Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, a prominent U.S.-born Israeli rabbi over the weekend compared President Barack Obama to Haman, the notorious villain from the biblical Book of Esther.
“The president of the United States is lashing out at Israel just like Haman lashed out at the Jews,” Riskin said according to a Jerusalem Post report on his Saturday night speech at the Jerusalem Great Synagogue.
The Post reported that Riskin said he could not comprehend what might be going through Obama’s mind as the president reportedly was set to make steep compromises in a negotiated deal on Iran’s controversial nuclear program.
“I’m not making a political statement,” Riskin said according to the Post. “I’m making a Jewish statement.”
President Barack Obama waves from Air Force One upon his arrival at Andrews Air Force Base, Sunday, March 29, 2015. Obama is returning to Washington after a weekend getaway at the Floridian National Gold Golf Course. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
The Jerusalem Post reported that an audience member called out to Riskin that he was being disrespectful to Obama, but the interruption was booed by the crowd.
“I am being disrespectful because the president of the United States was disrespectful to my prime minister, to my country, to my future and to the future of the world,” Riskin said.
While he cast Obama as the villain, the rabbi compared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Mordechai, one of the heroes of the Esther story.
Riskin said that like Mordechai who aimed to save the Jews of Persia from Haman’s genocidal plans to annihilate them, Netanyahu was working to save Israel and the world from destruction, in particular because he spoke to Congress “even if it angered Obama.”
Leading up to Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to Congress, there was a lively discussion in Orthodox Jewish circles drawing parallels between Netanyahu's effort and Esther’s appeal to her husband King Ahasuerus to scuttle Haman’s murderous plans.
One of the arguments suggested the fact that the Obama administration was so angered by Netanyahu’s congressional address which it called a break in diplomatic protocol was reminiscent of the Esther saga.
The same kind of break in protocol, they argued, was key to the Jews’ salvation in the Book of Esther, because Esther defied her husband and risked her own life by approaching him when she had not first been invited.
During the Jewish holiday of Purim, Jews traditionally make noise whenever Haman’s name is read during synagogue chantings of the Book of Esther, a symbolic gesture to blot out the villainous character’s name.
Riskin is the chief rabbi of Efrat, a Jewish settlement in Judea.
The Obama administration strongly opposes the building of Jewish communities in the West Bank and east Jerusalem and has expressed support for an Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders with some border adjustments in the context of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.