Back in the long, hot days of July’s presidential campaign, Jared Kushner took the unusual step of publishing a piece in his own newspaper, The New York Observer.
In “The Donald Trump I Know,” Kushner informed the world that his father-in-law is “not anti-Semitic and he’s not a racist.” Nor, Kushner wrote, could Trump be held “accountable for the utterances of even the most fringe of his supporters” by “journalists and Twitter throngs.”
Already a key adviser to the Trump campaign, a lead-up to his current White House role, Kushner defended himself against criticism that he was enabling Trump, after the GOP candidate tweeted what was perceived as an anti-Semitic meme featuring Hillary Clinton with a Jewish star and a pile of cash. She, like other Trump’s critics, had been bombarded online with horrific images sent by angry racist trolls.
In making his argument, Kushner referred to his family history to explain his sensitivity to anti-Semitism. “This is not idle philosophy to me. I am the grandson of Holocaust survivors,” he wrote.
He went on to give a detailed account of his grandmother Rae Kushner’s harrowing ordeal in a Polish ghetto during the Holocaust, which included the loss of much of her family to Nazi brutality. (Other Kushner family members later denounced Jared’s use of their family’s story to defend Trump.)
“I go into these details, which I have never discussed,” Kushner wrote, “because it’s important to me that people understand where I’m coming from when I report that I know the difference between actual, dangerous intolerance versus these labels that get tossed around in an effort to score political points.”
That was last July. Now it’s January. The campaign is over, Donald Trump is president, and the time for arguing about labels, tweets and other forms of name-calling is over. Now we’re talking about real policy that is affecting real people.
The White House has slammed shut the doors of the U.S. in the faces of vulnerable refugees – even as some of them were in the air on route to their place of refuge – and doomed others, who believed they had finally made it through the grueling U.S. immigration process to an additional, tortuous and uncertain wait of at least 90 days.
Most horrifying, the strictest measures have been taken against men, women, and children who have already been through the most severe trauma, those coming from war-torn Syria.
Since it was Kushner himself who brought his family’s Holocaust legacy into the political fray, it feels fair to force him to confront the way in which he is now party to inflicting his grandmother’s suffering on others.
In her oral history, Kushner recounted that, in the mid-1930s, as anti-Semitism in their Polish town grew threatening, her family unsuccessfully tried to flee to the U.S., hoping to join her father’s sister there. The U.S. government’s refusal to accept them doomed the family to their nightmarish and deadly ordeal.
After the war was over, surviving family members tried again to reach the U.S. – and again they failed. Ultimately, they ended up in a displaced-persons camp in Italy, where they lived “three or four families to a room for three-and-a-half years” only making it to the United States in 1949, where they began to rebuild their lives.
The repeated failure of the Kushner family to gain entry to the U.S. was a result of carefully crafted policies designed to keep the majority of the desperate masses of Jews out, often citing security concerns.
The article noted the “sense of betrayal” in Kushner’s voice as she said: “For everybody [there] was a place…but for the Jews, the doors were closed. We never can understand this. Even our good President Roosevelt, how come he kept the doors so closed for us, for such a long time? How come a boat [the SS St. Louis] went for exodus on the water and returned back to be killed? This question I’ll never know, and nobody will give me the answer.”
Her grandson, Jared Kushner, is now a top strategic adviser to Donald Trump. He is the one who will now have to give an answer to the refugees affected by a harsh and discriminatory policy unveiled on, of all days, International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Until now, Kushner, has fascinated and intrigued Jews around the world, even those politically opposed and personally appalled by Donald Trump. Despite all evidence to the contrary during the campaign, there has been some hope that, as an observant Jew, Kushner could become something of a Jewish angel on Trump’s shoulder, keeping the angry Bannon-driven impulses in check.
Kushner, it was hoped, would remind Trump of the psalm read by Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center at the president’s inauguration ceremony: “Dispense justice for the needy and the orphan, for they have no one but their fellow citizens, and because a nation’s wealth is measured by her values and not by her vaults!”
Mingled with this hope has also been an undeniable element of pride that Kushner is unabashedly maintaining his Jewish identity and observance, even at the highest reaches of power.
The American Jewish media has been positively gushing over favorite son Kushner in recent weeks, from reporting how his Harvard Chabad rabbi kvelled about what a “mensch” Kushner was as a student to the Forward’s breathless account of how he “rescued a teenage girl from a groping attack” during a March of the Living event.
Under any other circumstances, it might even seem downright charming that on the first Shabbat of the administration, cabinet members flocked to the First Daughter and First Son-in-Law’s home for a traditional Friday night dinner.
But after the Holocaust Day refugee bombshell announcement any solace that could be found in Kushner’s Jewishness is gone.
Rubbing salt in the wound was the news that the White House statement commemorating the day was devoid of any mention of the Jews as the deliberate targets of the Nazis, and that it was merely “innocent people” who were slaughtered.
As Anti-Defamation League Director Jonathan Greenblatt noted, the White House position was in line with Eastern European nationalists who “downplay or disregard the degree to which Jews were targeted for elimination during the Holocaust.”
After the statement was criticized, the White House chose to defend its failure to mention Jews, rather than to recognize the slight.
Gone is the charm, gone is the hope, and along with it, gone is any sense of pride we might have felt when seeing the new president’s young and beautiful Jewish family make Purim treats or light the Hanukkah candles. All we can feel now is shame. And so should Jared Kushner.
[Photo at top of Jared Kushner with wife Ivanka Trump.]