(October 26, 2020 / JNS) When U.S. President Donald Trump hired his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, he was ridiculed for it. When the president said that he would put Kushner in charge of Arab-Israeli peace efforts, and that he would succeed in bringing peace to the Middle East, he was further derided. With the advent of the Abraham Accords, and now Sudan’s recognition of Israel—all spearheaded by Kushner—few people are still laughing.
Kushner’s exploits began when he traveled with Trump on his first foreign trip to Saudi Arabia and ultimately to Israel. In Israel, Trump became the first American leader to visit the Western Wall as president.
That trip laid the groundwork for the change in administration policy towards Israel and the Sunni-Muslim countries, which eventually led to the historic Abraham Accords. A sea change in Sunni-Arab attitudes has now been achieved by the Trump administration.
In a recent column in The New York Post, Commentary Magazine editor-in-chief John Podhoretz wrote that the decision that eventually led to the Abraham Accords was Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Trump’s determination to acknowledge Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv, was encouraged and backed by U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and supported by Vice President Mike Pence and then-U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley. Kushner and then-Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt also championed the decision.
Kushner spoke eloquently at the embassy relocation ceremony in Jerusalem, hosted by Friedman. At the event, which I attended, White House adviser Ivanka Trump—Kushner’s wife and the president’s daughter—unveiled the engraving of the U.S. Seal on the new embassy building with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
Skeptics believed that this recognition would destroy hope for Middle East peace, and that instability would ensue. The Abraham Accords proved them wrong.
When Greenblatt left the administration, his responsibilities were assumed by 31-year-old Avi Berkowitz. Working together with Kushner, Berkowitz built on the work of Greenblatt and helped pave a path to the agreements that far older and more experienced predecessors had never even attempted. Only a few years ago, former Secretary of State Kerry famously declared that such a separate peace could never happen.
Kushner’s successes are not solely tied to the Abraham Accords. He helped lead the efforts that led to the passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and received strong bipartisan support in Congress. His efforts led Mexico to bestow upon him the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the nation’s highest honor for a foreigner, and Mexico-U.S. relations have improved dramatically since the signing of the agreement.
Kushner was also instrumental in getting companies to produce ventilators in an expedited fashion at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, thus saving many lives.
He played a key role, as well, in the successful joint bid of the U.S. Soccer Federation, Canadian Soccer Association and Mexican Football Federation to host the 2026 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup soccer championship in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. In addition, Kushner helped lead the successful push for Los Angeles to host the 2028 Olympic Games.
As a result of his experience visiting his father, real estate developer Charles Kushner—convicted in 2005 of tax evasion and witness tampering—in prison many years ago, Kushner committed himself to advocating for prison-reform legislation. He worked tirelessly on both sides of the aisle and eventually an agreement was reached on the First Step Act, a legislative effort intended to reduce unfairly long sentences for primarily nonviolent criminals.
Thousands of prisoners have benefitted, including Rabbi Mordecai Samet, who was convicted in 2002 of fraudulently obtaining millions of dollars. By virtue of the First Step Act and with the help of attorney Gary Apfel, the Aleph Institute and Rabbi Moshe Margaretten, Samet was released from his unjustly long sentence after having already served 18 years in prison for a nonviolent crime. It is rumored that Kushner helped push for Trump’s decision to commute the sentence of Rabbi Shalom Rubashkin.
Trump deserves accolades not only for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital—in the face of worldwide opposition—but also for his outspoken belief in Kushner’s abilities, in spite of the disdain his hiring elicited.
The American-Jewish community has generally feared having Jews in high-profile positions. However, historically there has only been a problem with Jews in high positions who act against the interests of the Jewish community. Kushner and his wife have demonstrated that it is possible to be a strong supporter of Israel while holding a prominent position in a U.S. administration.
The items on display in Ivanka Trump’s office at the White House are telling. One is the text of the speech that her father delivered when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with the inscription: “To Ivanka, Love Dad.”
She also just flew to New York to visit the grave of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, to pray as she did four years ago before the last presidential election.
Aryeh Lightstone, Friedman’s assistant at the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, publicly said that he has seen Jared Kushner at private meetings with Israeli officials asking how the U.S. could help Israel.
People are entitled to have different opinions about President Trump, but not to make false allegations against him where his support for Israel and stand against anti-Semitism are concerned. The favorable policies he has furthered in these realms—highlighted by his signing of the Executive Order on Combating Anti-Semitism in December 2019—shows that he is a friend of the Jewish people.
Despite allegations to the contrary, he has publicly and repeatedly denounced white supremacism, and he recently designated the anti-Semitic organizations of the KKK and Antifa as domestic terrorist organizations. Claims that he is anti-Semitic are ludicrous and scurrilous.
Finally, his decision to employ his daughter and son-in-law have shown that sometimes hiring family is not simply a matter of ensuring loyalty; it can also mean hiring the best people for the positions in question.
The fact that he hired committed religious Jews and put them in charge of Middle East policies is unbelievable. Under their guidance, the administration in Washington substantially altered the policies of its predecessors.
These policies led to peace agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, because a strong, successful Israel was needed to bring peace to the Middle East. Even though Israel had peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt, those deals did not lead to a warm peace. The agreements with Abu Dhabi, Manama and Khartoum, on the other hand, are expected to bring real peace between the countries.
For the Jewish community, it is not just the hiring of Jews such as Kushner, Friedman, Greenblatt and Berkowitz that is momentous. Their great success demonstrates that it can be extremely beneficial for the Jewish community to have Jews who are strong friends of Israel serving in high positions of government.
Farley Weiss is president of the National Council of Young Israel. He is an intellectual property attorney for the law firm of Weiss & Moy.
The views expressed in this article are his own.
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