and scornful attack long before he took office, and his position has been consistently, egregiously misrepresented. So one reason why Obama in particular feels compelled to demonstrate how thoroughly accommodating he has been is that “pro-Israel” hawks have been arguing unceasingly that he has been something other than utterly conventional in his policy towards Israel. What is now regarded as Obama’s biggest mistake on Israel/Palestine (pushing for a halt to settlement expansion) was arguably a product of Obama’s earlier assumption that he didn’t need to prove his “pro-Israel” credentials. Based on everything he has said on this question, I suspect that he thought he was actually in a position to demand more from an Israeli government than his predecessors. That proved not to be the case, and ever since then Obama has gone out of his way to try to satisfy “pro-Israel” interest groups in deed and word.
There is nothing comparable in the handling of U.S. relations with our neighbors or our treaty allies because the importance of these relationships to the United States is usually obvious, and these relationships don’t require the same marshaling of political support to sustain them. The “special” relationship with Britain may be a dated concept that doesn’t actually serve British interests anymore, but the value of strong U.S.-U.K. ties is still readily apparent to both governments. There is no need for politicians to abase themselves before a “pro-British” political organization because there is no need for such a group to exist. All of the things that politicians feel compelled to say about Israel in terms of shared interests and values are true when they are said about Britain, and no one needs to be convinced that they are. At the same time, there is no incentive for American politicians to be too obsequious in their rhetoric about, say, Mexico, but there are political risks from being insufficiently effusive in one’s praise for the U.S.-Israel relationship. Those risks don’t come from the mythical, deep popular support for the current relationship that its advocates invoke to explain the imbalanced, one-sided nature of the relationship.