The Story of Cyrus the Great, Invoked by Harry Truman, Is a Cautionary as Well as a Hopeful Tale

Speaking to a Jewish group after the end of his presidency, Harry Truman famously declared “I am Cyrus!”—referring to the Persian emperor who in the 6th century BCE permitted Jewish exiles to return to the Land of Israel to rebuild the Temple. Meir Soloveichik examines this invocation of “the most celebrated non-Jew in the Hebrew Bible” by a president himself deeply familiar with Scripture, and its lesson for the future of U.S.-Israel relations:

Cyrus’s story hints at an extraordinary occurrence unparalleled in Jewish history: the existence of millions of Gentiles who are Zionists, Americans whose attachment to Hebraic texts is the foundation of their love for the Jewish state. . . . The American founders, and many of their successors, were dramatically affected by the Tanakh, but there is no guarantee that America will remain this way. Here Cyrus’s story offers a cautionary example.

The book of Ezra reports that although Cyrus proclaimed the Jewish return, the rebuilding of the Temple was then halted by those who bribed members of Cyrus’s court and lied about the Jews’ motivations. This was the first movement against the Jewish right to Jerusalem, and it existed in Cyrus’s empire 2,500 years ago. The message is clear for our time: a world power that is moved by the story of biblical Israel can also become unmoored from the values of biblical Israel. The [story of Cyrus] is, perhaps, a hint to a future where millions of Gentiles would revere the Hebrew Bible and the land of Israel; but it can also be seen as a reminder that countries whose leaders were once inspired by the word of God can cease to be so.

The question we face is whether the Hebrew Bible will continue to speak to America, or whether, as in suddenly secular Europe, America will amputate this aspect of its identity entirely from itself.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Ancient Persia, Harry Truman, Hebrew Bible, US-Israel relations

Would an American-Backed UN Resolution Calling for a Temporary Ceasefire Undermine Israel?

Yesterday morning, the U.S. vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution, sponsored by Algeria, that demanded an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. As an alternative, the American delegation has been circulating a draft resolution calling for a “temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practicable, based on the formula of all hostages being released.” Benny Avni comments:

While the Israel Defense Force may be able to maintain its Gaza operations under that provision, the U.S.-proposed resolution also warns the military against proceeding with its plan to enter the southern Gaza town of Rafah. Israel says that a critical number of Hamas fighters are hiding inside tunnels and in civilian buildings at Rafah, surrounded by a number of the remaining 134 hostages.

In one paragraph, the text of the new American resolution says that the council “determines that under current circumstances a major ground offensive into Rafah would result in further harm to civilians and their further displacement including potentially into neighboring countries, which would have serious implications for regional peace and security, and therefore underscores that such a major ground offensive should not proceed under current circumstances.”

In addition to the paragraph about Rafah, the American-proposed resolution is admonishing Israel not to create a buffer zone inside Gaza. Such a narrow zone, as wide as two miles, is seen by many Israelis as a future protection against infiltration from Gaza.

Perhaps, as Robert Satloff argues, the resolution isn’t intended to forestall an IDF operation in Rafah, but only—consistent with prior statements from the Biden administration—to demand that Israel come up with a plan to move civilians out of harms way before advancing on the city.

If that is so, the resolution wouldn’t change much if passed. But why is the U.S. proposing an alternative ceasefire resolution at all? Strategically, Washington has nothing to gain from stopping Israel, its ally, from achieving a complete victory over Hamas. Why not instead pass a resolution condemning Hamas (something the Security Council has not done), calling for the release of hostages, and demanding that Qatar and Iran stop providing the group with arms and funds? Better yet, demand that these two countries—along with Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon—arrest Hamas leaders on their territory.

Surely Russia would veto such a resolution, but still, why not go on the offensive, rather than trying to come up with another UN resolution aimed at restraining Israel?

Read more at New York Sun

More about: Gaza War 2023, U.S.-Israel relationship, United Nations