Last Friday, the Washington Post published a column by Ishaan Tharoor—a dedicated Israel hater—titled “The Trump Administration’s Obsession with an Ancient Persian Emperor.” The column took as its prime example a tweet sent by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo marking the day in 539 BCE when “Cyrus the Great entered Babylon and freed the Jewish people from captivity” and declaring that the U.S. “stands with the Iranian people who are blocked by the [current] regime from celebrating [Cyrus’s] legacy.” While admitting that this “famous event in history” is documented by “sources including biblical Scripture,” Tharoor made sure to point out that Cyrus “presided over massacres and pillage.” He then went on connect the Trump administration’s invocations of the Persian monarch to its affection for lawless despots as well as the eschatology of a radical fringe of evangelical Christianity.
Rivkah Fishman-Duker responds:
Pompeo’s tweet was [in part] aimed at the tremendous popular response that the ancient king of Persia still evokes among Iranians, which stands diametrically opposed to the ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran. [Tharoor’s] reference to excesses in battle is an attempt to discredit his standing as “proto-national hero.”
Evangelicals, [for their part], have their own ways of interpreting the Bible. They are not “obsessed” with anyone except for Jesus of Nazareth. All leaders like to compare themselves to previous significant figures whom they admire. There are countless examples. Didn’t Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey declare at the anti-Brett Kavanaugh hearings last year, “I am Spartacus!”?
If Harry Truman, [of whom Tharoor makes no mention], and Donald Trump choose to think of themselves as Cyrus, the comparison is historically flawed but well-intentioned, and I would not pay too much attention to it.
For those who wish to vilify Israel, anything that can be invoked against Israel is useful for the cause. . . . Oddly enough, [though, Tharoor’s column] reminds the world that the Temple was in Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, and acknowledges the Jewish presence there long before Islam and the Palestinians. This runs counter to the mendacious Palestinian narrative that claims that the Jews are not the indigenous people but usurpers who lack a historical claim to the land.