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Memo to Fareed Zakaria: It's Not Bibi Who's a Messianist but Ahamadinejad Who's Chasing Armageddon

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Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg was right to call out Fareed Zakaria, who in Newsweek magazine appears to cast Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and company as possibly driven by a Messianic vision -- not the cold, hard reality that the Mullahs in Tehran are on the verge of backing Ahmadinejad's genocidal rants with nuclear teeth.

Mr. Zakaria's misguided muse is based on the following quote attributed to one of Bibi's aides:

"One of Netanyahu's advisers said of Iran, 'Think Amalek.' The Bible says that the Amalekites were dedicated enemies of the Jewish people. In 1 Samuel 15, God says, "Go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass."
Mr. Zakaria concludes: "Now, were the president of Iran and his advisers to have cited a religious text that gave divine sanction for the annihilation of an entire race, they would be called, well, messianic."

Mr. Zakaria -- you are dead wrong on this Biblical exegesis.

Actually, Amalekites aren't 'dedicated enemies of the Jewish people'. While almost everything about Amalek is shrouded in mystery, the Bible tells of a people -- of unknown origin -- who launched an unprovoked attack on bedraggled ex-slaves traveling through the wilderness without apparent cause, targeting the weakest among them. In rabbinic thought, Amalek was the archetype of hatred of good itself, who attacked Israel, not because of any strategic goals, but out of pure hatred and contempt.

To the scholars of the Talmud and those who had to distill the legal requirements implied by the Bible, Amalek was a quagmire of doubt. Some scholars believed that it was a people that had lived once and since disappeared. Another view had it that Amalek was not a people, but a cultural expression.

Without firm knowledge of who Amalek was, or how they were to be eliminated, Jews did not see destroying Amalek as a practical matter. Yet Amalek's existence and its periodic depredations of the Jews and humanity would remain a reality to contend with.

My colleague, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, the Director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, points out that even if Jews had the power to resist -- which was denied them for the last few millennia -- they could not chance violating the stricture against murder. So even when Jews were allowed by their Persian ruler to battle their enemies in the Book of Esther (whose villain, according to rabbinic tradition, was an Amalekite), they used the license only to wage a defensive war against those who attacked them -- not to slaughter indiscriminately.

But remembering Amalek is a Mitzvah, embedded in the Jewish consciousness. We are commanded to remember that the unthinkable can and does happen and that there are tyrants for whom hate trumps every other goal or conquest. We remember that even when the military conflict of World War II was still in doubt, Hitler insisted on pursuing his genocide against Jewish men, women and children -- dispatching trains across Europe to ship Jews to the gas chambers, diverting manpower and supplies needed on the fronts. For Adolf Hitler, eliminating the last Jew on earth was more important than winning the war.

So when Bibi's aide says : "Think Amalek", he means -- remember that we Jews have learned the hard way that unthinkable evil can quickly become a reality; that those who call for Israel's destruction have to be taken seriously. Israelis do not regard the Iranian people as Amalek, or entertain any notion of incinerating millions of innocents in a nuclear holocaust. But the once and future threat of Amalek won't let us forget that pure evil does exist -- and left unchallenged it can manifest in a scope greater than we can anticipate or are prepared to recognize.

So Fareed -- we all have reasons to lose sleep over a Middle East leader driven by a messianic vision -- but it ain't Bibi -- it's Ahmadinejad and those Mullahs who are chasing their fanatical vision of Armageddon