Jared Kushner, who may become a Middle East peace envoy in his father-in-law’s administration, is a director of a family foundation that has made charitable donations to West Bank settlements.
The gifts totaled $58,500 between 2011 and 2013, a small portion of the almost $8.5 million the Seryl and Charles Kushner Family Foundation gave away in that period, according to IRS records first reported by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz and reviewed independently by The Washington Post. Kushner and his three siblings are directors, along with their parents, of the foundation.
President-elect Donald Trump has said he may make his son-in-law, who is married to Ivanka Trump, a broker for talks between Israelis and Palestinians, saying Kushner would be “very good” at working with both sides.
Kushner is not known to have publicly expressed a position on Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which every U.S. administration since 1967 has considered illegitimate and counterproductive to peace, because they make it more difficult to stitch together a contiguous Palestinian state. But several Trump advisers made statements during the campaign suggesting that they reject the characterization and believe a policy change may be in order.
David Friedman, Trump’s real estate lawyer and adviser on Israel who would like to become U.S. ambassador to the country, has said it may be time to reconsider the two-state formula. Friedman heads the American Friends of Bet El Yeshiva, which got $10,000 from the Kushner family in 2011 and $28,000 in 2013.
The GOP platform’s position on Israel was revised this year to become what Trump called the most pro-Israel “of all time.” It does not explicitly call for a two-state solution and rejects the “false notion” that Israel is occupying the West Bank.
Middle East analysts are split on whether the incoming administration is poised to change U.S. policy and stop describing Jewish settlements as an impediment.
“I imagine this will be the end of State Department statements for 50 years calling settlements illegal to illegitimate, unhelpful or obstacles to peace,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, head of J Street, which strongly supports a separate state for Palestinians alongside the Jewish state. “American foreign policy is about to be dramatically shifted.”
But diplomats who served in the region say it is too early to predict what Trump’s posture toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be.
“He himself said he’d like to do this deal, he has reason to believe he could do it and he wants Jared Kushner to play a major role,” said Dennis Ross, who worked on the Middle East peace process under President Barack Obama and presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. “If you want to get a deal done, in the end, he has to address the needs of the Palestinians as well as the Israelis.”
Daniel Kurtzer, the U.S. ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005, noted that the Kushner family foundation donations were made over time, before anyone in either family had any idea Trump would be elected president.
“The Republican platform would signal change, if one took platforms seriously,” he said, adding, “But I think it’s way too early to tell.”
The Kushner foundation gifts were mostly made to schools, including religious yeshivas, located outside the Green Line that is internationally recognized as the border of Israel proper. The charities that received them are all registered as 501(c)(3) organizations, and there is nothing illegal about their existence or the donations made to them.
“It opens a huge can of worms trying to deal with it,” Kurtzer said. “Who makes the determination of what is politically acceptable and what is not?”
According to IRS filings for the Kushner foundation, the family gave $10,000 to the New York-based American Friends of Bet El in 2011, and two more gifts totaling $28,000 in 2013. Located next to the Palestinian city of Ramallah, the well-established settlement is considered hard-line and ideological. At the organization’s annual dinner this week, one of the star speakers is former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who leads American Christians on pilgrimages to biblical sites in Israel and who would also like to be U.S. ambassador to the country.
The Kushners donated $5,000 to the Etzion Foundation in 2012, and $10,000 in 2013. The Etzion Foundation, which has a U.S. fundraising office in Teaneck, New Jersey, supports a yeshiva, a kibbutz and a teachers’ school in Gush Etzion, a cluster of settlements between Jerusalem and the Palestinian town of Bethlehem.
The family also gave $5,000 in 2011 to Ohr Torah Stone, a group of schools operating in Israel and the United States and headquartered in the settlement of Efrat. Ohr Torah Stone was founded by Shlomo Riskin, an American-born rabbi who applauded Trump’s election and said he is hopeful the U.S. Embassy will be relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a controversial move that successive U.S. presidents have declined to do because it could exacerbate tensions.
The most controversial Kushner family donation was the smallest – $500 in 2012 to the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva in the settlement of Yitzhar near the Palestinian city of Nablus. Extremists in the settlement have launched violent attacks against Palestinians and Israeli security forces. The yeshiva’s dean is rabbi Yosef Elitzur, who is known for opinion articles in which he seemed to praise “price-tag” attacks as retaliation against Palestinians.
“It’s troublesome if, as the administration suggested, Jared Kushner is going to play a role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” said Jill Jacobs, a “rabbi” who is the head of T’Ruah, a group encouraging human rights for Palestinians as well as Israelis.
Ben-Ami said he fears that U.S. policy toward Israel is about to be determined by a group whose views are outside the mainstream of Jewish Americans.
“It’s not about one check from Jared Kushner, but a broad threat to 50 years of bipartisan support for the proposition that settlements are an obstacle to peace,” he said. “Now, that could be declared dead. I’m very alarmed.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Carol Morello