When on Monday Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met President Obama, the President refused his request that the administration sell Israel advanced military technologies needed to set back Iran’s nuclear build-up.
It could be that Netanyahu knew Obama would say no. And it’s perhaps why when they met, he gave the President the megillah (scroll) of the Book of Esther, which Jews read during Purim (which ended yesterday). Megillah Esther recounts how the Jews of Persia turned a king’s edict of their annihilation into victory, one that set the stage for the Jewish return to the land of Israel. Esther, a Jewish orphan, became Queen to King Ahasueraus. Her uncle Mordechai, a leader of the Persian Jews, urged the Queen to tell Ahasueraus the people he had unwittingly authorized his viceroy Haman to eliminate happened to be Jews and that she was one too. When she revealed the plot and its purpose, the King issued a new edict allowing Jews to defend themselves.
Purim conveys three lessons. First, the survival of the Jewish people is assured — not by the words or edicts of foreign rulers — but when they have the ability to defend themselves. As Netanyahu said, “As prime minister of Israel, I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.”
Second, Purim suggests that the Jewish people — and religious liberty — will always be threatened by regimes that regard self-governance and civil society as the enemy. Alluding to the Passover Haggadah, Netanyahu stated: “In every generation there are those who wish to destroy the Jewish people.”
For these reasons, Israel’s margin of security is smaller than of all other nations. Despite the President’s rhetoric about being Israel’s stalwart ally, his administration has made that margin microscopic.
Obama crows about giving Israel more military aid than ever. In fact, the money is part of a 10-year deal established by President Bush in 2007. Instead, he has cut spending for Israel missile defense systems over the past three years.
Obama has repeatedly blocked delivery of weapons and equipment to Israel. In 2010 he halted delivery of bunker-busters bombs capable of destroying underground facilities, including Iranian nuclear weapons sites that were agreed to in 2008. Obama has also refused to approve the sale of AH-64D Apache attack helicopters, refueling systems, advanced munitions and data on a stealth variant of the F-15E. When Netanyahu asked Obama for refueling planes and the latest and most lethal bunker busters, the President reportedly offered them in exchange for a pledge that Israel not to attack Iran. At least until after the presidential election.
The Bush administration also denied Israel weaponry that could be used as a strike against Iran in 2008. However, months later, it went ahead with the sale. Not so this administration, which has consistently cut and denied Israel a first strike advantage.
Indeed, the third and most important lesson of Purim is that ability to take pre-emptive military action is essential to Jewish survival. As Netanyahu said: “The purpose of the Jewish state is to secure the Jewish future. That is why Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat…”
Let’s hope the President reads Megillah Esther and learns Purim’s lessons. His failure to support Israel and, worse, his willingness to use its survival as a bargaining chip for his re-election suggest Israel will have to repeat history to survive.