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Jared Kushner, Shanda

How the scion of one tri-state crime family married into another, in a story equal parts ‘Sopranos’ and ‘Game of Thrones’

James Kirchick
July 11, 2016
Photo illustration by Tablet magazine; original images courtesy of Wikipedia; Charles Kushner photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Photo illustration by Tablet magazine; original images courtesy of Wikipedia; Charles Kushner photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Photo illustration by Tablet magazine; original images courtesy of Wikipedia; Charles Kushner photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Photo illustration by Tablet magazine; original images courtesy of Wikipedia; Charles Kushner photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Of the myriad ways in which Donald Trump has forced his pathetic assemblage of voters, political enablers, and media hangers-on to debase themselves, surely nothing has been so pitiful as the recent apologetics offered by his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. In a piece for the New York Observer—which he owns—titled “The Donald Trump I Know,” Kushner began by declaring, “My father-in-law is not an anti-Semite.” Displaying the sort of defensive rationalization employed by people who feel a need to preface their disquisitions on inner-city crime or immigration with the proviso, “I’m not a racist,” Kushner’s article radiated the desperation of a hostage tape—which, in a way, it was. Alongside banal attacks on the “speech police” and “the media” for holding Trump up to an “insane standard” of propriety, Kushner shared the story, “which I have never discussed,” of his ancestors’ victimization at the hands of the Nazis so as to ensure readers that he is ever-attuned to “real anti-Semitism.”

The presumably “fake” anti-Semitism that his father-in-law has been so unfairly accused of peddling was highlighted just a day earlier by one of Kushner’s own writers at the Observer, Dana Schwartz, in an open letter to her boss. Prompting Schwartz’s concern was a tweet by Trump, which, under the headline “Crooked Hillary–Makes History!” depicted the presumptive Democratic nominee in profile against a backdrop of raining dollar bills and a six-pointed star declaring her “Most corrupt candidate ever!” Internet sleuths quickly traced the provenance of the image to a white supremacist web forum. What followed was the usual rigmarole whenever Trump is caught red-handed uttering bigoted things, or retweeting bigoted things, or winking at bigots: a half-assed apology on the part of the campaign followed by immediate repudiation by the candidate himself. After taking down the original image and reposting it with a circle instead of a star (alongside the totally kosher hashtag #AmericaFirst, the anti-Semitic origins of which Trump cannot possibly, at this point, claim ignorance), Trump and his coterie effectively rescinded their earlier admissions of remorse by variously asserting that the star was innocuously lifted from Microsoft Shapes, is a “sheriff’s star,” and, most ridiculously, no different than the one appearing on the cover of a Frozen coloring book.

We know Kushner is not oblivious to anti-Semitism. One of the first decisions he made as owner of the Observer was to fire the writer Phil Weiss, then beginning his descent from someone creepily obsessed with Jews into proprietor of an anti-Semitic hate site. (Ironically, Weiss was one of the few people aside from right-wing extremists to defend his old boss in Stargate.) Whether Trump himself fully grasped the implications of slipping a Magen David into a tableau of money and accusations of financial impropriety—indeed, whether he is, in his heart, an anti-Semite—is beside the point. More pertinent is the simple fact that Trump lifted the meme from a racist Internet troll and has garnered the enthusiastic support of seemingly every anti-Semite and white nationalist in the United States. When it comes to questions like “Is Trump dog-whistling at racists or merely lifting iconography from a popular Disney franchise?” I think I’ll take the word of David Duke over that of Jared Kushner.

