NEW YORK (JTA) — White supremacists have a problem, and his name is Jared Kushner.
While many on the far right are hoping that President Donald Trump will help advance their separatist, racist agendas, figures like former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin are asking what to do about his Orthodox Jewish son-in-law with the ever-expanding White House profile.
Kushner, 36, became a senior adviser to Trump after helping manage his presidential campaign. A real estate mogul by trade, he is now handling a growing list of administration priorities. He has a hand in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, addressing the opioid epidemic and reforming criminal justice. He is the point person on U.S.-China relations. He just traveled to Iraq on government business. And he is heading an initiative to streamline the executive branch.
For white supremacists who feel Trump is, intentionally or not, speaking their language, this religious Jew who attends a Chabad synagogue is an unwelcome twist. And they don’t really know how to react.
“Goddamn it,” wrote Anglin, editor of the hate website The Daily Stormer, on Jan. 9, when Kushner’s White House appointment was announced. “I would be a whole lot happier if this was not happening, I can tell you that.”
“I think that Trump has an absolute infiltrator in the White House,” Duke said Monday on his daily podcast.
Anglin and other white supremacists have posted confused responses to Kushner’s ascent that reflect three theories:
1. Kushner is just a ruse to hide Trump’s white supremacism.
2. Kushner shows Trump isn’t actually the white supremacists’ guy.
3. Kushner is using Jewish nefariousness to manipulate Trump.
Some white supremacists take comfort in thinking Kushner is either a Trump frontman or an adviser with little actual influence compared to, say, chief strategist Stephen Bannon, a darling of the far right. Anglin in the January article suggested that Kushner serves Trump by obscuring his white supremacism until Trump wants to expose it, calling Kushner “a human shield, because Trump can’t immediately go all out against the Jews.”
But others, particularly on the white supremacist site Stormfront, point to Kushner as proof that Trump was never a white supremacist after all. They note that Kushner is far from Trump’s only Jewish adviser. The Trump White House also includes Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Trump aide Stephen Miller and chief negotiator Jason Greenblatt.
“It is hard to believe that anyone with any knowledge of Jewish behavior and strategy really thinks that the Jews are so naïve and trusting that they would let themselves be ‘used’ by someone whom they consider to be a loudmouth goy from New York – no matter how rich he is,” Stormfront blogger James Harting wrote on Dec. 12. “Or perhaps each side thinks that it is using the other. If that is true, Trump is in for a rude awakening, for the Jews are past masters at behind-the-scenes infighting and maneuvering.”
Jewish media and social networks are often quick to note the presence of Jews in high places, out of ethnic pride, and sometimes a sense that such figures can be advocates for Jewish communal issues. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, in particular are objects of fascination among many Jews: Kushner was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family in New Jersey, Ivanka converted to Judaism under the auspices of an Orthodox rabbi, and the family attends an Orthodox synagogue in Washington, D.C.
But Jews sometimes play into anti-Semitic rhetoric by expecting Jews in power to serve parochial Jewish interests, said former Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman. While Foxman said there is nothing wrong with Jews feeling especially proud of powerful Jews, they — and outsiders — shouldn’t see them as their emissaries.
“We’ve always been proud of Jews in positions of influence,” he said. “The next step, [that] they should do so-and-so on behalf of Jewish values, is asking too much and setting them up for possible failure.”
Presidential historian Gil Troy, a professor at McGill University, also said ethnic pride can go too far.
“Jared Kushner is supposed to be judged not as a Jew but as Jared Kushner,” Troy said. “We should be proud enough, comfortable enough, American enough to say these guys have been appointed not because they’re Jewish, but because they’re tied to Donald Trump.”
Anti-Semites, of course, don’t make such distinctions. Some have remained Trump fans despite Kushner’s rising profile, and see him as a threat to the white nationalist hopes they hold for the administration. Duke, the former KKK grand wizard, spent much of his daily podcast Monday discussing why he sees Kushner as a “huge threat to the Trump revolution.” Repeating the anti-Semitic smears that are his stock and trade, Duke called Kushner a “Jewish supremacist” who seeks to nefariously steer Trump toward Jewish interests.
“We’re going to talk about Jewish radicalism, which Kushner absolutely represents,” Duke said in the podcast. “I think that Trump has an absolute infiltrator in the White House, and one totally dedicated to Jewish supremacism. It’s a real danger to the president.”
He added: “As soon as Trump was elected, Kushner decided to move to the White House and decided to have a very, very powerful role.”
On Tuesday, in an interview with the the far-right radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone accused Kushner of leaking talking points to MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and thus undermining Trump. While Stone did not mention or allude to Kushner’s religion, visitors to Jones’ InfoWars website did.
“Kushner was converted by the orthodox cult invented in the 1800s,” one wrote.
“WORLD JEWERY IS ALIVE AND WELL!” wrote another, using the name “Follow the Shekels.”
Kushner seems to take a much smaller part in the rhetoric of another white supremacist leader, alt-right founder Richard Spencer. While Duke has dedicated two of his podcast episodes to Kushner, Kushner is all but absent from Spencer’s commentary on the Trump administration. In December, before Trump took office, Spencer told Haaretz that he isn’t bothered by Trump’s choices of advisers.
“I don’t have a strong position on this, that is his business,” he told Haaretz. “Trump has been a positive thing. It is what it is. He can pick his own advisers and listen to whoever he chooses, that is his prerogative.”