Pompeo was clearly taking his case against Iran to Hagee’s faithful in his own remarks Monday, beginning with a brief history lesson on the modern state of Israel, and then asking the audience to “compare Israel’s reverence for liberty with the restrictions on religious freedom facing Christians and people of all faiths throughout the rest of the Middle East,” where “if a Muslim leaves Islam it is considered an apostasy, and it is punishable indeed by death.”
Pompeo’s posturing about helping the victims of religious persecution would be a bit more credible if he were not part of an administration that imposed a travel ban that bars Iranians of all religious backgrounds from coming to the U.S., and it would be a little less ridiculous if his department hadn’t stranded dozens of Iranian religious minorities in limbo for years. The Trump administration is happy to use other governments’ abuses as talking points, but it is hard to shake the impression that they do so to advance their own agenda against those governments. Along the same lines, they credit client dictatorships with being more tolerant of religious minorities than they really are. Their record of providing real support and assistance to victims of religious persecution is quite poor.
Pompeo’s abuse of the Book of Esther deserves a few comments. He said:
This is similar to a cry that came out of Iran – then called Persia ‒ many, many years ago. The Book of Esther teaches us about this. It was in the 5th century B.C. There was a wicked advisor named King Xerxes [bold mine-DL]. A fellow named Haman hatched a plot to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire. He secretly wrote letters with the king’s seal to all the provincial governors, ordering the people to rise up and attack the Jews. This edict, once issued, could not be revoked. But thanks to the courageous intervention of Queen Esther, who begged the king to show mercy to her people, Haman’s plot was exposed and the Jews were ultimately spared. Today this marks the Jewish holiday of Purim and it commemorates this amazing miracle.
As Boland notes, Pompeo is cribbing from Netanyahu’s own abuse of the Esther story earlier in the year. The prime minister’s misuse of this story is consistent with Netanyahu’s habit of engaging in cheap anti-Iranian demagoguery for many years. Pompeo seems a little confused on the details of the story, but the disturbing thing is that the Secretary of State thinks it is appropriate to use a distorted reading of Scripture to promote his tedious anti-Iranian propaganda. This is not the first time Pompeo has abused the Esther story for this purpose. Sina Toossi pointed this out earlier this year when he made similar references in a radio interview:
Aside from the preposterous notion that President Trump enjoys divine support, Pompeo’s remarks distort the story of Esther and demonize the Iranian people and their history. Nor is Pompeo’s framing of this Biblical story new. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long twisted the Old Testament’s book of Esther to advance a hawkish agenda on Iran. Such rhetoric from Pompeo and Netanyahu is demagogic hyperbole at best and dangerous incitement against the Iranian people at worst.
The purpose of retelling this story is to create the impression that there is some deep-seated hostility between Iranians and Jews that dates back to antiquity, and Pompeo was telling that to an evangelical audience at the conference to rile up their hostility towards Iran. It’s not true, and the historical record doesn’t support it in the slightest. It is the most pathetic sort of religious rabble-rousing, and it ought to be beneath someone in Pompeo’s position. Unfortunately, because this is Pompeo we’re talking about, it is just what we expect from him.