Will we see more Israeli aggression & expansion shaped by Jared Kushner's personal experiences and indoctrination?
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Mr. Kushner was a high school basketball player, a Billy Joel fan, a quiz team manager and no one’s guess to become a negotiating partner with Mr. Netanyahu. But unlike other students on the trip, he knew the prime minister, who was friendly with his father, a real estate developer and donor to Israeli causes. Mr. Netanyahu had even stayed at the Kushners’ home in New Jersey, sleeping in Jared’s bedroom. (The teenager moved to the basement that night.)
On Wednesday, when the Israeli prime minister visits the White House, Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Kushner will reunite on far different terms from before — and yet their meeting will be imbued with some of the shared ideas of those old encounters. Mr. Netanyahu is on his second stint as prime minister; Mr. Kushner, now 36, is President Trump’s son-in-law and a leading adviser on Middle Eastern affairs with a daunting assignment. Mr. Trump has said that Mr. Kushner will try to “do peace,” which the president has called “the ultimate deal.”
Kushner “is a mystery to most Middle Eastern officials. He has no experience in government or international affairs. His up-close exposure to the Arab world amounts to little more than trips to a handful of Persian Gulf countries and a star-studded jaunt to Jordan.
Though Mr. Kushner has visited Israel since childhood, and more recently to do business, he is little known there. He holds strong views about the state of Israel, but he has not been outspoken about them, save for editorials in The New York Observer, the newspaper he owned. His thinking on matters like settlements is not well understood.
“Israel wasn’t a political discussion for him; it was his family, his life, his people,” said Hirschy Zarchi, rabbi at the Chabad House at Harvard, where Mr. Kushner was an undergraduate.
Mr. Kushner has ties to Israel that are personal and religious. His visit to Auschwitz was stark, but its themes were not new to him. His grandmother survived the Holocaust by crawling through a homemade tunnel in Poland. His grandfather escaped the massacres by hiding in a hole for years. An Orthodox Jew, Mr. Kushner was instructed to protect Israel, remember the genocide and assure the survival of the Jewish people, those close to him say.
He was educated at Jewish schools where second graders were expected to draw maps of Israel from memory and the West Bank was often referred to by its biblical names, Judea and Samaria, a practice that emphasizes Jewish claims to the land. His family used its real estate fortune to donate millions of dollars to American Jewish and Israeli hospitals, schools and other institutions, including a few in settlements, according to public records. In his classes, Palestinians were regarded at a distance, in part as security threats who committed acts of terrorism — including one that killed a sister of a classmate of Mr. Kushner’s.
When Mr. Trump ran for president, his son-in-law’s stances on Israel helped shape the campaign. Mr. Kushner helped script a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and consulted with Netanyahu officials behind the scenes. When he brought the candidate and the prime minister together for a meeting, his father, Charles Kushner, was invited to join them.
Thanks in part to the younger Mr. Kushner, Mr. Netanyahu will arrive at a White House that has already adopted many of the prime minister’s perspectives on the region. Now Mr. Kushner is helping Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu craft a strategy to recruit Sunni Muslim countries that oppose Iran to help foster an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. The approach is a long shot: Negotiations are dead. The Israeli right is pushing for more settlement in the West Bank as talk among Palestinians turns to a single state in which they have equal rights.
Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian leader who was involved in peace talks both with Israelis and internally, said Palestinians were skeptical of Mr. Kushner, and Mr. Trump’s team generally, seeing them as close only to the Israeli side. As part of its philanthropy, Mr. Kushner’s family has made donations to the Beit El settlement, which Mr. Barghouti finds particularly worrisome.
We need somebody who is really impartial,” Mr. Barghouti said, pointing out that it is unclear whether Mr. Kushner has ever visited a Palestinian area (the White House would not say). “There is no indication he is interested in hearing from the other side.”
Through a White House spokeswoman, Mr. Kushner declined to respond or be interviewed
The major Jewish institutions of Mr. Kushner’s life — school and synagogue — emphasized the connection between religion and Zionism. “In the modern Orthodox community, the state of Israel has an important place in identity, as a religious ideal, not only a political reality,” said Elie Weinstock, rabbi at Kehilath Jeshurun, the Manhattan synagogue Mr. Kushner joined.
At his elementary school, the Hebrew Youth Academy in Livingston, N.J., it was impossible to walk the halls “without seeing the flags of Israel and Israeli historical figures and how the kids celebrate Israeli holidays,” said Stephen Flatow
During high school at the Frisch School in northern New Jersey, where Mr. Kushner spent long days attending mandatory prayers (morning and afternoon) and studying in English, Hebrew and Aramaic (the language of the Talmud), every year of his education was interwoven with events in Israel.
But classmates say the environment Mr. Kushner lived in could feel apolitical, because most everyone shared similar views, and Palestinian perspectives were barely considered. Some teachers told students that “Palestinian” was a made-up identity, a label adopted for political reasons. There was little discussion of what it was like to live under occupation, several classmates of Mr. Kushner’s recalled. Many rabbis and teachers seemed comfortable with settlements, and some students said they never learned that Israel’s borders were a highly contested topic.
“There was such an assumption that Jews deserve to have this place, that it was theirs for thousands of years by biblical fiat,” said Eli Schleifer, who graduated the year before Mr. Kushner. “There was such a strange blindness to the complexity of the situation.”
In 1999, Mr. Kushner left New Jersey for Harvard, where he no longer wore a skullcap to classes, but continued to follow rules of Orthodox Jewish life.
Soon the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, was setting off criticism of Israel on campus and then responses from students who defended the country, but Mr. Kushner kept his head down.
Instead he spent time at the Chabad House, where Rabbi Zarchi was struck by how Mr. Kushner “never felt the need to apologize for his differences, his religious commitments,” he said.
Mr. Kushner sometimes expressed his views during long Sabbath meals at the house. “He certainly believed that a strong and secure Israel was in America and the world’s best interest,” Rabbi Zarchi said. He didn’t believe that Israel needed “the approval of Europe, the United Nations or even Washington or London,” the rabbi continued.
While Mr. Kushner was at Harvard, Mr. Netanyahu once again visited his father, speaking at his office, kicking a soccer ball at one of the schools that carried the family name and sitting down for a tabbouleh lunch with students, including Jared’s younger brother, Joshua.
But Mr. Kushner’s task is formidable. Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Trump want to set in motion a chain of events that could block Iran, redefine Israel’s relationship with the Arab world and create Israeli-Palestinian peace — “the deal that can’t be made,” as Mr. Trump has said.
“The prime minister is coming into the meeting with the hope to forge a common policy with the president, and Jared’s role is critical in that,” said Ron Dermer, the ambassador of Israel, with whom Mr. Kushner has been in close contact. “He’s someone who, in my interactions with him, has really been able to deliver.”
Ron Dermer the ambassador of Israel has been in close contact with Mr Kushner and states. “He’s someone who, in my interactions with him, has really been able to deliver.”
Able to deliver what? For whom?