Center Field: Comparing today's world leaders to Ahasueruses and Hamans

Hamans spread like coronavirus. Their power is amplified today because we lack the Esthers and Mordecais of yesteryear.

US President Donald Trump unveils his Middle East peace plan together with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House on January 28, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS)
US President Donald Trump unveils his Middle East peace plan together with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House on January 28, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It’s sobering to live in a world overdosing on Ahasueruses and Hamans but missing Esthers and Mordecais.
Today, Israel and the United States are led by modern Ahasueruses.
Drunk on power, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu foolishly paralyzes an entire country for a year in his desperate refusal to retire. For years, many of us believed that whatever our disagreements with him, he woke up daily asking “What’s best for Israel and the Jewish people?” Today, he just seems to be asking “What’s best for Bibi?”
Drunk on ego, US President Donald Trump foolishly puts his prejudices ahead of America’s core ideals. And just like Ahasuerus’s ultimate switch to save the Jewish people didn’t undo other mistakes he made, Trump’s pro-Israel policy doesn’t negate the other damage his bullying causes.
Hamans spread like coronavirus. Palestinian dictators and enablers train children to hate, teenagers to kill, and their people to accept living in misery, as the elites live grandly while getting coddled as the world’s favorite underdog. We have strongmen galore, from Hezbollah’s bloodthirsty Hassan Nasrallah to Iran’s oppressive Ali Khamenei to Russia’s wily Vladimir Putin to Syria’s murderous Bashar Assad.
True, these contemporary Hamans aren’t as menacing as the Hitlers and Stalins or even the Nassers and Arafats. Yet their power is amplified today because we lack the Esthers and Mordecais of yesteryear.
In Israel, the yearlong electoral stalemate has demoralized most voters and sullied the Bibi alternatives.
Within the Right, you wonder what might finally propel Naftali Bennett or Ayelet Shaked to break the predicted third logjam by working with Blue and White – a party that includes former generals and former colleagues on the Right who accept Israel’s security consensus – because people like Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi and Benny Gantz helped define it.
You also wonder whether any of the Likud munchkins, who have been diminished by their total devotion to their Perpetual Leader, will ever break, or shake up the Likud bloc.
In the Center, the excitement that surrounded the Blue and White campaign launch a year ago has faded.
“Politics is ugly, and the public arena has become poisoned,” Gantz said in his eloquent opening speech, denouncing “today’s self-absorbed leadership.” This election three-peat has clouded his and his allies’ impressive achievement in creating a party from nothing and winning the most votes in September. Any potential “Esthers” in the party lack star billing, while none of the four leaders has wowed voters as a modern Mordecai.
AT LEAST the four-headed Blue-and-Whiters figured out how to unite against the greater threat. In the US, as Elizabeth Warren slashed, Bernie Sanders bellowed and Michael Bloomberg stumbled, it became clear who won the ninth Democratic debate in Las Vegas: Donald Trump.
It’s always hard when an incumbent president coasts to renomination, as candidates in the other party first slug it out. Ronald Reagan chuckled in 1984 as Gary “Where’s the Beef” Hart tagged Walter Mondale as a creature of special interests, just as Barack Obama beamed in 2012, watching the never-ending GOP contest yank moderate Mitt Romney ever rightward.
Still, 2020’s Democratic civil war feels particularly uncivil and self-destructive. Rather than pulling it together, “Trumpophobia” seems to be tearing the party apart. At the debate, few even bothered offering anything lyrical, constructive, redemptive: no Reaganesque “Morning in America,” no Obamaian “Yes We Can,” to motivate and mobilize.
Even worse, the leading candidate (for now), Bernie Sanders, is a walking, talking (or hollering) worst-case scenario for the Democratic Party – and the Jewish community.
Sanders seems to be channeling Trump’s strategy of motivating an aggressive minority to bully, then outlast, the moderates, the party grown-ups. The menace from “Bernie bros” is not some Russian ploy – and serious enough to infuriate Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Michael Bloomberg and Pete Buttigieg, who challenged Sanders at the debate: “ask yourself what it is about your campaign in particular that seems to be motivating this behavior....”
Beyond that, pushing the Democratic Party to the far Left in an election that hinges on moderate swing states is like steering the Titanic toward the iceberg.
Even before Sanders libeled AIPAC, claiming it offers a “platform... for leaders who express bigotry,” his rise seemed determined to torture pro-Israel Democrats. Choosing between Trump and a senator who has never shown much love for the Jewish state, who cavorts with antisemites like Linda Sarsour and Ilhan Omar, and acts like a proud Bash-Israel-firster, would be nightmarish. It would be like choosing between eating a poisonous falafel ball laced with ham and a poisonous gefilte fish stuffed with hot peppers.
Perhaps, the “Berge” – the Bernie surge – will force Democrats to stop ignoring the disturbing fact that after decades as America’s most pro-Israel party, their party, while still majority pro-Israel, now houses a wing that is sneeringly, obsessively anti-Israel and welcomes, even excuses, some antisemites, too.
I’ve said it before. In 1991, the leading right-winger William F. Buckley exposed the Jew-hatred behind Pat Buchanan’s isolationism and anti-Zionism, saying it violated Republican values. It’s time for Barack Obama or another leading iconic Democrat to read out the Israel-haters from the party of Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy, of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Nancy Pelosi – all passionate pro-Israel liberal Democrats. That’s not a job for a Mordecai or an Esther – although Jewish Democrats must stop covering up the problem. That’s a job for a non-Jewish hero willing to defy “Twitterdumb” and the bullies inside the Democratic Party, while preserving Democrats’ greater goal – unseating Trump.
The writer is the author of The Zionist Ideas, an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology, The Zionist Idea. A distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University, he is the author of 10 books on American history, including The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.