American Jews have a fraught relationship with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Whatever pride they feel in the Jewish couple in the White House is tempered by the fact that most of them voted against President Trump and oppose the administration’s policies.
In Israel the feeling is much less complicated.
“For us it is like a reality show on the biggest screen” with Ivanka and Jared as the stars, said Uri Dromi, the head of the Jerusalem Press Club and a former Israeli government spokesman.
The pair is treated like “super celebrities” by the Israeli press, said Liora Goldberg Stern, a longterm society columnist with Israel’s Maariv newspaper. “They are rich, beautiful and privileged, like a royal couple.”
Ivanka visited Israel in 2008 on a scouting trip for her father’s real estate company; despite several overtures, Trump never ended up building in the Holy Land. Jared’s family has ties to Israel’s settler movement and a relationship with Netanyahu. He has visited the country many times, and Trump has said his son-in-law would negotiate a peace deal with Israel and the Palestinians.
Ivanka and Jared’s Judaism adds an extra element of interest for Israelis, who are quick to note that not since Henry Kissinger, who served as the secretary of state under Richard Nixon, have Jews had such close ties with the American president, said Dromi.
The Israeli press closely follows news related to the couple’s faith, including the controversy over whether the Israeli rabbinate would recognize Ivanka’s conversion to Judaism after rejecting another conversion overseen by the same rabbi.
In March, right wing Israelis went wild when a notice was posted on a synagogue Psagot, a West Bank settlement, announcing that the pair would be visiting, promising a Sabbath eve lecture by Jared and a Saturday speech on “paths to Judaism” by Ivanka. It turned out that the notice was a Purim prank, according to the settler-run news outlet Arutz 7.
The couples’ faith also comes into question in Israel in discussions about whether Trump is good for the Jews, said Oren Persico, an analyst with the Israeli media criticism website the Seventh Eye. Israel Hayom, the right wing Israeli newspaper funded by Trump supporter Sheldon Adelson, is quick to mention Jared’s Judaism to defend his father-in-law against charges of anti-Semitism, he noted.
The Israeli satire show Gav Hauma poked fun at this line of thinking in an episode last year, when host Tom Aharon said, “The people who think Trump will be good for Israel because his daughter is Jewish: I remind you, the daughter of Bibi [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] is also Jewish.”
Other Israelis newspapers are more critical, writing that Trump is using Kushner’s Jewish identity to calm questions about the president’s feelings toward Jews, said Persico.
In Israeli news site Ynet, columnist Amnon Abramovich warned that the U.S.-Israel relationship was at risk because Trump’s professed love for Israel is only because of his son-in-law.
“For the first time in its history, instead of leaning on a world power, Israel is leaning on a marital relationship: The relationship between a businesswoman and model named Ivanka Trump and her Jewish husband, a real estate investor named Jared Kushner,” he wrote. “Their family has become the insurance policy of the State of Israel and its policy.”
Yet the fact that Trump’s Israel policies remain undefined makes it hard for Israelis to see Jared and Ivanka as anything but celebrities, said Dromi. After an initial burst of optimism from Israel’s hard right because of Trump’s appointment of pro-settler lawyer David Friedman as Israel envoy, Trump now wants Israel to limit settlement construction. Meanwhile, Kushner has yet to pursue the peace negotiations his father-in-law promised.
The Ivanka and Jared reality show continues to captivate Israelis, even though they’re still not reading more into it.
“We are not sure these people will stay the second act or not and who is bigger than the other. And in the mean time [Israelis] are sitting in our chairs and looking,” said Dromi. “We will see if something impresses us and we will let you know by clapping or by leaving the room, but right now it is just to pass the time.”
What Do Israelis Think Of Jared And Ivanka?
Naomi Zeveloff is the former Middle East correspondent of the Forward, primarily covering Israel and the Palestinian Territories.