by Hamid Dabashi
As President Donald Trump has wreaked havoc of biblical proportions across the world, some believers – quite understandably – have taken to the scriptures and their tales of great disasters and divine punishment to explain the current vortex of calamities.
But there has also been another reading of religious texts, mainly by eager American evangelicals, which has paradoxically presented Trump – a serial adulterer and public sinner – as a divine blessing.
Back in 2016, during a televised conversation on whether Trump has a “biblical mandate” to be a president, evangelical thinker Lance Wallnau opined: “America’s going to have a challenge […] With Trump, I believe we have a Cyrus to navigate through the storm.”
Then just a few weeks ago, during his visit to Israel, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked: “Could it be that President Trump right now has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from the Iranian menace?” To which he responded: “As a Christian, I certainly believe that’s possible.”
It would be quite tempting to disregard the absurdity of these analogies, and rush to the conclusion that the people who believe in them inhabit a delusional world of their own – very much like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his ISIL gangs or the Hindu fundamentalists and their lynch mobs.
But building Trump into a floating biblical signifier has a far more sinister side to it. It is no coincidence that the Zionists from Tel Aviv to New York love such talk. After all it serves perfectly their systematic efforts to erase the true histories of Palestinians and Jews and falsify their way into claiming the whole of Palestine.
Trump, the biblical king
Now, for sane people who care about history: Cyrus II of Persia (600–530 BC), more commonly known as Cyrus the Great, was the founder of the Achaemenid Empire, the vastest multicultural empire of the ancient world that extended from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indus Valley.
Cyrus the Great has a particularly venerable place in Jewish history and according to the Hebrew Bible (Isaiah 45:1), God had anointed him for the task of liberating Jews from bondage and allowing them to go back to Palestine and rebuild their temple. “This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armour, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut.” He, the Persian King, the Bible calls “the Anointed One” or Messiah.
Queen Esther, meanwhile, according to the same Hebrew Bible, was an Iranian Jewish queen saving other Iranian Jews from a plot at the court of Xerxes I, the fourth Persian king of the Achaemenid Empire (519 – 465 BC).
From the Book of Esther, we learn that the king’s chief advisor, a nasty character named Haman, was a rival of another court adviser Mordecai, a cousin of Esther, and plotted to kill all the Persian Jews. The queen discovered his plan and successfully foiled it.
The tombs of Esther and Mordecai in the Iranian city of Hamadan are a major site of pilgrimage – and not just for Iranian Jews. I first heard of this pilgrimage site from my late mother, who was a devout Shi’a woman.
In the delusional world of Zionism, however, the figures of King Cyrus and Queen Esther have been stripped of cultural and historical context and complexity and have been put into use as examples of rulers who have aided Jews’ return to the “promised land”.
Some evangelicals, who support Zionism out of the belief that the Jewish migration to Israel would trigger the Second Coming have eagerly elevated Trump to the status of a biblical ruler. He, in turn, has happily obliged and made a number of political concessions to Israel, out of the rather worldly consideration that the evangelical vote could win him re-election next year.
The belief among some of these evangelicals that the Second Coming would send all non-believers (including Jews) to hell does not seem to perturb Zionists, who welcome evangelical efforts to shape US foreign policy on Palestine along biblical lines.
They also help Zionist efforts to frame the colonisation of Palestine as the “rightful” return of an “indigenous” population to its “promised” land.
This project is aimed not only to rob Palestinians (including the hundreds of thousands of them who are Christian) of their ancestral homeland, but also to rob Jews of their ancestral homelands throughout the world. In this particular case, it is aimed to strip Iranian Jews of who they really are: both Iranians and Jews.
De-nationalising Jews from their historic homes and habitat, depriving them of their rightful claims to the nations, in which they have been historically born and raised, are common goals both the Zionists and the anti-Semites seek to achieve.
Contrary to their wishes, however, Iranian Jews are both Iranians and Jews and there is absolutely no contradiction in that statement. Iranians can be, and are, Sunni, Shia, Christian, Zoroastrian, Jewish, etc.
Liberating facts against dangerous delusions
The end game of this de-nationalisation project is to ensure there are no longer any Iranian Jews, or Iraqi Jews, or American Jews, or British Jews, etc but just atomised and generic Jews, who see themselves as foreigners in their own countries.
This vicious campaign to uproot Jews from their homelands, however, has been countered by the efforts of responsible historians hard at work documenting precisely the opposite of their malevolent intentions.
In his beautifully edited volume Esther’s Children: A Portrait of Iranian Jews (2002), Houman Sarshar brings together scores of essays by leading scholars of Judeo-Iranian history and culture. From the pages of this book, we learn about the history and culture of one of the most ancient Jewish communities on planet Earth, proud of who and what they are: Iranian and Jewish. It reveals how Jews have been integral to the tumultuous history of their Iranian homeland, its artistic achievements, and the pluralism of faith and social formations throughout its centuries-long history.
In a more recent book, Between Iran and Zion: Jewish Histories of Twentieth-Century Iran (2018), Lior B Sternfeld pays closer attention to the more recent history of Iranian Jews, from the Constitutional Revolution of 1906-1911 to the Iranian revolution of 1977-1979. Sternfeld (full disclosure, he is a young Israeli scholar who studied with my former student Professor Haggai Ram at Ben Gurion University and is therefore something of a spiritual grandson to me – as well as a dear friend and colleague) documents the important role Iranian Jews played in the Iranian nation-building project and the major political events that shook the country in the twentieth century.
These are just two of the many historical works that disprove the Zionist and evangelical notions of what Jewishness means.
Esther was an Iranian Jew. Iranian Jews have rightly and with absolute historical accuracy claimed her for themselves and consider themselves symbolically “Children of Esther”- and how beautiful is that!
Iranian Jews are Iranian. They have as much if not more right to their homeland as do Muslims, Zoroastrians, Christians or any other kind of Iranian. That some of them, along with Iranians of other faiths chose to migrate from Iran to the US or elsewhere does not change the fact of who they are.
More than four million Iranians live outside of their homeland – of them a few hundred thousand are Jews. In or out of their homeland, Iranian Jews, with the biblical figure of Esther as their oldest scriptural evidence, have a claim on Iran as legitimate and thorough as that of any other kind of Iranian.
Whatever evangelicals and Israeli Zionists may claim, this fact will not change. And despite their best efforts, the majority of Jews – millions of them – have chosen to remain in their homelands and not become defenceless pawns at the service of the European colonial project in Palestine.