Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back at the Iranian foreign minister on Monday, blasting the Iranian regime for repeatedly calling for Israel’s annihilation while speaking of tolerance, a day after Mohammed Javad Zarif accused the Israeli leader of selling “bigoted lies” with the charge while asserting that Iranians had “saved Jews 3 times” throughout history.
“Iran’s FM speaks of tolerance while the regime hangs gays, jails journalists and calls for Israel’s annihilation. Who are they kidding?” Netanyahu tweeted on Monday.
Over the past several day, the Israeli prime minister had made several references to Iran or ancient Persia ahead of the Jewish holiday of Purim, celebrated over the weekend in most of the world, and on Monday in Jerusalem.
On Saturday, while visiting a synagogue, Netanyahu told young children celebrating the festival that Iran wants to kill the Jews just as the Persians did.
Iran's FM speaks of tolerance while the regime hangs gays, jails journalists and calls for Israel's annihilation. Who are they kidding?
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) March 13, 2017
And in a meeting with Putin in Moscow on Friday, Netanyahu said Persia had made “an attempt to destroy the Jewish people that did not succeed” some 2,500 years ago, an event commemorated on Purim.
On Sunday, Zarif took to Twitter to accuse Netanyahu of distorting history by repeatedly making the claim
“To sell bigoted lies against a nation which has saved Jews 3 times, Netanyahu resorting to fake history & falsifying Torah. Force of habit,” Zarif tweeted.
In an attachment to the post, Zarif wrote “once again Benjamin Netanyahu not only distorts the realities of today, but also distorts the past — including Jewish scripture. It is truly regrettable that bigotry gets to the point of making allegations against an entire nation which has saved the Jews three times in its history.”
“The Book of Esther tells of how Xerxes I saved Jews from a plot hatched by Haman the Agagite, which is marked on this very day,” he wrote, referring to the king known in the Purim story as Ahasuerus.
Jews don’t view Ahasuerus as a savior, as he originally approved Haman’s order to kill the Jews; rather, they look to the Jewish Queen Esther as the heroine of the tale.
To sell bigoted lies against a nation which has saved Jews 3 times, Netanyahu resorting to fake history & falsifying Torah. Force of habit. pic.twitter.com/N09PyyGwqy
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) March 12, 2017
“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 gladly took them in,” Zarif wrote.
Iran has been accused of frequent Holocaust denial.
Also on Sunday, Iranian parliament Speaker Ali Larijani criticized Netanyahu for his comparison between ancient Persia and modern Iran, saying “apparently, [Netanyahu] is neither acquainted with history, nor has read the Torah,” according to Iranian media reports.
Larijani said that Netanyahu “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,” he said, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.
Purim, which started Saturday night, commemorates the Biblical tale of an averted genocide of the Jews in the Persian empire some 2,500 years ago, and is a festive occasion celebrated with costumes, parades and street parties in cities around Israel.
In the biblical Purim story, retold in the Book of Esther, the Persian viceroy Haman plotted to kill all the Jews in the kingdom. King Ahasuerus initially supported the plan, but eventually his Jewish wife, Esther, convinced him that he should not allow Haman to kill the Jews. Ahasuerus had Haman and his sons killed and the Jews were given leave to kill all those who wanted to destroy them.
Although historians disagree as to the precise dating of the story, all agree that it is set in the time of the Achaemenid Empire during the 5th century BCE, over 1,000 years before the rise of Islam.
Iran is home to some 25,000 Jews who are a recognized minority and are allocated one seat in parliament.