Political Animal


March 07, 2012 2:56 PM Bibi’s Biblical Politics—and Sarah Palin’s

By Ed Kilgore

One of the odder bits of news today is that in their White House meeting, Bibi Netanyahu presented President Obama with a scroll version of the Book of Esther from the Hebrew Scriptures.

Maybe it’s just a favorite of Bibi’s (though I don’t know that he’s renowned for personal piety). Maybe it’s an allusion to the Jewish Feast of Purim (which began tonight), commemorating Queen Esther’s success in foiling a plot by a Persian schemer to exterminate Jews. Or maybe it’s something else, as Jeffrey Goldberg (among others) has suggested:

The prime minister of Israel is many things, but subtle is not one of them. The message of Purim is: When the Jews see a murderous conspiracy forming against them, they will act to disrupt the plot. A further refinement of the message is: When the Jews see a plot forming against them in Persia, they will act to disrupt the plot, even if Barack Obama wishes that they would wait for permission.

Yeah, that figures. But Esther has a particular resonance for another American audience that Bibi is very interested in: conservative evangelicals, and particularly the “Christian Zionist” movement that is deeply invested in the prospect of an imminent Armageddon that could trigger the Second Coming. Sarah Posner explains the connection today, quoting from a 2006 profile she wrote of Christian Zionist leader John Hagee:

Esther is a favorite Old Testament figure of many evangelicals, a heroine who saved her people from a genocidal plot masterminded by the evil vizier Haman through her influence as the wife of the King of Persia. When she and her cousin Mordecai discussed whether she should risk death by intervening with the king, he encouraged her by suggesting that she had a divine role; perhaps she had come to the kingdom, he said, for such a time as this. Evangelicals often invoke that phrase to elevate the relevance of modern-day figures. In 2004, Laura Bush repeated a story about a woman she met on the campaign trail who told her that the President was born for such a time as this. In a recent message sent by e-mail to CUFI supporters, Hagee wrote that his organization is exactly in the position of Esther. Israel is in a time of crisis. A 21st-century Hitler (the president of Iran) has put in place a plan to exterminate the Jews with nuclear warfare. If we remain completely silent at this time, God’s punishment will come to us also.

Notes Posner of Bibi’s “gift”:

No doubt Netanyahu wants someone more pliable in the White House, and he’s got friends here who want to help him do it. After the Israeli leader met with the American president, Hagee’s organization, Christians United for Israel, emailed members urging them to sign a letter of support to Netanyahu. “Next week, we’re flying to Jerusalem to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu… . When we present this letter, we want to tell the Prime Minister that it was signed by many thousands of Christians from across the country. At this difficult and dangerous juncture, let’s make sure that the Prime Minister knows he’s not alone.”

If that’s not enough to mull over, it’s worth noting that Esther is often personally associated by her fans (and perhaps even by herself) with another familiar figure on the current scene: yes, Sarah Palin. Is she the “famous beauty” called by God to save her people from calamity by her faithfulness and guile?

I’m sure it’s a total coincidence, but Palin did manage yesterday to let it be known (after defending Rush Limbaugh, primarily through reference to the lefties who have said nasty things about her) that she might be available in case a deadlocked GOP convention needed saving.

Thanks a lot for the gift, Bibi.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • DAY on March 07, 2012 3:13 PM:

    Who put the "Kick Me!" sign on the Jews, and why is it still there, after all these millennia?

  • Peter C on March 07, 2012 3:25 PM:

    I think it is important to remember that Israel's politics are perhaps as polarized as ours and that just as George Bush did not represent my views while President, there are a significant number of people in Israel for whom Bibi is not a true representative.

    I also remain completely convinced that basing your entire view of the universe on the insights of one book (even if it is The Good Book) is a distastrously bad idea. Yes! It's a good book. READ ANOTHER!

  • neil on March 07, 2012 3:32 PM:

    Might the gift simply have something to do with the fact that Purim is tonight? I know you have to read between the lines in diplomacy, but even without geopolitical intrigue this is a highly unsubtle gift.

  • Bernard HP Gilroy on March 07, 2012 3:41 PM:

    I am particularly struck by how, when Esther sets out to save the Jews, she does it by calling down a massive airstrike against the entire Persian nation.

    Oh, wait. That's not how it ends, is it?

  • Geds on March 07, 2012 3:45 PM:

    Bernard HP Gilroy: I am particularly struck by how, when Esther sets out to save the Jews, she does it by calling down a massive airstrike against the entire Persian nation.

    Oh, wait. That's not how it ends, is it?

    Actually, it kind of is. At the last minute Esther gets the king to allow the Jews to defend themselves. He doesn't warn the people going to kill them. So when the people arrive to kill the Jews they're taken by surprise and slaughtered without remorse.

  • Gandalf on March 07, 2012 3:51 PM:

    It's interesting. If Israel were to blow up a few buildings in Iran that's about all they could do unless they actual dropped some nukes there. Now if they do that they'll be pariahs like the nazis for many years to come. All the radical Christians in this country will whine like stuck pigs because the price of ga swill go up making their lives miserable(which is what they really want for the rest of us as well as themselves. does Israel think that they're that secure to poke bears?

