White House senior adviser Jared Kushner delivers remarks on the Trump administration's approach to the Middle East region at the Saban Forum in Washington, US, December 3, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS/JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN)
A real-estate company owned by the family of Jared Kushner – US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and now senior adviser – denied that its recent business dealings with Israeli financial institutions presented a conflict of interest, as Kushner has been tasked with leading a Middle East peace initiative.
Kushner’s firm received an investment totaling $30 million from Menorah Mivtachim, one of Israel’s largest insurers, in the spring of 2017, as first reported by The New York Times. That deal, investing in Maryland apartment projects where Kushner still has a personal stake, occurred a few weeks before Kushner visited Jerusalem with the president on an official state visit.
“Kushner Companies has many partners all over the world who invest with us because of our strong reputation and proven track record,” a Kushner Companies representative told The Jerusalem Post
. “We continue to strictly follow all compliance rules that were established when Jared began his government service. There is no connection between this particular investment and anything related to the White House. Any reports in the media that suggest otherwise are untrue.”
While the Menorah transaction does not appear to violate the letter of US ethics law, it may raise questions as to how the president’s son-in-law juggles his role as envoy for Middle East peace along with deepening business ties to Israel.
One Menorah executive who helped the negotiate the deal with CEO of Kushner Companies Laurent Morali told the Post
he had never met with Kushner.
“Kushner is a company. He [Jared] was not involved as far as we known. If he was involved behind the scenes, of course, we’ll never know,” the Menorah executive said, speaking on condition of anonymity since he did not get permission from media relations to talk. He pushed back against claims of a conflict of interest and adding that Kushner had many business dealings with Israeli partners.
“Because a company owned by him did a deal with Israeli partners, you think it would be a conflict of interest in [peace] negotiations in the Middle East?” the Menorah executive asked. “I never thought about it. I don’t think it’s connected. We didn’t think about it before doing the deal.”
Kushner’s business partnerships in Israel are already known to be thorough. He has taken out at least four loans from Bank Hapoalim – Israel’s largest bank, which is currently under American criminal investigation. Kushner has also had major dealings with some of the nation’s wealthiest investors, including Beny Steinmetz, who is the subject of a bribery investigation.
“We have 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,” a White House spokesman told the Post
“In consultation with the Office of the White House Counsel, he is fully complying with federal ethics rules.”
A lawyer for Kushner, Abbe Lowell, told the Times
: “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.”
Aside from heading Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative, Kushner’s family foundation has donated to pro-settlement groups.
Palestinians claim that West Bank settlements are an obstacle to a future two-state solution, while Israel says Palestinian intransigence and incitement are to blame.
Kushner’s ties to Israel are also reportedly a subject of inquiry by Robert Mueller, the US special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, after he discovered that Kushner directed a campaign to combat the Obama administration’s eleventh-hour effort in December 2016 to pass an anti-settlement resolution through the UN Security Council.
At the time, Kushner was not working for the government in an official capacity. Some legal scholars say the incoming Trump administration’s efforts to thwart the resolution may have violated the 1799 Logan Act, which bars private citizens from undermining the foreign policy of a sitting president in communication with a foreign country.