Israeli prime minister praises Jerusalem decision, compares Trump to Persian king

International condemnation isn't swaying Israel, or the United States.

U.S. President Donald Trump (R) and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the Oval Office of the White House  March 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. (CREDIT: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump (R) and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet in the Oval Office of the White House March 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. (CREDIT: Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump is standing by his decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem — a decision that’s going over well with Israel’s conservative government.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lauded Trump’s controversial decision to declare Jerusalem the country’s capital and relocate the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to the city. During a Monday meeting in Washington, D.C., the Israeli leader thanked his U.S. counterpart for pressing the issue forward.

“This is the first time we meet in Washington, America’s capital, since you declared that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. This is a historic proclamation,” Netanyahu said.

He then went a step further, comparing Trump’s actions to a number of historical figures, including former President Truman, who recognized Israel as a nation, and Lord Balfour, a British politician whose backing allowed for the creation of the country in British-occupied Palestine. Netanyahu also named the famed Persian King Cyrus, a pagan ruler who liberated captured Jews in Babylonia.

“I want to tell you the Jewish people have a long memory, so we remember the proclamation of the great Cyrus the Great, Persian king, 2500 years ago, he proclaimed that the Jewish exile in Babylon could come back and build our temples in Jerusalem,” said Netanyahu.

“We [will] remember how you, Donald J. Trump, recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” the Israeli leader declared, linking Trump to Cyrus.

That comparison has already drawn scrutiny for a numbers of reasons. The figure of Cyrus, who factors into the Book of Isaiah, is lionized predominately by evangelical Christians. While Cyrus has grown in popularity with some conservative and hardline Jewish groups supportive of Trump’s Jerusalem stance, Netanyahu’s comments still drew questions from experts and online commentators. So did the choice of a leader linked to modern-day Iran, a country often targeted by both Trump and Netanyahu. All three versions of the president’s travel ban targeted Iranians and Trump has repeatedly blasted the Iran nuclear deal achieved under President Obama. Netanyahu has similarly claimed that the country is a threat to Israel’s existence and warned that he will retaliate against any perceived aggression.

Those sentiments surfaced on Monday, as Netanyahu called for U.S.-Israel unity against Iran. “Iran must be stopped,” he said. “That is our common challenge.” Trump agreed, vowing to end the Iran deal if Congress fails to “fix it”, though he did not go into further detail.

Apart from Iran, the brief conversation’s wider focus centered on the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, which the White House has said will be unveiled by May.

“We’re going to have it built very quickly,” Trump vowed during the meeting, saying he “may” come for the embassy’s opening. He also proclaimed the decision to be “much appreciated” in Israel and “far beyond” the country. Trump said the move was “not intended in any way to reflect a departure from” peace efforts between Israelis and Palestinians.

That view is at odds with realities on the ground. Palestinian leadership soundly condemned the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. A spokesperson for Hamas, the party ruling the occupied Gaza strip, said at the time that the action “open[ed] the gates of hell” and that Trump had crossed “a red line.” Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian official serving as the chief representative to Britain, called the move a “kiss of death” to the future peace process.

International leadership also rejected the announcement. A United Nations vote last December declared the decision “null and void” by a vote of 128 to 9, with even close U.S. allies like Canada abstaining. At the time, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley threatened that the United States would remember the vote, indicating there could be financial ramifications for those opposing the U.S. move. The White House later slashed millions of dollars in aid to the U.N. organization devoted to aiding Palestinians.

One topic that did not come up despite its looming presence were the scandals dogging both world leaders. Trump and Netanyahu are currently linked to separate ongoing investigations. The FBI is looking into any potential involvement between the Trump administration and Russia during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Israeli police, meanwhile, have recommended charging Netanyahu with bribery in two separate cases. Hours before Netanyahu’s meeting with Trump, a former media advisor and confidant turned state’s witness against the prime minister. The potentially career-ending scandal could lead to snap elections in Israel as early as June.