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Politics

All About Jared Kushner’s Jewish Faith and Holocaust-Survivor Grandparents as He’s Slammed for Silence on Charlottesville

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Jared Kushner, senior White House adviser, attends a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump, not pictured, with House and Senate leadership in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. Trump is bringing lawmakers to the White House in hopes of kick-starting his legislative agenda while Washington focuses on the latest twists and turns in the Russia investigation. Photographer: Olivier Douliery/Pool via Bloomberg

Jared Kushner‘s Jewish faith is back in the spotlight as his father-in-law, Donald Trump, faces widespread backlash over his refusal to unequivocally condemn white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the KKK for the deadly violence that engulfed Charlottesville, Virginia, during a white nationalist rally over the weekend.

The president’s daughter and advisor, Ivanka Trump — who converted to Judaism before marrying Kusher, an Orthodox Jew, in 2009 — tweeted after the events in Charlottesville, “There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis.”

But Kushner, 36, a former real-estate developer and newspaper publisher who is also a senior advisor to the president, has yet to comment on the rally where nationalist and right-wing protesters chanted anti-Semitic slogans, and where one anti-racist counter-protester, Heather Heyer, 32, was killed.

Trump has been widely lambasted for asserting that white supremacists and counter-protesters were equally to blame. More than a year before this latest uproar, Kushner wrote an op-ed insisting that his father-in-law was neither an anti-Semite nor a racist.

In a piece titled “The Donald Trump I Know” for his former newspaper The New York Observer, Kushner accused his father-in-law’s political rivals, the media and the “speech police” of labeling Trump racist and anti-Semitic in an effort to “score political points.”

He, of all people, would know if his father-in-law was racist, Kushner argued, because his grandparents were Holocaust survivors.

Describing how his paternal grandparents, Rae and Joseph Kushner, narrowly escaped death at the hands of the Nazis in Eastern Europe, Kushner wrote: “It’s important to me that people understand where I’m coming from when I report that I know the difference between actual, dangerous intolerance versus these labels that get tossed around in an effort to score political points.”

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Kushner faced harsh criticism — including from his own family members — for invoking his grandparents’ experience during the election campaign to defend Trump against accusations of anti-Semitism.

“I have a different take­away from my grandparents’ experience in the war,” his cousin, Marc Kushner, wrote in a Facebook post at the time, according to Politico. “It is our responsibility as the next generation to speak up against hate. [Sic] Anti­semitism or otherwise.”

Kushner’s other cousin Jacob Schulder also condemned the op-ed. “When an out of touch with reality nominee hires an out of touch with reality campaign manager, who is also a son­-in-­law, you get the BS Jared wrote,” Schulder said on Facebook.

“The very first thing a responsible campaign manager should do, I’d think, and I mean the very first thing, would be to take away his father-­in­-law’s Twitter account. Even Joseph Kushner would’ve had the street smarts to figure that one out while living on boiled potatoes in the forest,” he added of his grandfather.

Kushner’s late grandmother Rae also spoke out about her experience as a Holocaust survivor in a 1982 interview that resurfaced in January after Trump signed an executive order banning Syrian refugees and people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

In the interview, Rae recounted how she and her family tried to flee Eastern Europe before the Holocaust, only to find that “the door was closed” to the United States, which, motivated in part by widespread anti-immigrant sentiment at the time, largely rejected Jewish refugees from Europe.

“A few Jews, friends of my father’s who had stores, left everything and went to Palestine. [Even before the war] they said to my father and mother, ‘Sell everything and run,’ ” Rae said, according to a transcript of the interview published in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

“But we had a problem. We didn’t know where to run. There was no Israel like there is today. There was no place that you could legally go to. It was very hard to get a visa to the United States; it would take years and years.

“For a family with small kids to pick themselves up and go it was very hard. But a few families left to Palestine and they stayed alive. We felt the anti-Semitism. We felt something was coming, but we couldn’t help ourselves.

“The doors of the world were closed to us. You know how hard it was to get to Israel? Boys and girls used to sit in a camp for three or four years before they could go to Palestine. To go to America was harder. You sent your papers and you waited for years before you could get a visa.”

With nowhere to turn, the family remained in Rae’s hometown of Novogrudok in what was then Poland and today is Belarus, which was soon taken over by Nazis and turned into a Jewish ghetto. It was there that Rae’s mother, older sister and younger brother were killed.

Rae, her sister and their father managed to escape through a tunnel. After living in the woods for nearly a year and then smuggling themselves across several borders, they eventually found shelter at a refugee camp in Italy. Kushner lived there for three and a half years until relatives in the U.S. helped acquire visas for her and her husband Joseph, a fellow survivor whom she met in Hungary.

Later in the interview, Rae criticized America for its refusal to give refuge to Jews fleeing the Holocaust. “For the Jews, the doors were closed,” she said. “We never understood that. Even President Roosevelt kept the doors closed. Why? … What was the world afraid of? I don’t understand.”

Rae’s story, when it reemerged this year, drew attention for its parallels to the modern-day struggles of Syrian refugees who have been turned away from America by President Trump—while Rae’s own grandson stood silently by.

Now, as his father-in-law faces fresh allegations of racism and anti-Semitism, critics are denouncing Kushner almost as sharply for his silence.

Trump has been roundly criticized for his comments on Saturday and Tuesday in which he blamed “both sides” for the violence in Charlottesville, where white supremacists, neo-Nazis and others had marched through town carrying torches and chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” One attendee, identified by police as 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr., is accused of ramming his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

“It looked like they had some rough, bad people, neo-Nazis, white nationalists, whatever you want to call them,” the president said Tuesday. “But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest and very legally protest.”

A senior White House official told NBC News that Trump “went rogue” at the press conference as he doubled down on his initial, widely denounced response to the violence on Saturday. Facing backlash, Trump delivered a second speech on Monday condemning racism, “the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups.”

The New York Times‘ Glenn Thrush reported on Tuesday that Kushner and Ivanka had pushed Trump to issue a full-throated condemnation of the racism at the white nationalist rally—but from afar.

“As with so many other critical moments in Mr.. Trump’s presidency,” the Times reported, “the two were on vacation, this time in Vermont.”

The New York Times reported Wednesday afternoon that requests for comment to Kushner and the few other Jewish members of President Trump’s administration went unanswered.