Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, met with a group of Christian evangelical leaders Wednesday and assured them that the administration’s plan for Middle East peace will make Israel’s security needs a priority.
The meeting, which took place at the White House, was the final note of a week-long effort by senior administration officials to shore up Trump’s strong support among evangelical pro-Israel activists, who constitute an important part of the president’s political base.
Kushner hosted dozens of religious leaders and activists affiliated with Christians United for Israel, which describes itself as the largest pro-Israeli organization in the U.S., and which is strongly identified with evangelical Christian churches. The organization held its annual conference in Washington this week, and no less than five senior Trump advisers spoke at the conference.
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The meeting with Kushner, which took place at the White House, was more intimate than the organization’s thousands-strong general sessions. Kushner spoke to the leadership group that met with him for approximately half an hour, and also took questions from the participants, according to two sources who attended the conversation.
Kushner thanked those in attendance for supporting Trump’s policies in the Middle East. Evangelicals have advocated policies adopted by Trump for years, such as moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. In the 2016 election, Trump received approximately 80% of white evangelical votes, and his political advisers believe a similar level of evangelical support will be necessary in order for him to win re-election next year.
For many evangelicals, Trump’s Israel policies are a main reason for supporting him, second only to his appointment of conservative judges who want to restrict abortions and LGBTQ rights. Some evangelical supporters of Israel have, however, expressed concerns about the contents of the administration’s Middle East peace plan, which could be published before the end of the year. Many evangelicals are strong supporters of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and oppose any Israeli territorial concessions as part of a future peace deal.
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Kushner did not provide new details about the peace plan during Wednesday’s meeting, according to the sources who spoke with Haaretz. He did, however, reassure the group that the plan takes Israelis security needs into consideration, and that Israel’s security is a major priority for the administration.
The plan’s economic chapter was published last month in English and Arabic, while the political chapter is expected to come out only after the September 17th Israeli election. Until then, the administration is keeping the details of the plan confined to a very small group of advisers, which includes Kushner and his close aide Avi Berkowitz, as well Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
Greenblatt and Friedman also gave speeches at the CUFI conference this week, as did Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, both of whom are evangelical Christians. Pompeo said during his speech that “Israel is a majority Jewish nation, but the government doesn’t force Jewish beliefs on others” - a hint to the existence of a Christian minority of Israeli citizens. His statement, however, ignored the fact that the Israeli government refuses to recognize non-Orthodox Jewish weddings and forces secular citizens to go through Orthodox religious authorities in order to seek a divorce.
Pence said during his speech that “we stand with Israel because her cause is our cause, her values are our values.” Pence also referred to the Biblical story of a promise made by God to Abraham that “I will bless those who bless you,” stating: “we stand with Israel because we cherish that ancient promise that those who bless her will be blessed.”
President Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, also addressed the conference. Bolton said that “Israel’s security is central to the stability of the Middle East” and that “the relationship between the United States and Israel, under President Trump, is stronger than ever.”
While CUFI defines itself as bi-partisan, during this year’s conference only Republican senators spoke from the stage. The organization also shared some tweets by members of Congress who met with CUFI activists on Tuesday and Wednesday - almost all of them from the Republican Party. The only Democrat who appeared in one of the tweets meeting a delegation of CUFI activists was Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York.
Prime Minister Netanyahu sent a video greeting to the conference from Jerusalem, devoting his remarks to the recent tensions and threat of military escalation with Iran. “We should stand up to Iran’s aggression now,” Netanyahu said. “It’s important to respond to their actions by increasing the pressure, not by reducing the pressure.” Netanyahu also said that he applauds Trump for pulling out of the Iran deal last year.