Happy Purim to all the Jewish people around the world, celebrating the day that Queen Esther saved the Jewish people by alerting King Xerxes to the Grand Vizier Haman’s evil plot.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referenced this whilst speaking to schoolchildren earlier this week:
“In Persia, they wanted to kill us but it didn’t work,” Netanyahu said. “Today, too, Persians are trying to destroy us, but today, too, it will not work.”
Bibi has spent much of the last week selling the lie that Iran’s ruler wanted to kill the Jews. Wrong! Haman was NOT the ruler. He was the vizier. He was an adviser. He was this guy:
Netanyahu’s rationale for amending history is logical: A persistent simmering frisson between Iran’s theocratic regime, which does not recognise Israel, and the hawkish Israeli prime minister consolidates the power of both parties. However, in making this statement, Netanyahu is crushing an important shared Jewish and Persian lore which has been mentioned in numerous historical manuscripts and holy books (The Torah, Bible and Quran).
Chief amongst this is Xerxes’ grandfather Cyrus The Great who liberated the Jewish people enslaved in Babylon, and announced an edict for the rebuilding of the Temple of Jerusalem.
This Persian ruler therefore ushered in a new epoch in the history of the Jewish people, culminating in the temple itself being completed during the reign of Darius II four generations later.
The Cyrus Cylinder, kept at the British Museum, describes how Cyrus allowed captives in Babylon to return to their native territories, which earned him an honoured place in the Jewish faith.
How about Xerxes, who was the grandson of Cyrus and the ruler during the events which are now celebrated in Purim? Does marrying a Jewish maiden, listening to her describe Haman’s plans and condemning the vizier to hang for his tricks mean that this was a ruler who wanted to “annihilate the Jews”. How about issuing a decree which authorized all Jews to defend themselves, and appointing Mordechai the first Jewish prime minister of the Persian Empire? These historical facts were, conveniently, rather missing from Netanyahu’s comments.
This contempt towards history is an insult to both Persian and Jewish History, two ancient cultures who have been intertwined for millenia despite the current challenges. This should be a time for celebrating cultures, and the deep bond which was cemented between Persia and the Jews following those events. Bonds which have persisted for many centuries, and still exist to this day, despite the rhetoric from Iran’s leaders, and perhaps the hawkish elements in Israel.
Abdol Hossein Sardari, known as the “Schindler of Iran” is an example. A diplomat who saved thousands of Iranian jews from deportation by the Nazi regime, he then began issuing hundreds of Iranian passports for non-Iranian jews to save them from persecution, dying in poverty two years after the Iranian Revolution in 1981. His actions do not fit into Netanyahu’s narrative either, but he exemplifies the courage and the principles of human rights that Cyrus the Great pronounced 25 centuries earlier.