  • mike reilly on March 07, 2012 3:54 PM:

    If Palin comes in, and gets the nomination, I would be sending a BIG thank you to Bibi from Barack. As in "bibi, just a note to thank you for that gift of Esther. You know I didn't think it was possible that I would get the chance to run against Sarah Palin. So Thank You. Looking forward to working with you next year. Best, Barack"

  • Fang on March 07, 2012 3:56 PM:


    It's possible (quite possible) we're beyond rational politics here, keep that in mind.

    Also, if Bibi is up to something, he's up to something while facing off with Rope-a-Dope master Obama. That may not be smart, and noting Obama's recent statements on war, he's already aware something is up - and he's good at dealing with the irrational.

    Worse, I can't see any of this ending well for Israel. I feel like they're on a downward spiral right now and it's going to crash hard.

  • Werewolf on March 07, 2012 4:00 PM:

    The decree that the Jews could defend themselves was published months in advance, according to the Book of Esther. In fact, according to the story, a lot of Persians converted to Judaism to curry favor with Mordechai and Esther. It wasn't some sort of sneak attack. (Mind you, the entire book is fiction, and is most likely a justification for Jews celebrating Nahruz, the Persian New Year.)

  • spelling, dude on March 07, 2012 4:04 PM:

    Blblical Politics?

  • boatboy_srq on March 07, 2012 4:06 PM:

    Maybe it's just me, but I would never have thought that one thousand years after the Crusades, five hundred years after the Reformation and three hundred fifty years after the Peace of Westphalia, any public official publicly presenting a leader of another nation with a holy text of any kind would be appropriate. Never mind the baggage that THIS book comes with, as noted in the post.

    And you'll note how contextual this is. Bible? OK. Torah? OK. Just imagine the reaction if, say, the Saudi Ambassador had publicly presented any US President (let alone this one) with a Koran.

  • Dabodius on March 07, 2012 4:08 PM:

    I'm with Neil. This is nothing for Ed to wax paranoid over (and why enclose "gift" in scare quotes?) -- it's (about to be) Purim, lighten up!

    As Bernard hints, in the story it's the Persian Shah who enables the Jews to annihilate their would-be annihilators in the Persian empire, which remains a given at the end as at the beginning of the story.

    BTW, it may be lost on contemporary Christian and secular readers, but Esther is the most thoroughly comic book in the Bible, fitting the carnivalesque topsy-turvyness of a festival on which some yeshivah heads go drag, Queen Esther for a day. There's other mummery, especially for children, and a religious obligation to mellow oneself with drink. As Herman Wouk put it, many otherwise unobservant Jews do their best to comply.

  • JW on March 07, 2012 4:18 PM:

    Obama should present Netanyahu with a T-shirt emblazoned with the Presidential seal and the unofficial slogan of the office: "Wherever I sit is the head of the table".

  • rea on March 07, 2012 4:34 PM:

    Just imagine the reaction if, say, the Saudi Ambassador had publicly presented any US President . . . with a Koran

    Reagan, as part of the Arms-for-Hostages deal, sent a representative to Khomeni with two presents: a Bible autographed by Reagan and a cake.


  • boatboy_srq on March 07, 2012 4:44 PM:


    "Arms-for-Hostages" - is that another term for Iran/Contra? Don't tell me you think that the gifts are the only thing wrong with that episode...

    And without knowing Khomenei's reaction, or the response from the Iranian people at the time, it's difficult to say anything other than, "how Occidental/Judeo-Christian of him,"... in the least complimentary meaning thereof.

  • smartalek on March 07, 2012 4:44 PM:

    @ day:
    God did.
    "Chose" us, remember?
    We've been thanking Him ever since.

  • jjm on March 07, 2012 5:03 PM:

    I always liked the book of Esther because she saved her people by REVEALING her Jewish identity to the King who had married her unknowingly, which then causes him to relent towards her people.

    But how a bunch of know-nothings like Sarah Palin can try to claim kinship with the biblical Esther is so far beyond me I don't know where to begin. Jews are the people of the book, meaning THEY READ, THEY STUDY, THEY LEARN as a fundamental part of their religion.

    People like Palin who demeans 'book learning,' -- favorite of Jews? Not likely.

  • Kathryn on March 07, 2012 7:53 PM:

    The Daily Show had the best coverage of Netenyahu's visit, as usual. He ended with three quotes from anonymous senators who were critical or questioning of the Prime Minister's positions, the punch line, they were members of the Knesset, where apparently you're allowed to be critical of the Israeli government. Suspect the gift was selected to send a message to the president and to evangelicals as well. Doubt it ruffled Pres. Obama's feathers.

    Tom Friedman column claimed that president handled AIPAC speech masterfully and I personally trust Friedman on Israel.

  • Anonymous on March 08, 2012 1:03 AM:

    Israel will strike Iran's nuke site this spring or summer for sure.

    so the question is, what would America do then?
    Can we avoid a war after an Israel strike?

    im afraid we will have to go along with Israel with some military means.
    so depressing.

    Israel is our worse ally. i wish Americans weren't so religious and bias. we would never have to listen to Israel to this extent.