By Ali Omidi*
Perhaps there are people among you, who would remember that when they were put on trial and exposed to a small danger, they started crying and shed tears in front of the judge and even brought their children into the court to buy sympathy from the judge. However, I (Socrates) will not do that though I am exposed to the greatest of dangers. I have relatives of my own, because as Homer says, I was not born out of an oak tree and did not spring out of a rock, but I have arisen from among humans and even have three boys, one of whom is a grown-up and the two others are still children. However, I will never bring them to this court in order to have your sympathy.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, March 10, 2017, at the Kremlin. During the meeting, he claimed that Iran was promoting “Shia Islamic terrorism” and warned that as long as Iran is present in Syria, there would be no peace in the Arab country.
According to media reports, during the meeting, Putin congratulated Netanyahu on the occasion of the Jewish holiday of Purim. The Israel prime minister, for his part, said, Jews celebrate Purim because Persia (present-day Iran), “did not succeed in destroying Jews.” He also alleged that even today, “Iran – the heir of the Persians – has similar designs: to wipe out the state of the Jews.”.
In response, the Russian president said those developments belonged to 2,500 years ago and “we live in a different world.” He then asked Netanyahu to talk about the existing problems in the region. It must be noted that the narrative that Jews have of the myth of Haman, who was a top advisor to the Iranian monarch Xerxes I, and Esther, the Jewish wife of the king, is that Haman was behind a conspiracy to make the king order the killing of all Jews in ancient Persia. However, Mordecai, a Jewish advisor to the king, was helped by Queen Esther and while preventing the king’s order from being implemented, caused the king to order the massacre of Haman and his whole family.
In these remarks and also previously in an address to US Congress, Netanyahu has used, at least, five fallacies in his historical narrative. Fallacy is an outwardly creditable argument, which is used to prove a wrong claim or refute a right one. In fact, fallacy is some form of manipulating primary and secondary parts of an argument to reach one’s own desired conclusion. Logic experts have recognized scores of fallacies in human oral and body languages, which cannot be discussed here. However, five discernible fallacies can be detected in Netanyahu’s anti-Iran allegations and the way he narrates the myth of Haman and Esther.
The first fallacy is anachronism. In this fallacy, a person analyzes developments of the past on the basis of criteria and values of the modern times. Even if the original story is right, Netanyahu analyzes it on the basis of current criteria and discourses. There was no such concept as anti-Semitism in ancient Iran. However, he is trying to analyze developments of that time, including the myth of Haman and Esther, on the basis of today’s discourses and values, which condemn anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism, however, is a phenomenon, which mostly belongs to the history of Christianity rather than Iran, Islam and so forth.
His second fallacy is historical resembling. In historical resembling, current developments and personalities are simulated on the basis of historical developments and personalities. Even if the myth of Haman and Esther were true, it would be totally incorrect to draw an analogy between Iran’s current leaders and Haman. Iran and its people have undergone thousands of developments in the course of history, which render such a comparison basically wrong.
Straw man fallacy is the third fallacy, which can be detected in Netanyahu’s remarks. In this fallacy, the person in question does not provide an argument against real allegations of the opposite side, but he rather attributes easily refutable claims to the opponent and then refutes them. Netanyahu does not pay attention to Iran’s official positions through which the Islamic Republic stresses the self-determination right for Palestinians via their freedom-seeking movement and calls for a referendum on the fate of Palestine as well as an end to occupation of Palestinian territories.
Instead, he accuses Iran of anti-Semitism as well as planning a possible Holocaust and nuclear destruction of Israel and tries to show that positions, which have been attributed to Iran, are all negative. Although some Iranian officials may go to great length on the issue of Palestine, the official position of the country, which has been emphasized mostly by the country’s presidents and foreign ministers as the highest-ranking officials in Iran’s foreign policy apparatus, is by no means at odds with international law.
The fourth fallacy is mythologization. A myth is basically distortion of realities and although it may not be a fallacy, it may turn into a fallacy if politicians want to exploit it. Humans are usually very inclined toward mythologizing historical personalities and developments and it is through this way that their group identity takes shape and becomes meaningful. In the Western and Jewish cultures, the myth of Esther and Haman is being publicized with strong vigor and it has a large audience base. People like Netanyahu take advantage of these myths to achieve their own political goals.
The fifth fallacy is appeal to emotions. This fallacy is used when one side has no clear argument to reject or prove a proposition and instead, tries to take advantage of other people’s emotions and sentiments in order to make them take sides with his fallacy. As has been indicated in the first paragraph of this paper, Plato believes that what Socrates has said in his own defense is a good example of this fallacy. Socrates had emphasized that he did not want to take advantage of sympathy and pity of his audience. Such fallacy is not always necessarily expressed in words. Socrates brings an example about taking children to court. Crying, using high tone when speaking in order to gain influence over the audience, and malingering in a soccer match in order to deceive the referee are all examples of fallacious behavior.
Here, in the myth of Esther and Haman, and also with regard to the issue of Holocaust, Netanyahu and other Israeli politicians play the victim card in order to attract the attention of the audience and finally make them confirm their fallacy. In this case, Netanyahu has also used historical resemblance fallacy and has tried to draw an analogy between the present-day Iran and the Nazi Germany.
About the author:
*Ali Omidi, Associate Professor of International Relations & Professor of International Law; University of Isfahan, Iran