Columns

Mike Ross

Concern in Boston’s Jewish community on Trump, Kushner

10-22-95:Boston: The Dedication of the New England Holocaust Memorial-With one of the six towers of the memorial as a backdrop, Elie Wiesel adresses the crowd gathered at City Hall Plaza.
Globe Photo/File
Holocaust survivor and scholar Elie Wiesel spoke at the dedication of the New England Holocaust Memorial in 1995.

“Where is Jared Kushner?” That’s the question that Frank Bruni of The New York Times asks of Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law.

Here in Boston, people are also wondering. Kushner, a well-regarded real estate developer, is known to many within the region’s tight-knit real estate community, which also includes many members of the Jewish community. Leading up to the election, it was Kushner’s name that many moderate thinkers cooed to each other to calm those who were alarmed by Trump’s hard-right presidency.

Even as Trump was assembling his administration with known race-baiters like Stephen Bannon, people who knew Kushner responded with reassurance. “Don’t worry, he is very bright and will keep Trump focused,” they would tell me. “Besides, he’s Jewish, we have nothing to worry about.”

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Perhaps “we” have nothing to worry about. But within weeks of being sworn in, Trump and Bannon have set their targets on Muslims, Mexicans, and immigrants. Hatred, or at least willful ignorance, has even seeped into a statement commemorating the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, where Trump referred to its victims as “innocent people” and not “Jews,” a tactic that until now was used only by Holocaust revisionists.

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In the past, Kushner has felt the need to tell people, “Donald Trump is not anti-Semitic, and he’s not a racist.” (Methinks he doth protest too much.) But now, a recent report suggests, Kushner is “furious” with Trump’s doubling down on Bannon and leaving him out. Indeed, as the report indicates, the most controversial of Trump’s actions — from the immigration ban to his tantrum over the size of his inauguration — occurred during the Sabbath, a period when Orthodox Jews like Kushner do not work, and thus could not advise.

For those who believe that Kushner’s presence as a moderating force might save a Trump presidency from ruin, a useful analogy could be Henry Kissinger’s role in the Nixon administration. Kushner is no Kissinger, notwithstanding the former diplomat’s apparent self-loathing of his own people. But both men inherited the tortured tasks of defending the administrations in which they served. In the end, Kissinger couldn’t save Nixon, and likely Kushner will not save Trump, especially as it seems as though Bannon wields the power within the administration.

The politics of division — whether the ban on Muslims or the bullying of those who disagree — appears to be the way forward for the Trump administration. Trump may never take aim directly against Jewish people, given that his daughter and grandchildren are Jewish. But that shouldn’t stop Jewish people from reading these actions as an attack on us all.

And here in Boston, standing up for each other is a value that we wholeheartedly embrace. It’s something our local government has consistently done, and it’s something that is visibly present in our midst. In the center of our city sits the New England Holocaust Memorial, a symbol of the tolerance that pervades our broader community. Within the memorial is a giant slab of granite with the well-known words of Martin Niemöller written on it: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — because I was not a socialist . . . then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.” The inclusion of this quote was quite deliberate. This I know, as my father, a Holocaust survivor, was the memorial’s founder.

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Now that it appears that Kushner’s more moderate influence will fail to quell the nationalist policies of his father-in-law, it remains up to the rest of us to “speak out.” So long as hate is the policy of our country, we are all the target.

Mike Ross is a regular contributor to the Globe. His father, Stephen Ross, is a Holocaust survivor and the founder of the New England Holocaust Memorial.