Iran and Israel are at war—a Twitter war. Their battlefield is the blogosphere, and their weapons are words. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif have been engaged in battle, and—given the nature of Twitter—we are not only invited to witness the war, we are able to actively engage in their battle.
It started last week, when Netanyahu met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. During the press conference following their sit down, the Israeli prime minister referenced the holiday season of Purim, which was being celebrated at the end of that week. Purim is based on a biblical book that tells the story of Esther, the Queen Persia. In the story, we learn of Haman, the evil vizier to the king who plots the murder of all the Jews of Persia. By the book’s end, the Jews emerge victorious and Haman is hanged. The miracle is celebrated annually as a holiday.
Netanyahu paraphrased the story and applied the lessons of yore to today. He said that today in Iran there is the “continuation of the plot of Purim” and modern day Persians, i.e. Iranians, still want to “destroy the Jewish state.”
Putin wished Netanyahu a Happy Purim and then admonished him not to get bogged down in fights with enemies from the past. He reminded Netanyahu that the biblical story took place in the 5th century BCE and suggested engaging with “a different world of today.”
Iranians were deeply insulted by Netanyahu’s comment. Their foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif—who is fluent in English and a talented tweeter—picked up the mantle and blasted Netanyahu, “Once again, Benjamin Netanyahu not only distort[s] the realities of the today, but also distorts the past—including Jewish scripture. It is regrettable that the bigotry gets to the point of making allegation against an entire nation which save[d] Jews three times in history.”
Zarif continued with a second tweet, “The Book of Esther tells of how Xerxes I saved the Jews from a plot hatched by Haman the Agagite, which is marked on this very day; again during the time of Cyrus the Great, an Iranian king saved the Jews—this time from captivity in Babylon; and during the Second World War, when Jews were being slaughtered in Europe, Iran took them in.”
In his final tweet, Zarif reiterated his previous tweets and brought this Twitter battle into 2017. Zarif accused Netanyahu of creating “fake” history. He tweeted, “To sell bigoted lies against a nation which has saved Jews 3 times, Netanyahu resorting to fake history & falsifying Torah. Force of habit.”
But that wasn’t enough for Iran. Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Iranian Parliament who is also Iran’s former nuclear negotiator, decided to enter the fray. Laarijani launched into a tirade about the Torah, the story of Purim, and about history.
Larijani, as reported in Fars, the semi official Iranian news agency, began shouting that “apparently, [Netanyahu] is neither acquainted with history, nor has read the Torah.” He is quoted as saying that the Israel prime minister “has distorted the Iranians pre-Islam historical era and attempted to misrepresent events. Of course, nothing more than presenting such lies is expected from a wicked Zionist.”
True to form, Larijani did not call Netanyahu by name, neither did he call Israel by name. The Iranian speaker of Parliament referred to them as the “wicked Zionists.” He emphasized the importance of Netanyahu’s historical mistake as typical of Zionists who cheat. He said, “It is necessary to discuss two points about the leader of the Zionist regime. First, he has distorted the history of pre-Islamic Iran, and he has reversed the events.”
Larijani concluded, “[A]pparently, he knows neither history nor has he read the Torah. Of course more cannot be expected from a nefarious Zionist to spread lies like this.”
Netanyahu fired back. Putting aside the attacks on his knowledge of history, the state of Israel, and the Jewish holiday of Purim, he focused instead on bigotry—one of the insults Iran hurled on Israel.
Netanyahu tweeted, “The Iranian foreign minister talks about tolerance when his regime hangs homosexuals, imprisons journalists and calls for the destruction of Israel. Who are they kidding?”
This is history in the making—a history we never envisioned. World leaders are engaging in a biblical debate on a truly modern stage.
Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator, author the “The Micah Report,” online and host of the weekly TV show “Thinking Out Loud w Micah Halpern.” follow him on twitter: @MicahHalpern