What a difference a year makes. When Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump came to Israel in May 2017, joining U.S. President Donald Trump on his first overseas trip, the future looked shiny with possibility.
Ivanka and Jared descended from Air Force One as the newly anointed power couple of the Jewish world. Parts of the media had even dubbed the first daughter the “most powerful Jewish woman” in the United States – presumably Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan needed to make way for the newly appointed senior adviser to the president.
And it wasn’t only in the Jewish world that their reputations were still fairly pristine. They were supposed to be the voices of reason in the Trump White House, Ivanka vowing to give her father “honest advice.” When the administration made missteps, they were usually far from the scene.
Kushner seemed to be at the center of every White House palace intrigue story and was charged with performing an impossible number of jobs – presumably a sign of his father-in-law’s belief that he could solve any problem. He enthusiastically launched the Office of American Innovation; became the point man on the opioid crisis; pushed criminal justice reform; and, most importantly, was charged with spearheading the administration’s efforts in advancing a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
“If you can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can. All my life I‘ve been hearing that’s the toughest deal to make, but I have a feeling Jared is going to do a great job,” Trump said on the eve of his inauguration, declaring that “Ivanka married well.”
From the moment he entered office, Kushner began working diligently to parlay his rapport with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman into a comprehensive region-wide peace effort (it was Kushner who carefully planned the first Trump foray into the Middle East, which was widely applauded as a success).
Ivanka was the media star of that first visit: the photos of her deep in prayer at the Western Wall were the most indelible, inspiring headlines of how the first daughter weeping at the ancient stones “touched Jewish hearts.”
She recently evoked that first visit, posting the photo on Instagram with the message “With great joy, I am returning to Jerusalem. I am honored to join the distinguished delegation representing President Trump, his Administration, and the American people at this momentous ceremony commemorating the opening of our new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, Israel. We look forward to celebrating Israel’s 70th anniversary and the bright future ahead. We will pray for the boundless potential of the future of the U.S.-Israel alliance, and we will pray for peace.”
This week, though, as the charismatic couple returns to Jerusalem, much of the gleam around them is scuffed and faded.
The visit is a rare public outing for Kushner, who has lost his power-player status. His descent began in February when he lost his access to top-secret U.S. government intelligence. His interim security clearance was revoked by his father-in-law’s chief of staff, John Kelly, after Trump handed that authority over to Kelly. The number of mistakes in his security clearance application has become a running joke: Kushner reportedly submitted four addenda detailing over 100 errors and omissions in the forms he filled out.
Those “mistakes” included incomplete reporting of foreign contacts – something that did not escape the team led by Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller, investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. That probe is also reportedly looking into financial relationships between Kushner’s family business and foreign entities, including Israeli companies.
Kushner’s name has repeatedly come up as the Mueller investigation continues to unfold: ABC News reported in March that Qatari officials have evidence of “illicit influence” by the United Arab Emirates on Kushner.
While the couple managed to distance their nemesis, Steve Bannon, from the president’s sphere – in a power struggle detailed in Michael Wolff’s White House exposé “Fire and Fury” – their influence doesn’t appear to have increased as a result. There has also been a steady procession of exits of “Javanka” allies: Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategy Dina Powell, chief economic adviser Gary Cohn and White House Communications Director Hope Hicks.
Time after time, the more moderate policies that Kushner and Ivanka have backed have been brushed aside by Trump, in an effort to placate his supporter base. Furthermore , the staff members they were comfortable with have been supplanted by more “base-friendly” figures like the president’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Unlike their predecessors H.R. McMaster and Rex Tillerson, Bolton and Pompeo are strong figures with the president’s ear, diluting any remaining influence Kushner had when it came to foreign policy.
There is considerable irony in the fact that the event Kushner is here to celebrate – the moving of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – is the primary reason his signature mission has stalled, after furious Palestinian leaders distanced themselves from all matters Trump when the announcement was made last December that the White House was officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the embassy in accordance with that policy.
On the eve of the couple’s departure for Israel, Vanity Fair quoted a source “close to the couple” that Ivanka was being dispatched to stand alongside Kushner to make sure the Trump family was front and center, to send a clear message: “This is the president’s accomplishment, not a Jared accomplishment. This wasn’t a Jared initiative that Jared is basking in.”
The article, which described Kushner as having “quietly disappeared from the spotlight,” wasn’t the only indignity he has had to endure recently: Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani made headlines when he said in a Fox News interview that, in contrast to Ivanka, Kushner was “disposable.” Therefore, while it would be fine for Mueller to question him, if he were to call in “a fine woman like” the first daughter, it would cross a line.
Not that life has been particularly easy for Ivanka, either. The Giuliani remarks were made as the Trump family was weathering deeply embarrassing allegations regarding the president’s past sexual infidelities and reported payoffs to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal.
The central role that Trump attorney-fixer Michael Cohen is playing in the investigation into these payments and others, and the fact that prosecutors have seized extensive documents from his office, must make Ivanka deeply uncomfortable.
Cohen worked closely with her and sibling Donald Trump Jr. in the family business of obtaining real estate and other brand licensing deals in Eastern Europe, South America, Canada and Asia. In many cases, these deals were made with allegedly dubious partners in a pattern of practices a recent New Yorker article described as having “a high likelihood of rampant criminality.”
Legal woes aside, it hasn’t been all bad news for Ivanka. There has been recognition of her efforts on behalf of U.S. investment in female entrepreneurs in the Third World through the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (known as the “Ivanka Fund”). The Atlantic noted that the initiative has garnered high-level international cooperation on behalf of the world’s poorest people, dubbing it “one of the stranger policy achievements of President Donald Trump’s first year and change in office. The president is, after all, known for his skepticism of foreign aid and his distaste for soft power and sotto-voce diplomacy.”
And if her Instagram feed is any measure, her family appears – against all odds – to be settled in Washington and its Jewish community, despite constant rumors of their imminent return to Manhattan.
There have even been reports the couple has been house-hunting in D.C. It seems as if they are looking to replace their rented digs with their own property in the U.S. capital – once they have returned from the big housewarming party in Israel.
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