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Netanyahu gives Obama the Book of Esther. Biblical parable for nuclear Iran?

Esther tells of a Persian plot against the Jews that was thwarted through cunning and the intercession of a gentile king. Purim, the holiday that celebrates the story, starts tonight.

By Staff writer / March 7, 2012

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds two letters, one of which he read from, as he addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, on March 5.

Cliff Owen/AP

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When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave President Obama the Book of Esther as a gift a few days ago, the message was only slightly less subtle than if he had constructed a massive neon billboard across the street from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with the message "Mr. President, please help me destroy Iran before they destroy us."

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The Book of Esther is from the Old Testament, and it's a story that Jews across the world will celebrate tonight and tomorrow with the holiday of Purim. Unlike much of the good book, there are hardly any mentions of God. Instead it's a tale of backroom maneuvering ending in victory for the Jews and destruction of their enemies, with a woman in the rare role of hero. Did this 2,500-year-old tale of double-dealing and deceit, set in the old Persian Empire, really happen? Well, your mileage may vary. Does it contain lessons for today? Bibi certainly thinks so.

One of his aides told a reporter that gift was meant to provide “background reading” on Iran for Obama. In a speech to the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobbying group, Netanyahu described Haman, the villain of the tale, as "a Persian anti-Semite [who] tried to annihilate the Jewish people." The context of his speech was that Iran, the modern successor to Persia, presents the greatest danger to peace and security on the planet.

While I'm not sure foreign policy is well-crafted with ancient biblical texts as a guide, the lessons of the Esther story are taken seriously by Netanyahu and millions of Jews. Some Jewish traditions say Hitler is not a historical aberration, but a descendent of Haman (who, in turn, was a descendant of the Jews' enemies in Egypt). The story of a proposed genocide of the Jews in ancient Persia? Evidence for why the modern state of Israel had to be established – there could be no guaranteed security or safety for Jews living in a Gentile-majority state.

What happened? The Persian king Ahasuerus is displeased with his wife and casts her aside, ordering his men to scour the country for a new bride. The beautiful orphan Esther, being fostered by her cousin Mordechai, is brought before Ahasuerus and he takes her as his wife. Mordechai tells her to keep her Jewish identity a secret.

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