Bibi’s Bible stories: How Netanyahu invokes holy scripture to justify Israel's interests
Israel’s prime minister is a big fan of the Bible – especially when the 2,700-year-old holy book can be used to demystify Israeli policy. Benjamin Netanyahu’s Bible citation while defending Trump’s Jerusalem move is the most recent example of this phenomenon.
During their meeting in Sochi in August, Russian President Vladimir Putin presented Netanyahu with a copy of the first-ever Bible printed with commentary by Rashi, a renowned medieval French rabbi and scholar. It was a fitting gift, considering that the Israeli prime minister is known for his fondness of citing the Bible as if it were a UN Security Council resolution.
Following Donald Trump’s controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, Netanyahu lectured EU leaders about following suit. His argument? The Bible supports Trump’s move. “You can read it in a very fine book – it’s called the Bible,” Netanyahu told French President Emmanuel Macron Sunday.
But Bibi’s love for Bible-thumping goes back to the time of the pharaohs.
Netanyahu uses Bible to prove Jewish ties to Hebron
In July, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee voted to recognize Hebron’s Old City and the Tomb of the Patriarchs as Palestinian heritage sites. In response, Netanyahu read from Genesis 23:16-19 during his weekly Cabinet meeting, insisting that the passage definitively shows “the connection between the Jewish people and Hebron and the Tomb of the Patriarchs is one of purchase and of history which may be without parallel in the history of peoples.”
In his address to the UN General Assembly in September, Netanyahu remarked, “Is there no limit to the UN's absurdities when it comes to Israel? Well, apparently not. Because in July, UNESCO declared the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron a Palestinian World Heritage Site. That's worse than fake news; that's fake history. Mind you, it's true that Abraham, the father of both Ishmael and Isaac, is buried there, but so, too, are Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca – Sarah's a Jewish name, by the way – Sarah, Rebecca and Leah, who just happened to be patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people. Well, you won't read about that in the latest UNESCO report, but if you want to, you can read about it in a somewhat weightier publication. It's called 'the Bible.' I highly recommend it. I hear it even got four and a half out of five stars on Amazon. And it's a great read. I read it every week.”
Putin not impressed by Bibi’s ancient Bible stories
In a visit to Moscow in March, Netanyahu cited ancient history in an attempt to persuade Putin that Iran is an ancient Persian menace. Putin began their meeting by wishing Netanyahu a happy Purim, which is a traditional Jewish holiday that marks the saving of the Jewish people from Haman, a vizier in the ancient Persian Empire.
In response, Netanyahu said Persia made “an attempt to destroy the Jewish people that did not succeed” nearly 2,500 years ago, stressing that “today there is an attempt by Persia’s heir, Iran, to destroy the state of the Jews.”
But Putin appeared unmoved by Bibi’s Bible stories, responding that the events in question had taken place “in the fifth century BC,” and that “we now live in a different world.”
Netanyahu disappointed that UNESCO doesn’t read the Bible
In a separate UNESCO-related outburst, Netanyahu chided UNESCO for not consulting with the Bible before ruling on historical landmarks.
Criticizing a UNESCO decision in 2016 regarding the status of holy sites in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said, “even if they do not read the Bible, I would suggest that UNESCO members visit the Arch of Titus in Rome. The Arch shows what the Romans brought back to Rome after they destroyed and looted the Second Temple on the Temple Mount 2,000 years ago. There, engraved on the Arch of Titus, is the seven-branched menorah that is the symbol of the Jewish People, and today is the symbol of the State of Israel.”
Time for Netanyahu to go back to Sunday School?
But not everyone is in awe of Netanyahu’s knowledge and interpretation of the holy book. In a 2015 interview with NBC, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called out Netanyahu’s constant Bible references – especially when used to “prove” that Iran seeks the destruction of the Jewish state.
“He even distorts his own scripture,” said Zarif of Netanyahu. “If you read the book of Esther, you will see that it was the Iranian king who saved the Jews.”
Zarif then did some historical recounting of his own, noting that “it is truly, truly regrettable that bigotry gets to the point of making allegations against an entire nation which has saved Jews three times in its history: Once during that time of a prime minister who was trying to kill the Jews, and the king saved the Jews; again during the time of Cyrus the Great, where he saved the Jews from Babylon, and during the Second World War, where Iran saved the Jews.”