Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner has maintained strong financial ties with Israel, according to a report Sunday, raising questions about whether he can be seen as an unbiased mediator in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks he has been charged with jump-starting.
Kushner, who is son-in-law to US President Donald Trump, resigned as chief executive of his family’s Kushner Companies in January 2017 before entering the White House. But he still benefits from various trusts, worth some $761 million according to the New York Times, that are involved in the properties and other investments, including many with ties to Israel.
In May 2017 Kushner came with Trump on the president’s official visit to Israel. Not long before, the family real estate company received a $30 million investment from Israeli insurance company Menora Mivtachim, an executive at Menora told the The New York Times.
The money went into 10 Maryland apartment complexes the Kushner firm controls.
Other dealings include an April 2017 venture in which Kushners worked with the Steinmetz family from Israel to buy $200 million worth of Manhattan apartment buildings. Kushner has also taken out at least four loans from Bank Hapoalim, Israel’s largest bank.
And Kushner Companies purchased sections of the former New York Times building in Manhattan, from Lev Leviev, the Israeli-Russian oligarch and philanthropist. The Kushner family foundation has also given money to the West Bank settlement of Beit El, which US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman also has ties to, the report said.
According to the report, several experts questioned whether Kushner’s financial dealings would affect how he is perceived in the Middle East, where he already faces a Palestinian leadership angered over Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Palestinian Authority officials have initiated a boycott of American officials, including Kushner, and ties between Ramallah and Washington have swiftly deteriorated since the December 6 announcement on Jerusalem by Trump. According to some reports, Kushner has been behind many of the Trump administration’s stances on Israel.
The US is “sending over a special envoy who has already identified himself personally more with the hawkish views … [who] is getting money from wealthy citizens and businesses in one particular country,” Richard W. Painter, who was the White House ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, told the paper.
However, administration officials and others said Kushner’s dealings did not violate any ethics rules and he was not personally involved in any of the deals.
“Jared Kushner has not been involved in, nor spoken about any Kushner Companies’ activities or project, since shortly before the Inauguration. He has an ethics agreement, reviewed by lawyers, with which he is in full compliance. Connecting any of his well-publicized trips to the Middle East to anything to do with Kushner Companies or its businesses is nonsensical and is a stretch to write a story where none actually exists,” Kushner lawyer Abe Lowell told The New York Times.
Robert Weissman, the president of Public Citizen, a nonprofit government ethics group, speculated that Kushner’s activities fall within ethics guidelines simply because “the ethics laws were not crafted by people who had the foresight to imagine a Donald Trump or a Jared Kushner”
“No one could ever imagine this scale of ongoing business interests, not in a local peanut farm or a hardware store but sprawling global businesses that give the president and his top adviser personal economic stakes in an astounding number of policy interests,” Weissman told the newspaper.
Menora’s head of real estate Ran Markman said he did not meet Kushner and that negotiations for the Maryland deal were with Laurent Morali, president of the Kushner Companies.
It was “not done because of the so-called connections of Jared Kushner or Donald Trump,” Markman said. “The connection to the president was not an issue. It didn’t make us do the deal, it didn’t make us not do the deal.”
A spokesperson for Kushner Companies said it does not do business “with foreign sovereigns or governments, and is not precluded from doing business with any foreign company simply because Jared is working in the government.”
A deputy White House press secretary said the Trump administration has “tremendous confidence in the job Jared is doing leading our peace efforts, and he takes the ethics rules very seriously and would never compromise himself or the administration.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.