Have you heard the joke about three Jews and four opinions? Well, this week I sat among 16,000 delegates to the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington D.C. There were too many opinions to count among Jewish and Christian adults, college students, and teenagers, including 30 delegates from my congregation. There was no consensus except for our commitment to the mission of AIPAC, which is “to strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of Israel and the United States.”
The big news was Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech. Before his speech to Congress, he first spoke on Monday morning to a packed crowd at AIPAC. His remarks laid the groundwork and rationale for his arrival in Washington. He made the point that as Prime Minister he had no choice but to speak about the existential threat to Israel from Iran manifested in its nuclear capabilities, while America, Israel’s greatest partner in the Middle East, embarked on dangerous negotiations with Iran about its nuclear future.
Netanyahu was also clear about his relationship to American leaders, specifically President Obama. Netanyahu said, “We’re mishpacha!” We’re family. Families have disputes but they get over them to accomplish important goals. That’s political talk for what you and I know is a tense relationship. Be that as it may, Netanyahu and others who followed him urged us to set aside the tension inherent in their relationship and focus on the real issues before us, namely, Iran and radical Islam. On this we can agree, and I urge you, as well, to refrain from maligning either one of these leaders, and spend your energy on the issues. When both these men leave office, the issue of a nuclear Iran and Islamic terrorism will still be there.
On Tuesday morning, Netanyahu took his place before Congress, America and the entire world. Whether or not you agree with his decision to accept the Republican invitation to speak to a joint session of Congress, Netanyahu knew exactly why he came here. For a brief moment, he figuratively stepped on Congress’s throat (and the President’s) long enough to hold their attention and make them listen. They were spellbound and moved. Applause greeted his expressions of statesmanship that framed Islamic terrorism squarely, and championed shared goals to prevent Iran from threatening the region with real weapons of mass destruction. The President, who said he didn’t hear the speech, later remarked that Netanyahu didn’t say anything new. Perhaps it’s true, but that’s also a reason Netanyahu came to Congress. He needed to be heard not from afar where battles against Islamic terrorism happen every day, but in the halls of American legislative power. Israel’s closest western ally had to hear Israel’s plea to be taken seriously about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. When he finished, Congress seemed to take a collective new breath. Predictably, those who were inclined to his visit and his message deepened their resolve, and those who were opposed deepened theirs. “Ha-mayveen yaveen,” the enlightened will understand.
Channeling images of the Purim story we celebrated this past week, Netanyahu played the role of the hero Mordechai who informed the king about Haman’s evil plan to cast lots (Purim) to choose the day when the Jews would be murdered. Mordechai persuaded the king to destroy the real trouble maker and save the Jews. In the Biblical story, instead of Mordecai hanging from the gallows, as Haman plotted, Haman, himself, was hanged. The king was restored to his post with thanks due Mordechai.
These are not biblical times, but they are biblically familiar. Instead of lots (Purim), Iran sits with its hands on the resources to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons to wipe out the Jewish state and the Jewish people at its discretion. The difference is that while we know the end of the biblical story, we don’t know the end of this generation’s threat to Israel. Netanyahu made a bold move and at great risk to his own political future at home and abroad; but, his aim was to make today’s Haman in Iran visible to today’s kings, presidents and rulers before it’s too late. Netanyahu had no choice. Will America have a choice? Will Western Europe? Will we?