Benjamin Netanyahu Is in Bed with the Trump Administration - Almost Literally
When politicians are suspected of having conflicts of interest, they are often said to be "in bed" with other individuals or institutions. In the case of the Trump administration and Israel, it's hardly a metaphor — the Israeli prime minister actually has slept in the childhood bedroom of the man appointed to oversee U.S. policy on Israel-Palestine.
Donald Trump has installed his 36-year-old son-in-law Jared Kushner, a wealthy real estate heir, as a leading adviser on Middle East policy. The president promised his son-in-law will "do peace" in the region.
Where exactly Kushner's political sympathies lie could hardly be any clearer. His family has long donated to pro-Israel groups, and a new report in the New York Times, euphemistically titled "For Kushner, Israel Policy May Be Shaped by the Personal," casually mentioned hard-line right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once even stayed in his home.
Kushner's ties to Netanyahu go back to his teenage years. He "knew the prime minister, who was friendly with his father, a real estate developer and donor to Israeli causes," the Times noted. It added, "Netanyahu had even stayed at the Kushners' home in New Jersey, sleeping in Jared's bedroom. (The teenager moved to the basement that night.)"
The ties go deeper still. Kushner directed a family foundation that gave money to illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which were constructed in flagrant violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention. President Trump himself previously donated $10,000 to the illegal Israeli settlement Beit El.
David Friedman, who previously served as Trump's real estate lawyer and is now Trump's pick for U.S. ambassador to Israel, has far-right pro-Israel ties. He is a staunch supporter of illegal settlements and president of the American Friends of Bet El Institutions. Jared Kushner's parents, Charles and Seryl, are members of Bet El Institutions' founding board of trustees.
A 2007 "list of millionaires" Netanyahu compiled of potential donors even included Charles Kushner's name near the top. And the links go on.
In 1999, Netanyahu visited Charles and spoke at his office, before playing soccer and eating lunch at a New Jersey school named after the Kushner family. During the meal, the Israeli leader was joined by Jared's younger brother Joshua. This eventually led Murray Kushner to sue his brother Charles for, as the Times said, "misusing the family company’s funds by paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees to the Israeli leader, among other high-profile figures."
Jared Kushner "holds strong views about the state of Israel," the U.S. newspaper of record put it mildly.
The millionaire's pro-Israel politics were made clear in the New York Observer, a newspaper previously owned by Kushner. In a July article stumping for his father-in-law, cozily titled "The Donald Trump I Know," Kushner stressed, "The from-the-heart reactions of this man are instinctively pro-Jewish and pro-Israel." He noted that at a campaign event in New Hampshire, Trump emphasized in an unscripted moment, "Israel is a very important ally of the United States and we are going to protect them 100 percent."
Journalist Philip Weiss, co-founder and editor of the news website Mondoweiss, which provides critical coverage of Israel's violations of international law and Palestinian rights, published an article in January reflecting on his past experience with Kushner. Weiss, who was a columnist at the Observer when Kushner bought the paper in 2006, claims he was fired for speaking out against Israel's oppression of the Palestinians.
Reflecting on his interactions with Kushner, Weiss recalled, "[They] were limited, but they don't give me hope about his ability to achieve peace in the Middle East. He lived in a deeply Zionist-patriarchal mental space then; I never saw him take a step out of it."
Kushner was just 26 years old when Weiss was let go, but his pro-Israel views date back even further. In his schooling, Kushner and his peers were told to draw maps of Israel from memory and refer to the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank as "Judea and Samaria," a tactic Israel and its supporters use to whitewash the fact that the land's inhabitants are indigenous Arabs who have lived under Israeli military occupation for nearly 50 years.
As for those inhabitants, "In his classes, Palestinians were regarded at a distance, in part as security threats who committed acts of terrorism," the Times reported. Some teachers claimed Palestinian culture was fabricated; there was virtually no discussion of the illegal occupation; and students could not walk the halls "without seeing the flags of Israel and Israeli historical figures and how the kids celebrate Israeli holidays."
The newspaper also pointed out that Kushner "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."
It is not clear if Kushner has ever visited any part of the Palestinian territories, and the White House would not comment on the issue.
Kushner is already working with President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu to build an alliance with Sunni-majority Arab countries, based on shared opposition to Iran, a target of increasingly aggressive and hawkish U.S. foreign policy.
The Trump administration has made it absolutely clear that it is going to let Israel continue violating international law, building new settlements and colonizing Palestinian land. And American taxpayers will continue bankrolling Israel's crimes, as every previous U.S. presidential administration has ensured.
Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the U.S., is optimistic. Reflecting on Kushner, Dermer said, "He's someone who, in my interactions with him, has really been able to deliver."
Palestinians are dismayed, to put it mildly. In regard to Kushner, politician Mustafa Barghouti lamented, "There is no indication he is interested in hearing from the other side."