Iran’s parliament speaker on Sunday rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comparison of the ancient Persians who sought the annihilation of the Jews in the Purim story to modern-day Iran, advising the Israeli premier to study history and the Jewish Bible.
In an address to parliament on Sunday, which coincided with the Purim holiday, Iranian Speaker Ali Larijani said in Tehran that “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.
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 the Jewish holiday of Purim,.
“Today there is an attempt by Persia’s heir, Iran, to destroy the state of the Jews,” Netanyahu said. “They say this as clearly as possible and inscribe it on their ballistic missiles.”
Putin also rejected Netanyahu’s Purim parallel, telling him that the events described had taken place “in the fifth century BCE.”
“We now live in a different world. Let us talk about that now,” Putin said.
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.
Last year, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif claimed Tehran had saved the Jews three times in history, singling out the thwarted genocide by the Persian king as one of those instances, while neglecting to mention that Ahasuerus had originally approved Haman’s order to kill the Jews.
“It is unfortunate that Mr. Netanyahu now totally distorts realities of today,” Zarif said in March 2015.
“He even distorts his own scripture. If you read the book of Esther, you will see that it was the Iranian king who saved the Jews… 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.”
The son of a prominent historian, Netanyahu relaunched a weekly bible study session in his official residence in 2012. The prime minister’s son Avner is a past winner of the International Bible Quiz.