(September 23, 2022 / JNS) Jared Kushner spoke of his grandparents’ marriage in Hungary in the ashes of the Holocaust as he accepted the Order of Merit of Hungary on Thursday. The award, presented at the Hungarian mission to the United Nations in New York, recognized Kushner’s efforts in “strengthening Hungarian-American relations and creating the Abraham Accords supporting peace in the Middle East,” according to the mission.
“I was very touched when I received the notice that this was an award that was going to be presented to me. And it had a very special place in my heart because my family has a very unique history of the country that I don’t think a lot of people know about,” said Kushner.
He told those in attendance of his grandparents’ escape from Belarus, surviving as other family members were killed.
“My grandmother had to witness [Jews in her town] being executed, and then clean the blood off of the floors in the town square while they made other Jews play the violin—music to celebrate what they thought was a very special occasion,” said Kushner.
Only a few hundred Jews out of tens of thousands from his grandmother’s town survived, and she went on to join the resistance fighters against the Nazis, where she met Kushner’s grandfather.
“They survived really through the grace of G-d, through a great miracle. The first happy occasion that they had was in Hungary. They were married in Hungary along the way. It wasn’t an elaborate ceremony. It was quick, with another 10 or 20 couples,” Kushner said of his grandparents, before their travels to a displaced persons’ camp in Italy and on to the U.S.
“When I went to the White House, the first thing I brought with me was a picture of my grandparents to remind me of how fragile life is and how critical America is, as a country that can allow people who were just really up at death’s door to be able to come build a bright future, and then have their children and their grandchildren serve the country in the way that I was very fortunate to do,” Kushner said.
The ties between the administrations of U.S. President Donald Trump and Hungarian President Viktor Orban were particularly close. Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto was the only European country’s top diplomat in attendance for the signing of the Abraham Accords, which was an effort largely led by Kushner as senior advisor to his father-in-law, Trump.
“I thought that Europe would be a much more active partner in trying to resolve the [conflict] and closing the final chapter of post-World War II refugees, and trying to create security for the Jewish people so that the atrocities that occurred in Europe have a much lower probability of ever happening again. But what I found in Europe was a lot of conventional thinking,” said Kushner. “And then I met Peter. He said if we’re going to make a difference, we can’t focus on doing this the way that it’s been done in the past. Let’s think out of the box. You can consider me your partner in trying to create peace.”
Kushner said Szijjarto provided quality ideas and suggestions, and was Kushner’s first call whenever he needed help in Europe.
For his part, Szijjarto claimed Hungary has a substantial interest in peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, which was largely behind his efforts to move the accords forward.
“In Central Europe, we pay a special attention to the Middle East because of many reasons. First, there are thousands, tens, or even hundreds of thousands of citizens of Israel with Hungarian origin. And their security and their well-being is extremely important for us,” said Szijjarto. “And the second aspect is that Central Europe is not so far from the Middle East, and the security situation in the Middle East determines and influences the security situation in Central Europe, as well.”
Szijjarto, perhaps in an undiplomatic manner, expressed a hope that he will have the opportunity to work with a Trump White House again, and claimed that “if President Trump had remained in office, I’m pretty sure the war [between Russia and Ukraine] would have not broken out. And this would be a totally different, and I would say much better world than it is currently.”
He said Hungary was “crossing fingers for the success of President Trump,” though he “wouldn’t enter into this discussion too much, because that would put a suspicion on us that we might interfere.”
Kushner, meanwhile, pointed to Hungary’s support as evidence that the Abraham Accords weren’t just between Israel and its Arab neighbors, but were “really something that everyone wanted to embrace.” In accepting the award, Kushner noted the distinct difference between the business and the diplomatic worlds.
If you do a business transaction, usually property is exchanged. When you do a peace deal, all you do is you change people’s minds,” said Kushner. “So, they agree to think differently the next day than they did the day before, which is quite an extraordinary thing when you think about it.”
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