Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is using the upcoming Purim holiday to justify the need for his speech to a Joint Session of Congress (minus several of them) because the modern-day Persia wants to destroy the modern-day Israel.
In an interview on an Israeli radio station, Netanyahu said (via Ynet):
We are on the eve of Purim, and we remember the attempts in Persia back then to destroy Israel. Today, in the same Persia, there is a regime that engraves the destruction of the Jewish state on its flag.
Let’s face it, though, Netanyahu did not say this for the benefit of Israelis–or at least for the exclusive benefit of Israelis. He wasn’t even saying it to motivate American Jews. He said it for the benefit of Christian Zionists, for whom the story of Queen Esther, who saved the Jewish people from the genocidal Haman, inspires them to act for their own “Esther moment,” when they intercede save a people (the Jews, maybe, but maybe not) from evil.
Most American Jews are Democrats. Just 28 percent of them have a favorable view of Netanyahu, according to Pew poll out today, and conducted during the escalating controversy over the prime minister’s speech. Meanwhile, 53 percent of Republicans have a favorable view of the Israeli leader, reflecting, as the Pew report explains, divides that are religious as well as partisan: “Among religious groups, white evangelical Protestants have the most favorable impressions of Netanyahu (50% favorable, 17% unfavorable).”
Christian Zionists have been using the Purim analogy for contemporary Iran for years. Here’s an example from a piece I wrote in 2006:
On Purim, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the day Queen Esther saved the Jews from annihilation, Trinity Broadcasting Network’s flagship talk show, Praise the Lord, featured an appearance by Rabbi Daniel Lapin. A politically conservative Orthodox rabbi, Lapin is best known for crusading with the Christian right against anti-religion bigotry and, more recently, for his close association with the convicted super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But he was not invited to a nationwide telecast to discuss such topics as the trumped-up war against religion or the better nature of his fallen friend. He had been asked to explain the significance of Purim to Christians, and particularly how the Old Testament’s Book of Esther “serves as a roadmap to reality,” which pinpoints where the next world “hot spot” will be.
That soon-to-be-flaming location is where the Book of Esther was set: namely Persia, or in modern parlance, Iran.
Seated beside Lapin in the ornately gilded Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) studio was Pastor John Hagee, the author of an incendiary new book purporting to show that the Bible predicts a military confrontation with Iran. By then, Hagee’s book, Jerusalem Countdown, had sold nearly 500,000 copies. It had occupied the No. 1 position on the Wal-Mart inspirational best-seller list, showed up on Wal-Mart’s list of top 10 best sellers for seven weeks, and made the USA Today top 50 best-seller list for six weeks.
Hagee, who serves as head pastor of the 18,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, hosts his own television program that is seen twice a day on TBN. He argues that the United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God’s plan for both Israel and the West. Shortly after the release of his book last January, he launched Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a lobbying organization intended, he says, to be a Christian version of the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee. With CUFI, which Hagee has said will cause a “political earthquake,” the televangelist aims to put the political organizing muscle of the conservative evangelical movement behind his grand plan for a biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ.
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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.
Today, John Waage, senior news editor for the Christian Broadcasting Network, thanks Israelis for “lending” America their prime minister to warn us of the dangers that our own president has so inadequately confronted. Next week, Waage writes, Netanyahu will “explain why his country cannot tolerate the threat from another group of evil anti-Semites in Iran to annihilate the Jews: the acquisition of nuclear weapons by the Ayatollah Khamenei and his government.” Many Christians and Jews, writes Waage, “will pray and intercede, and others will fast, as Esther and her people did in biblical times.” Who knows, he concludes, “whether, as in the days of Esther and Mordecai, the address wasn’t appointed ‘for such a time as this.'”