Benjamin Netanyahu Thinks He’s Queen Esther

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2015-03-03 – Tomorrow is the Jewish holiday of Purim. Today, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is speaking to Congress playing the role of Queen Esther.

If you don’t know the Purim story, the holiday is based on the biblical Book of Esther, which is set in ancient Persia, which is modern-day Iran. In the story, the apparently clueless King Ahasuerus accedes to the advice of his high adviser Haman and issues an order to exterminate the Jews in his kingdom. His queen Esther, who is a Jewess (as they said in those days) goes to the king to alert him to the danger and . . . saves the Jews. Haman is hanged.

The story seems to fit Netanyahu’s mission here (other than the fact that Obama is not Haman, the villain, and John Boehner is not Ahasuerus—though he’s enough of a bumbler to play the role).

Purim is celebrated with much costume and role playing. It’s great fun.

I honestly don’t know whether President Obama is headed toward a good deal with Iran or not. No! Let me rephrase that: the President is headed toward a poor deal with Iran. The thing I wonder about is whether there are any better options. If Obama were writing a novel, I’m sure (even) he could think of a better deal. But this isn’t fiction. The question is whether we’re heading toward a deal that is the best of possible options.

Does Netanyahu have a better option?

If you want to read a couple decent pieces on the pros and cons, here are two: “The Strategic Genius of Iran’s Supreme Leader” in the Washington Post by Ray Takeyh, and “All of Your Nuclear-Deal Questions, Answered” in the Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg. If you look, you can find plenty of articles on the topic. You can even become an expert.

I just want to take a tiny piece of this.

Although no one knows exactly the deal that is on the table, there’s talk that whatever restrictions would be placed on Iran would expire in 10 years—give or take.

Netanyahu says “are you kidding?!”

And I have to say that I have complete sympathy with him. I lived in Israel for a short time after the Yom Kippur War. I believe in Israel. I believe it must be secure. So when he says “are you kidding?!” I know where that comes from.

But is it realistic? Consider how effective international efforts were in keeping North Korea from getting the bomb. Consider how effective international efforts were in keeping India and Pakistan from getting the bomb. Heck! Consider how effective international efforts were in keeping Israel from getting the bomb.

A couple years ago, Netanyahu spoke to the United Nations. He held up a drawing of a Wile E. Coyote bomb with its fuse lit. Netanyahu used this drawing to express the urgency of stopping Iran. At that time it was said that Iran was within a year or two.

The supposed deal on the table is for 10.

Isn’t that an improvement? Maybe. If 10 is 10. Maybe 10 isn’t 10. We don’t trust Iran, remember.

On the other hand, there’s two parts of the deal. Iran refrains from bomb making for X years and the West lifts sanctions. This is clearly a benefit for Iran. But is it also a benefit for us if Iran becomes more fully integrated with the rest of the world? If they are doing business with us, will they want to blow us to smithereens in 10 years?

It’s all speculation. And it really comes down to the question of whether Netanyahu has anything better to offer. (Maybe it’s not a coincidence that he’s doing business with John Boehner. Many people have had the same question about him.)

It’s Purim! Purim is celebrated with much costume and role playing.

There’s a peculiar thing about the Purim story that’s glossed over in the popular celebration. When I told you the story up above, I said that Queen Esther “. . . saves the Jews.” But that’s not quite what happened. If you read the Book of Esther, you’ll see that the laws of Persia didn’t allow King Ahasuerus to rescind his extermination order. The best he could do was to authorize the Jews to fight back.

And it came to pass that 75,000 of the enemies of the Jews were slain. No mention is made of casualties on the side of the Jews, just that they were the victors.

* * *

Update: Wrote this before the speech. The speech didn’t change anything. Nothing new. It’s almost as if the hullabaloo before the speech was more important politically than the speech itself. 

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