Has it really been only two years since we all had the overwhelming desire to punch anyone who used the word “Javanka” in a non-ironic manner? The intervening years have been quite the fall for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, though, as they have gone from the White House’s potential voice of sanity to the epitome of its stupidity and vanity.
Given the sheer number of behind-the-chaotic-scenes exposés of life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue since Michael Wolff’s “Fire & Fury” was published early last year, it was inevitable that Jared and Ivanka would receive their moment in the spotlight at some point. Indeed, if they are only half as vain as that book suggests, they are probably just disappointed it took so long to arrive.
The biggest problem with Vicky Ward’s “Kushner, Inc. Greed. Ambition. Corruption” is there for all to see on the cover: The title is ostensibly about Jared, but the image shows Ivanka front and center. She looks like a Hollywood movie star while her husband, semi-obscured behind her, looks like a pasty Hollywood accountant.
The book’s publishers would no doubt love to furnish us with lurid details about Ivanka’s charmed life, but instead there are lots of details about her husband’s less-than-riveting business dealings, the couple’s love of the perks of the position (free trips on Air Force One! Woo-hoo!) and their lack of qualifications for the jobs at hand. (Lest we forget, pretty much the only job President Donald Trump didn’t give his son-in-law was to build that damned wall.) Whether intentionally or not, the book does manage to mirror one aspect of White House life for the Kushners: Ivanka goes missing for large parts of it.
After wading through these 304 pages, you will recognize that this is not the “Extraordinary Story of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump,” as the book’s subtitle claims, but merely a story of extraordinary privilege and two rather average people. Two people born into wealth and dysfunctional families, who worked in their fathers’ real estate empires with various levels of failure, before ultimately lucking into the ultimate D.C. location.
Anyone looking for major revelations about Jared and Ivanka’s lives or insights into their way of thinking (or, say, how big a role Judaism plays in their family) will be disappointed by “Kushner, Inc.” The book trades more on gossip than substance, but even so, it’s hard not to feel that you’ve heard the majority of these stories before.
On the plus side, there’s a great quote from Trump’s former economic adviser, Gary Cohn, about Ivanka seeing herself as a future U.S. president (“She thinks this is like the Kennedys, the Bushes, and now the Trumps”); an all-too-believable story about how Donald Trump wished his daughter had married New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady instead of Jared (and how the Kushners themselves were less than enamored by the prospect of their son “marrying out”); and how the president mulled the idea of kicking Ivanka and Jared out of Washington because of the headaches they were causing him in the press. It was also good to be reminded that Donald Trump excused his tweeting of an anti-Semitic image because he thought the Star of David in the image was actually a sheriff’s badge.
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But even the few revelations get watered down by the text. For instance, the paragraph revealing that Trump Sr. was allegedly displeased when Ivanka converted to Judaism starts: “Trump was said to be discombobulated by the enormity of what his daughter had done.” Really? Trump couldn’t even spell “discombobulated” in a tweet, never mind feel it.
Although Ward says she interviewed 220 people in the process of writing the book, I can only assume Steve Bannon is a master of disguise – because many of the voices sure sound a lot like him getting his revenge on “Javanka” (feel free to punch me) for his ouster from the Oval Office. And it gives me absolutely no pleasure to report that the stories involving Bannon tend to be some of the book’s most entertaining anecdotes.
Take this excerpt describing a fundraising meeting between Bannon and the rest of the Trump team with GOP billionaire Sheldon Adelson in August 2016, a conversation that “centered” on Israel. “Adelson’s chief concern was that the next U.S. president move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. During that conversation, Kushner was not consulted. ‘Sheldon thought Jared and Ivanka were just kids,’ observed someone with knowledge of the meeting. ‘He was completely dismissive of them.’”
Soon after, we learn that the Trump team met the following month with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Trump Tower, where Kushner was on home turf. When talk turned to the Middle East, Ward quotes Bannon as saying Bibi delivered a two-hour “masterclass,” and adds: “Trump let Kushner jump in, because U.S.-Israel relations was the one political issue anyone in the campaign ever saw Kushner get worked up about. ‘On the Israel stuff, Jared at least comes across like he knows what he’s talking about,’ said someone who was at the meeting.” This offers a perfect example of the amount of snark to be found on every page of the book.
If there is a reason to pick up a copy of “Kushner, Inc.,” other than to swat a fly, it probably is for those little snippets about Israel and the Middle East. Certainly, one thing the book makes abundantly clear is how much Kushner loves Israel. For example, after he bought the New York Observer, the book details how he wrote a manifesto on what the weekly should be about. “It was, like, four pages long, and two of them were about Israel. I thought that was bizarre,” then-editor Elizabeth Spiers is quoted as saying, noting that until then, the New York Observer had, reasonably enough, always been about the Big Apple.
Then there’s the disastrous meeting — first reported in the New Yorker — between Kushner and U.S. special envoy Jason Greenblatt with the Palestinians in May 2017. When Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat reportedly told Kushner it felt like he was “dealing with real estate agents, not U.S. officials,” Kushner replied: “You haven’t made peace with politicians. Maybe you need a real estate agent.”
The one thing “Kushner, Inc” definitely does not need is more real estate. There are over 70 references to the Kushner family-owned 666 Fifth Avenue — which the book accurately refers to as the “Tower of Debt.” This highlights Ward’s own journalistic interests: Her previous book, “The Liar’s Ball,” was about New York’s GM Building.
Still, Ward does provide a few details about something few people have managed: Kushner’s Middle East peace plan, hitherto considered as mythical as Narnia, Westeros and Jared’s voice. She cites “multiple people who saw drafts of the plan,” noting that Saudi Arabia — presumably thanks to Kushner’s new bestie, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — would build an oil pipeline from Saudi Arabia to Gaza, “where refineries and a shipping terminal could be built. The profits would create desalination plants, where Palestinians could find work, addressing the high unemployment rate.”
“The plan also entailed land swaps, so that Jordan would give land to the Palestinian territories,” she adds. “In return, Jordan would get land from Saudi Arabia, and that country would get back two Red Sea islands it gave Egypt to administer in 1950.” If Kushner succeeds in selling that one to the Palestinians, he may want to try selling them London Bridge while he’s at it.