News & Politics

Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner Face Pressure to Speak out on Antisemitism

The two have kept quiet since the president’s defense of anti-Semitic protesters.

Photo Credit: Nicole S Glass / Shutterstock

Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, are facing a potentially awkward reception from Washington’s Jewish community after Donald Trump’s astonishing defense of antisemitic protesters.

The president’s daughter and son-in-law have been conspicuously silent since his reiterated claim on Tuesday that “both sides” were responsible for last Saturday’s violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one civil rights activist dead. White supremacists waved insignias from Nazi Germany, abused Kushner and yelled: “Jews will not replace us.”

Ivanka converted to Judaism – the rabbi who oversaw the process has condemned Trump’s “moral equivalency and equivocation” – ahead of her 2009 wedding to Jared. The couple are practising modern Orthodox Jews and have been able to separate expressions of their faith from their White House roles as advisers to the president. So far.

“That’s the question swirling around the Jewish community since 9 November,” said Rabbi Shira Stutman of the Sixth & I Historic synagogue in Washington. “It’s also the Jewish school they go to, it’s also the Jewish preschool they go to. The community has taken the tack of letting them be. Who knows if this is what will set people over the edge?”

It was time for Ivanka and Jared to take a stand, she added: “The way they behave feels so against Jewish principles as I understand them. I cling to the hope that history will reveal that it was somehow necessary for them to be there, but it seems less and less likely.”

Since moving from New York, Ivanka and Jared have attended the TheSHUL of the Nation’s Capital, a Chabad-Lubavitch synagogue near Dupont Circle. It has a reputation for bipartisanship and leaving politics at the door. Officials from the Barack Obama’s and Trump’s camps have attended and, on one occasion during the presidential transition, they did so at the same time.

Rabbi Levi Shemtov gave a speech before Ivanka and Jared first arrived, urging congregants to avoid political confrontations, and there have been no incidents. But on one occasion, a man excoriated Shemtov for allowing them in. Shemtov patiently explained to the man that he was the rabbi and this was a synagogue, a place where all are welcome to come and pray.

Ivanka and Jared are accompanied by the secret service who, according to a source who frequently attends the synagogue, work to maintain a discreet presence. The source described Jared as “very humble, quiet, simple. Unless you knew who he was, you wouldn’t think he was anything special.”

Shemtov himself declined to comment on Thursday. “Once someone steps over the threshold of our synagogue, I’d prefer to respect their privacy,” he said.

Arnold Resnicoff, a rabbi and military veteran due to give a prayer at the opening of the pro-forma session of the House of Representatives on Friday, said he thought confrontations at the TheSHUL of the Nation’s Capital were unlikely. “The rabbi sees himself as reaching out to both sides of the aisle and goes out of his way to host events that bring Republicans and Democrats together,” he said. “I think they would respect Jared and Ivanka and not put the sins of the father on them.”

Jewish members of the Trump administration have remained largely tight-lipped since the president claimed there were “very fine people on both sides” of Saturday’s mayhem. The national economic adviser Gary Cohn was described by several acquaintances as “disgusted” and “deeply upset”, the New York Times reported.

Ivanka tweeted on Sunday: “There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis.” But she has not given any indication of a crisis of conscience since her father’s scattergun press conference in the gilded lobby of Trump Tower on Tuesday.

Resnicoff does not believe that the couple should resign from the administration. “I think Jared and Ivanka should be honest in terms of their thoughts about the rally, including the racism and antisemitism displayed by the marchers. I think they should be honest about their thoughts and positions in public if asked questions – but I would respect their right to withhold public comments about the president’s remarks, while being honest with him in private.”

Some in the Jewish community express sympathy for Jared and Ivanka’s personal conflict. Rabbi David Shneyer, founder and director of the Am Kolel Sanctuary & Renewal Center in Beallsville, Maryland, said: “I would hope they are having conversations with their father about the inappropriateness of his words and actions. My heart goes out to them because I feel they are caught in something that is pretty ugly.

“I’d like to see every Republican take a stand and come out with a forceful statement. Anyone in the White House with moral integrity should take a stand. But it’s not realistic to expect her to walk away from her father.”

Rabbi Arthur Green, rector of the Hebrew College Rabbinical School in Newton, Massachusetts, added: “I feel terrible for them because they are in bed with that man. Gary Cohn and Steven Mnuchin [the treasury secretary, who is Jewish] should be challenged to leave. Jared and Ivanka obviously can’t. It’s family. There may be some value to them holding him down a bit. He is on the edge of being considered close to unhinged.”

Green added that Ivanka and Jared had to examine the issue “in their own conscience” rather than in debates at their synagogue. He also noted that Ben Carson, an African American serving as secretary of housing and urban development, was also yet to speak out about the tragedy and its aftermath. “Maybe he now should.”

Trump’s defenders insist the president is no racist and point to the fact he has Jewish grandchildren. Michael Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, who is Jewish, told reporters: “I know President Trump and his heart. He is a good man and doesn’t have a racist bone in his body. All morning I am receiving horrific comments about being anti-black, racist, etc for supporting Trump. It’s just wrong!”

But Democrats demanded that the president’s daughter and son-in-law step up. Ron Klein, who is Jewish and a former congressman for Florida, said: “The question is, where are Jared and Ivanka? I don’t want to hear vacation in Vancouver. They’re part of his White House team, they’re Jewish, I presume they care about antisemitism, so why will they not come out to speak about their concerns?

“If the president does not retract his comments then they should resign and the same is true of other Jewish members of the administration. The president needs to get in line and act like presidents before him.”

Ivanka and Jared are likely to come under pressure from the Jewish community in Washington, Klein added. “Family loyalty is one thing, but it’s about our country. This is not just Democrats pushing on it, this is Jewish people of all stripes. The High Holidays this year are going to be a little tense there.”

David Smith is the Guardian's Washington correspondent.

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