“The Jewish people in Israel love him like he’s the King of Israel,” Trump quoted Root as saying. “They love him like he is the second coming of God...But American Jews don’t know him or like him. They don’t even know what they’re doing or saying anymore.”
Trump’s tweets made “King of Israel” the leading trending topic of the day on Twitter, generating many baffled and outraged responses. Later Wednesday, Trump said “I am the chosen one” to fix the U.S. trade imbalance with China, as he looked to the sky.
He told reporters that his trade war with China was one that should have taken place a long time ago: “Somebody had to do it, so I’m taking on China. I’m taking on China on trade, and you know what? We’re winning.”
In the Bible, Jewish leaders call Jesus the “king of Israel” in a mocking way when he was put on the cross, according to Matthew 27:42: “He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.”
Root also says that Jews “love him like he is the second coming of God.” Jewish scriptures include mentions of a concept of a Messiah who will improve the world, but it’s left unspecific and is not central to Judaism. Christianity includes the core idea of a Messiah, or savior — Jesus.
The Pew Research Center found in 2018 that 69 percent of Israelis had confidence in Trump to do the right thing regarding world affairs. Pew’s poll did not break out by religion, but an earlier Pew study from 2014 and 2015 found 81 percent of Israel’s population was Jewish.
Root made his comments on Newsmax TV, and they were picked up Wednesday morning by Trump. Trump endorsed Root’s 2015 book about how Trump was changing the United States, and Root has spoken at Trump rallies.
In the aftermath of the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting conducted by a lone white man, Root falsely blamed “Muslim terror.” He also pushed the idea that the death of Democratic staffer Seth Rich was ordered by Democratic leaders. In addition, he repeated right-wing theories that Jewish billionaire George Soros paid Charlottesville protesters.
While Root isn’t the first to make biblical comparisons with Trump, the “King of Israel” link to Jesus would be considered out of most mainstream conservative Christian views.
Trump isn’t the first president to not shy away from such comparisons. President Andrew Johnson, who took Abraham Lincoln’s place after Lincoln was assassinated, handled Reconstruction after the Civil War. According to biographer Hans Trefousse, Johnson had delivered a speech at each stop on a tour across the country: “Generally recounting his rise from the tailor’s bench to the presidency, he compared himself to Jesus Christ and explained that like the Savior, he, too, liked to pardon repentant sinners,” Trefousse wrote.
After Trump announced he would move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared Trump to King Cyrus of Persia, who allowed Jews to return to Israel, ending their historic exile in Babylon.
Trump’s tweets come in the middle of the latest debate over American support for Israel and its government’s policies. Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) were barred from entering Israel earlier this month because of their support of a boycott against the nation — and after Trump pushed for the travel ban.
On Tuesday, Trump said American Jews who vote for Democrats show “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” leading critics to suggest Trump was repeating old anti-Semitic tropes that Jews have “dual loyalty.”
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the center, condemned Trump’s remarks Wednesday, saying that bipartisan support is “absolutely essential to the future well being and security of the Jewish State.”
“To say otherwise, and depend only on one party, particularly in these turbulent times of increased hate and anti-Semitism, only weakens and divides the most important Jewish community in the Diaspora,” they said in a statement.
Trump’s tweets Wednesday quoting Root were met with a mix of outrage, confusion, biblical interpretation and humor from across the religious landscape.
Emily Guskin contributed to this report.