I am not the obvious person to write a letter to you. We are different from each other in so many ways. You work for a Republican administration and I am a life-long Democrat. Your family is from Belarus and Poland; mine is from Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Our visions and hopes for Israel are different in many ways as well.
At the same time, there are more than a few things that we have in common. We both went to yeshiva day schools. Many of our closest relatives were murdered by Nazis; we are only here because of those who survived. We are both fervent lovers of Israel. We are both patriotic Americans.
Because we share so much, I’m less daunted by the notion of addressing the senior White House advisor who is also the son-in-law of the president of the United States. And maybe that’s why I feel more of a responsibility to be direct with you, in a respectful manner.
As children, we learned how to conduct ourselves in a way that was sensible and sage. We practiced halachah, the way of discipline and devotion that has been passed down for 2,000 years. Because you were raised in this tradition, you have a unique way of seeing, behaving and experiencing the world. And for the same reason, you are unique within the circle of the president’s closest advisors.
Halachic Jews tend to characterize themselves as “more halachic” or “less halachic.” My great fear is that your father-in-law’s administration is not only less halachic, it is being steered away from a halachic way of discipline and devotion altogether.
Your fellow presidential advisor, Steven K. Bannon, is the primary driver of this disruptive approach to the way in which government relates to our country and its citizenry. He wants an administration that is in a battle for “deconstruction of the administrative state.”
Halachah is meant to pave a shared road traveled by an entire community. In contrast, Bannon’s goals for this country are divisive rather than unifying. “If you think they’re going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken,” Bannon has said. “Every day, it is going to be a fight.”
There is one person who, at this critical juncture, can restore equilibrium to the most important governmental entity in the world, the office of the president of the United States. You are that person.
You are a member of the president’s family. The president is not a tool for you, not a means for furthering your political ideology. Bannon has referred to your father-in-law as an “imperfect vessel” for realizing his deconstructive and destructive objectives. You are the one who can serve as a counterweight to Bannon’s schemes.
These schemes are tearing apart American Jews as well. With the recent surge of anti-Semitic acts, Jews are in an intense internal battle, with each party claiming that, as Haaretz correspondent Allison Kaplan Sommer puts it, “your anti-Semites are far worse than our anti-Semites.”
Sommer cites a former director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, Dore Gold, who is now president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Gold sees a worrisome urge among American Jews and Israelis to use anti-Semitism to score political points. Regarding Israel, Gold says that the Jewish state “should be very careful before they join a choir on either side.”
We are at a precarious point in American and Jewish history. A point when the global order is being sabotaged. A point at which one man is using his relationship and influence over the American president to “bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
Mr. Kushner, perhaps you have reached a position of great influence — to paraphrase the Book of Esther — for such a time as this. For the sake of the United States, the Jewish people, and the State of Israel, I hope you have.
Jonathan Jacoby is the son of two Holocaust survivors, both of whom went on to become leaders in Jewish education and the helping professions in Los Angeles. He was the founding director of the New Israel Fund and was a former president of Israel Policy Forum and now serves as a consultant for Jewish groups.