The rest of Kushner’s article was incoherent, dishonest, or evasive. For instance, in the very same sentence where he attributes the star imbroglio to Trump’s “team” being “careless in choosing an image to retweet,” Kushner states that the whole controversy derives from the fact “that it’s the actual candidate communicating with the American public rather than the armies of handlers who poll test ordinary candidates’ every move.” Invoking the hackneyed anecdote of Pauline Kael’s expression of befuddlement at Richard Nixon’s victory, registered on account of her knowing only one person who voted for him, Kushner instructs Schwartz and her journalistic colleagues “to get out there and meet some of those people ‘outside their ken’ ” supporting Trump. Because if there’s one man who understands the frustrations of middle America—aside, of course, from Trump himself—it’s this dapper, Orthodox Jewish product of the Frisch School, Harvard College, and New York University’s law and business schools. “The worst that his detractors can fairly say about him,” Kushner writes of his father-in-law, “is that he has been careless in retweeting imagery that can be interpreted as offensive.” If you put aside Trump’s endorsement of violence against protesters, wanton disregard for the First Amendment, ridicule of the physically handicapped for the delectation of a braying mob, endorsement of nuclear proliferation, call to withdraw from NATO, envious admiration for all manner of anti-American despots and thugs (the latest being Saddam Hussein), remarks about a reporter’s menstrual cycle, clinically malignant narcissism, pig ignorance about the basic functions of government, proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country, racist attacks on a federal judge, etc. and ad infinitum … if, in other words, Trump was merely the joke vanity candidate we all thought he was a year ago, then, yes, perhaps his noxious Twitter account would be “the worst” thing about his disgusting and disgraceful campaign.

Like smoking crack or joining the Communist Party after the Moscow purge trials, supporting Donald Trump makes you say and do stupid things you’ll come to regret. Distinguishing Jared Kushner’s submission to the genre of Trump defenses from those of other Trumpkins was its exploitation of the Holocaust. Kushner tells us that this is the first time he has shared this story of familial agony, an admission that, given the context, would be execrable enough even without his galling accusation that it is his father-in-law’s “detractors” who are “manipulate[ing] the public.” And Kushner revealed this heirloom of family suffering—which is hardly his own suffering—for what? To defend a man who plays political footsie with the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan?


To understand how Jared Kushner could reach such depths, one must first understand that not only is he the son-in-law of an abusive sociopath, but the son of one as well. Charles Kushner, a child of Holocaust survivors, inherited a family real-estate development business and grew it into a billion-dollar empire with properties across six states. If one wants to rise from mere landlord to true real-estate mogul, it is necessary—given the role that the legislative and judicial systems play in determining who may use property to what end, i.e., the value of property—to become a political power broker. And so Charles took a lesson from his future in-law Donald Trump: He invested heavily in politics, becoming one of the biggest Democratic donors in the country. His greatest investment was a young New Jersey politico named Jim McGreevy, who as governor, appointed Kushner to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Distinguishing Jared Kushner’s submission to the genre of Trump defenses from those of other Trumpkins was its exploitation of the Holocaust.

Charles Kushner seemed to have an insatiable appetite for money and power and recognized the role politics played at the nexus of both. To maximize his influence, Kushner circumvented federal campaign finance laws by funneling money to candidates and elected officials with donations made in the names of other people and through the more than 100 separate real-estate development partnerships he controlled. In one of this already absurd campaign’s more novelistic ironies, Kushner’s dirty dealings caught the attention of a young, ambitious federal prosecutor named Chris Christie, who opened up an investigation that called Kushner’s sister, Esther, and brother-in-law, Billy, as witnesses. Determined to prevent Billy from testifying, Charles set up a honey trap for his brother-in-law in a motel room—fully equipped with video cameras—and paid a prostitute $10,000. Kushner then sent a tape of the assignation to his sister, who promptly turned her brother’s attempt at blackmail over to the authorities.

Now charged with obstruction of justice and witness tampering in addition to campaign finance violations, Kushner pleaded guilty to all 18 felonious counts against him. He was sentenced to two years in federal prison and had to pay one of the highest-ever fines levied by the Federal Election Commission—all of which amounted to a slap on the wrist given the nature of his conduct, the mountains of incontrovertible evidence against him, and his lack of any evident remorse, despite pleading guilty. “What is truly extraordinary is that Charles Kushner has failed to accept full responsibility for his outrageous criminal conduct,” said Christie, who today is one of Trump’s closest advisers, alongside the son of the man he had arrested.

