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July 29, 2015 / 13 Av, 5775
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The Book of Esther: A Political Analysis

Especially remarkable is the behavior of Esther. Warned of Haman’s plan, Esther wants to do nothing lest she place herself at risk.
Esther and Mordecai by Aerte de Gelder

Esther and Mordecai by Aerte de Gelder

What if Esther was not such a good person, or didn’t have Mordechai to advise her? What if she knew that she would not be punished but in fact could benefit from remaining silent or even joining into the denunciation of the Jews of the day? Suppose she could have redefined the situation to say that there were in fact good, pro-Persian Empire Jews as opposed to those bad Jews who wanted to return from exile in the Persian Empire to the Land of Israel, from which her great-great-grandfather had been taken as prisoner?

Esther, fortified by her beloved uncle’s advice, an appeal to enlightened self-interest, and the only hint in the book of a divine role—her position was the Creator’s doing so she could fulfill this task–risks her life to stop the mass murders.

In addition, Haman reveals part of his motivation. All his wealth, influence, and power, he explains, mean “nothing to me every time I see that Jew Mordechai sitting at the palace gate” and refusing to bow to him. In other words, Haman’s antisemitism exceeds the bounds of rational calculation. Out of blind hatred, he is willing to risk his own destruction to wipe out those whose existence he refuses to accept. That’s pretty relevant for our times.

In contrast is Mordechai’s behavior. Made prime minister with absolute power by the king in Haman’s place, Mordechai does not seek to make the Jews the rulers (belying the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and Islamist ideology) but only for defensive purposes.

The king’s decree permitted the Jews to, “Assemble and fight for their lives, if any people or province attacks them” and inflict unlimited vengeance. True, the retribution is horrible in modern-day terms, extending to the innocent members of families, but limited in the context of that era.

In contrast to Haman’s claims they do not take their enemies’ property nor do they seek to conquer the empire, the Middle East, or the world. They just want to live and be left alone.

What does this story mean for us today in political, strategic, and intellectual terms?

The indecisive “Esthers” who so often populate the ranks of Western elites should take notice of how she resolved her dilemma. True, in their modern societies they can escape persecution because of their high positions. Indeed, by joining the lynch mobs they can even better secure their positions. They can use this method to appear more virtuous, to earn more praise. Yet in doing so they are not so much betraying a people they do not recognize as such but rather the principles of justice and intellectual honesty they claim as their new, post-ethnic, post-religious loyalty.

And, finally, the main Hamans of our age are ultimately gunning for them, not solely because they are Jews—since this applies equally to their Christian counterparts–but because of their countries’ policies and their societies’ values. This is true even if these modern-day, “pre-commitment” Esthers either claim that Haman is really moderate or merely specify that only some (right-wing? Zionist?) Jews are disloyal to the state and its liberal values and strategic interests in order to push a selfish, counterproductive agenda. If those bad Jews are defeated then Haman will leave everyone else alone.

Haman could have lived in peaceful coexistence with the Jews and spent his time building up the kingdom and helping his own people. Only since he behaved otherwise could the king decree, “Let the evil plot…recoil on his own head.” In the Middle East’s modern history this has often happened. Those who have sought to destroy Israel have brought disaster onto their own heads and that of their own peoples.

Yet it is equally true, in the Middle East and in lands far away, the ideology of Haman remains very much alive, even unto Persia itself.

Originally published at Rubin Reports.

About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.


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