It’s hardly surprising that on arriving in Washington, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu would feel grateful toward his host, the president of the United States. After all, Bibi’s in hot water back home thanks to a corruption investigation that may soon bear evil fruit for the longtime leader of the Israeli right. His biggest, er, trump card both domestically and internationally is his close relationship with the leader of the free world. And that relationship was significantly enhanced by the Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, at the cost of wildly negative reactions from most of the rest of the world.
But still, Netanyahu’s shout-out to Trump in Washington today was more than a bit over-the-top.
I want to tell you that the Jewish people have a long memory. So we remember the proclamation of the great King Cyrus the Great — Persian King. Twenty-five hundred years ago, he proclaimed that the Jewish exiles in Babylon can come back and rebuild our temple in Jerusalem. We remember, 100 years ago, Lord Balfour, who issued the Balfour Proclamation that recognized the rights of the Jewish people in our ancestral homeland.
We remember seventy years ago, President Harry S. Truman was the first leader to recognize the Jewish state. And we remember how a few weeks ago, President Donald J. Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Mr. President, this will be remembered by our people throughout the ages. And as you just said, others talked about it. You did it.
Given Donald Trump’s extremely well-known weakness for flattery and, indeed, sycophantic adulation, Netanyahu’s comparison of Trump to the greatest Anglo-American heroes (Balfour and Truman) of Zionist history made sense. But it’s the Cyrus comparison that was really clever.
As Tara Isabella Burton explained before Bibi made this statement, Trump-as-Cyrus is the prevailing U.S. Christian right rationalization about their support for him:
The comparison comes up frequently in the evangelical world. Many evangelical speakers and media outlets compare Trump to Cyrus, a historical Persian king who, in the sixth century BCE, conquered Babylon and ended the Babylonian captivity, a period during which Israelites had been forcibly resettled in exile. This allowed Jews to return to the area now known as Israel and build a temple in Jerusalem.
The Cyrus model for Trump has become more prominent after Trump’s announcement that the U.S. embassy would be moved to Jerusalem.
While Cyrus is not Jewish and does not worship the God of Israel, he is nevertheless portrayed in Isaiah as an instrument of God — an unwitting conduit through which God effects his divine plan for history. Cyrus is, therefore, the archetype of the unlikely “vessel”: someone God has chosen for an important historical purpose, despite not looking like — or having the religious character of — an obvious man of God.
For conservative Evangelicals who are already inclined to view Trump as a virtuous pagan who is fighting against feminists, LGBTQ activists, and other liberals to bring back the 1950s, having the Israeli leader they already identify with their apocalyptic hopes for Israel confirm Trump’s religio-historical importance is huge.
So this was quite the favor Bibi did for his friend in the White House. And it didn’t hurt that Donald Trump lacks the sense of modesty that would make him blush at comparisons to world-historical figures from across the ages.