Kushner was also implicated in the simultaneous downfall of his political protégé McGreevy, who became infamous for a live televised resignation during which he announced to the world that he was “a gay American.” Thanks to this cynical deflection, most today remember McGreevy as having done nothing worse than commit marital infidelity under the duress of his decision to marry a woman and live his life in the closet. But the main reason McGreevy was forced to step down from his post was that his former lover, an Israeli man named Golan Cipel whom he had put on the state payroll in a make-work job, was threatening to sue him for sexual harassment.

So, who was Golan Cipel? McGreevy had met Cipel several years earlier in Israel, and it was Charles Kushner who sponsored the young Israeli’s work visa to the United States and then generously employed Cipel in one of his companies before the governor hired him. Some speculated that Kushner, recognizing the blackmail potential of this arrangement, persuaded Cipel to threaten McGreevy with exposure. That would explain why, 10 minutes before McGreevy’s tearful confession, a lawyer representing Cipel called McGreevy’s office conveying the message that the jilted lover would keep their affair secret if the governor fulfilled an odd request: grant a charter to Touro College allowing it to open a medical school in New Jersey—a medical school for which Charles Kushner had raised money and hoped to name after his late mother. (At the time, Kushner, through his lawyer, denied any involvement.)

With his father in the slammer, Jared became the nominal head of the family business, and he remained a loyal son. Unlike Andrew and Mark Madoff, who never spoke a word to their dad after turning him over to the feds, Jared regularly visited Charles in federal prison, trekking down to Alabama once a week, and defended him publicly. Jared’s role in this lurid, Jewish Sopranos-like clan explains how the scion of one tri-state crime family could fit so naturally into another.

Jared and his wife, Ivanka Trump, are both the children of monumental assholes. But that’s where their similarities end. Jared’s whole life has been about being presentable, wearing a nice suit, and enduring the abuse of an older father figure, which is basically the role he now plays in the Trump clan. Who in his right mind would tolerate a lifetime of sucking up to Donald Trump and listening to the repulsive nonsense that spews from his mouth, particularly if he were heir to his own monumental real-estate fortune? Unlike Ivanka, who clearly controls her own destiny, Kushner comes across as a whipping boy, eager to please and do as he’s told.

Putting up with the antics of Donald Trump, then, is nothing new or challenging for Kushner, whose father actually served prison time for the sorts of things Donald Trump only brags about doing. In a way, Kushner was the perfect person for Ivanka to marry, as he’s precisely the sort of person who can tolerate the humiliation of being Donald Trump’s son-in-law without lashing out and forcing his wife to choose between her husband and her father, or having an affair out of rage and resentment, or otherwise blowing up the fortunate union that his beloved engineered in her own interest and presumably that of her children.

Ivanka, by contrast, has proved her relative independence by helming her own successful fashion company and converting to Orthodox Judaism—which seems like the perfect way to keep her from eating dinner too often in her father’s home. Ivanka’s relationship to her family is not unlike that of a good Christian’s place in this fallen world; she is in the Trump brood but not of it.

Ivanka has doubtlessly learned a great deal from the experience of her mother, Ivana, who was rooked into a stingy prenuptial agreement by Donald. The Czechoslovak former model channeled everything into her children; in marrying Jared Kushner, Ivanka pulled off the classical European dynastic achievement of unifying two large houses whose fortunes will go to her offspring. For that to happen, however, Ivanka knew that she would have to marry someone who would not disrupt her matriarchal power. Ivanka knows how to control her father, at least to the extent that he can be controlled (witness her decisive hand in the firing of Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski). The person she married also had to be someone over whom she could exert power.

All this explains how Jared Kushner could shamelessly tout his status as the descendant of Holocaust survivors to vouch for the honor of someone so undeserving of it as Donald Trump. Whatever Kushner needs to do to comfort himself over his enabling this pox on the American body politic—whose political ascent is the single worst thing to happen to the United States since Sept. 11—he will do. He’s been training for this role his entire life, under the tutelage of his father and now his wife. It’s hard not to feel a little sorry for him.

James Kirchick is a Tablet columnist and the author of Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington (Henry Holt, 2022). He tweets @jkirchick.