Sunday 23 April 2017

Kushner family: A house divided against itself

Jared is Trump's right-hand man but Joshua joined the Women's March; the brothers' tale is an allegory for the division of the US

Public profiles: Karlie Kloss and Joshua Kushner
Public profiles: Karlie Kloss and Joshua Kushner
Team trump: Jared with his wife Ivanka
Joshua with his brother Jared at the White House, under a portrait of JFK

Meadhbh McGrath

Last weekend's Women's March on Washington, DC, attracted hundreds of thousands of protestors, but alongside feminist icons like Gloria Steinem and Angela Davis, there was one particularly surprising face spotted among the crowd - that of Joshua Kushner, the younger brother of senior White House adviser (and Ivanka Trump's husband) Jared Kushner.

While the 31-year-old was pictured amidst a sea of placards screaming 'Love Trumps Hate' and crochet 'pussyhats', Jared (36) was at his father-in-law Donald Trump's right hand for the first daily presidential briefing.

During the campaign, Jared was firmly embedded in Trump's inner circle, referred to by the president as his "son". Joshua is a "lifelong Democrat", and has donated about $100,000 to Democratic candidates and causes. His girlfriend of four years, Karlie Kloss, was a vocal supporter of Hillary Clinton, and shared a snap of herself with her ballot paper on Instagram, captioned "#ImWithHer".

The story of the Kushner brothers is not just some ordinary, run-of-the-mill political disagreement among siblings. As the American public becomes more polarised than ever, the tale of Jared and Joshua can be read as an allegory for the division of a nation.

Team trump: Jared with his wife Ivanka
Team trump: Jared with his wife Ivanka

The brothers were born in New Jersey to Charles and Seryl Kushner, and raised with their two sisters in the Orthodox Jewish faith. Their grandparents, Joseph and Rae, emigrated to the US after surviving the Holocaust in Poland. Joseph worked on construction sites until he started earning enough money to build apartments.

Under Charles Kushner's direction, those properties grew to a $1bn apartment development business, and the boys' father became one of the most notable funders of Democratic politicians on the East Coast - he welcomed President Clinton at some of his parties, and even presented him with a shofar (a musical instrument used in Jewish ceremonies) as a gift.

As teenagers, Jared and Joshua spent their nights and weekends with their father, visiting construction sites and learning the family business. "The idea was when everyone is relaxing you should be working," Joshua has said of their upbringing.

The family was rocked by scandal in 2005, when Charles pleaded guilty to tax evasion, making illegal campaign donations and witness tampering following an investigation into the then-New Jersey governor Jim McGreevy's campaign.

One of the more sensational titbits that arose from the investigation was that Charles had hired a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law (whom he believed was working against him) in a motel room, which was fitted with a hidden camera. He then sent the sex tape to his sister - and, to ensure it made the biggest impact possible, had it delivered the day of a family party.

Mr Kushner was sentenced to two years in prison, but released within a year. Interestingly, it was Chris Christie (then New Jersey's attorney general), who arrested and prosecuted Mr Kushner, and initially sought a longer sentence. Christie emerged as a loyal supporter of Trump, and was even tipped for the vice presidential role - until, it is rumoured, Jared's influence lead to him being pushed to the outskirts of Trump's team. It is believed that Jared convinced Trump to choose Mike Pence for the role instead.

Joshua with his brother Jared at the White House, under a portrait of JFK
Joshua with his brother Jared at the White House, under a portrait of JFK

After his father landed in jail, Jared gradually rebuilt the property business in New York. In 2006, he bought the New York Observer, and cultivated a side interest in publishing, befriending Rupert Murdoch in the process. A year later, he met Ivanka Trump at a business lunch, and the two eventually wed in 2009.

It looked as though Joshua would follow in his brother's footsteps - he toyed with summer internships in the property industry during his time at Harvard - but he ended up taking a different path from the rest of his family. Breaking away from the old world of real estate, he emerged as the younger, hipper brother, focusing his efforts on scrappy tech startups.

Over the past year, Jared has become an increasingly public figure. He is seen as the kingmaker in Trump's administration, and serves as one of the president's closest confidantes. As well as his reported influence on the vice-presidential pick, he is credited with convincing Trump to appoint Reince Priebus as chief of staff, and persuading him to replace his early campaign manager with Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway.

Joshua, meanwhile, has kept a lower profile. Despite his relationship with Karlie Kloss, he is rarely spotted out with her, and doesn't drink or work the New York social circuit. Although he has a personal Instagram account, he doesn't blog or use Twitter. He tends to keep his head down while quietly building his technology investment firm, Thrive Capital. The fund was an early investor in flashy startups including Spotify, Instagram and Kickstarter, as well as Stripe, the mobile payments company founded by Irish brothers Patrick and John Collison.

In accordance with his new role at the White House, Jared will divest his shares in Thrive, but it is another of his brother's companies that has proved controversial. His company Oscar Health sells health insurance to individuals under the Affordable Care Act (also known as ObamaCare), a law that Trump took steps to undo on his first day in office, leaving Joshua and his company in a rather uncomfortable position.

Neither brother has publicly commented on whether they have discussed how Jared's work will affect Oscar Health, but it paints an awkward picture for the siblings.

Their relationship has all the makings of a bitter family feud, and yet the pair are still close. Last month, Joshua travelled to Hawaii with Jared, Ivanka and their kids to celebrate Hanukkah.

Ivanka told the New York Times: "Jared and Josh have a very special relationship defined by tremendous love, admiration and mutual respect."

And just 24 hours after the Women's March, Joshua shared a picture of himself and his brother in the White House - posing, not insignificantly, in front of a portrait of John F Kennedy. The brothers' idolisation of Kennedy is interesting: like Jared and Joshua, he attended Harvard, came from a powerful family dynasty and had to overcome his father's scandal -in this case, Joseph Kennedy's disastrous remarks about World War II - in pursuit of his political ambitions.

While the Kushner brothers share vastly different political opinions, it seems they are respectful of each other's differences. During the campaign, a spokesman for Joshua made clear that he would not be voting for Trump, but that "he loved his brother and did not want to say anything that might embarrass him".

"People who are different from you, you can learn something from them," Joshua said in a 2011 interview. "At least, I think I can."

Irish Independent

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