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How Powerful Is Ivanka Trump?

Yes, the CNN declaration that Ivanka Trump is “America’s most powerful Jewish woman” drew eye-rolls. (My favorite response was Emily Nussbaum’s: “The Nanny in reruns is a more powerful Jewish woman than Ivanka Trump.”) But… isn’t she? For the past several months, I’ve been Ivanka-ing it up a storm for the Sisterhood, not because I find Ivanka Trump particularly compelling, but because she’s President Trump’s very-cherished daughter, as well as a woman (however implausibly) rumored to be a/the voice of reason in the White House. She’s definitely Jewish, definitely a woman, and unquestionably in the public eye. As for powerful, ah, there it gets tricky.

Let us briefly unpack this sentence, from Maeve Reston and Betsy Klein’s CNN story: “Ivanka is arguably the most powerful Jewish woman in America today, someone who has long had a special influence on her father (though doesn’t always win him over) and is now settling in as an unpaid adviser to the President.”

A lot rides on that parenthetical. Does Ivanka actually have any sort of influence? Or is she — as Helen Lewis convincingly argues — more like a Renaissance queen, representing a feminine “complement” to actual, male-dominated power structures. (“The tears of both Ivanka and Catherine of Aragon only provided cover for something that their lord and master wanted to do anyway.”) She’s “an unpaid” employee in her father’s administration, who would seem not to have any real power over him. She’s someone well-positioned to have power, but if she never exercises this, does it count? I’m not, then, convinced that Ivanka Trump is more powerful than, say, the Jewish women on the Supreme Court.

But still, there must be something significant about a Jewish woman being, if nothing else, at the center of the action. Right?

In principle, Ivanka’s Jewishness could function as pushback against the unsavory aspects of the new Western populism. In principle, Jared Kushner’s family history might have preempted even so much as the notion of a Muslim ban. In principle.

On a personal level, Ivanka’s prominence hasn’t done a heck of a lot for me, As A Jewish Woman. Opposite to Ivanka, I’m a secular Jew, and ethnically 500% Ashkenazi. At various points in my life, I’ve experienced marginalization for being a very New York, and for looking Jewish, but not for Jewish religious practice, as I’m non-observant. It’s possible to recognize, at one and the same time, that Ivanka Trump totally counts as Jewish; that converts to Judaism face marginalization within the Jewish community; and that anti-Semitism is not solely or even primarily about religious intolerance. It’s for this reason that something squicks me out, not about Ivanka as a practicing Jew, but about the secular celebration of Ivanka Trump, Symbol Of Jewish Womanhood. Could that role ever have gone to a woman of Jewish ancestry, however conventionally beautiful? It’s as if Jewish ritual, Jewish family life, becomes mainstream palatable — mainstream desirable, even — only when a woman everyone would consider white without qualifiers, a woman who’s the daughter of a president adored by white supremacists, is the Jewish mother in the photos.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy edits the Sisterhood, and can be reached at [email protected]. She is the author of “The Perils Of ‘Privilege’”, from St. Martin’s Press. Follow her on Twitter, @tweetertation

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