Bibi’s Biblical Politics–and Sarah Palin’s

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

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.