Jared Kushner reportedly will be present at the meeting between President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday morning, and the event marks the first opportunity for the quiet presidential adviser to see cemented, at the highest levels, ties that his father first developed with the feisty, controversial Israeli leader in the 1990s—for which he paid dearly.
Kushner’s father, real estate developer Charles Kushner, went to federal prison after a family feud that involved, among other matters, forking over millions of dollars to politicians, including hundreds of thousands in speaking fees to Netanyahu.
In Israel, Netanyahu is the target of a criminal investigation into charges that he took improper gifts from Israeli and foreign businessmen. He has been questioned twice by investigators. Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, issued a statement in January confirming that the probe is now a full-fledged criminal investigation, with the prime minister accused of ethics breaches. The Kushner payments are not known to be part of that investigation.
Charles Kushner was one of the largest landlords on the East Coast, and it’s not unusual for real estate developers to maintain close ties with politicians, because it’s good for business. Trump famously cultivated dozens of New York City pols on his way to grabbing huge, tax-incentivized deals that made him one of the city’s most powerful businessmen.
Charles Kushner’s payments to Netanyahu pale beside the millions of dollars he poured into New Jersey politics, but they were not chump change. According to a lawsuit filed by Kushner’s accountant, Kushner paid Netanyahu $400,000 for several speaking engagements in the early 2000s. In November 2001, Kushner invited him to speak at his synagogue and paid him $100,000, using money that lawfully belonged to partners in five Kushner-controlled real estate partnerships. He later paid the politician to speak at a charity event he hosted and at a bank he owned.
Netanyahu didn’t forget his friend: In 2004, he reportedly encouraged Kushner to buy Israel’s third largest bank, Israel Discount Bank, which was being privatized—and which would have catapulted Kushner into international banking. At the time, Netanyahu was finance minister and would have had to approve the sale. But the deal never happened, because U.S. prosecutors were closing in on Kushner that year over his outrageous scheme—to which he later confessed—of sending a hooker to seduce his brother-in-law and then sending a tape of the incident to his own sister. The brother-in-law had been cooperating with investigators looking into the way Kushner structured his political donations.
Charles Kushner’s close ties to Israel also indirectly helped bring down New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, one of the politicians who had received Kushner’s large, dubiously sourced donations that became subject to federal charges.
In 2001, McGreevey met a man named Golan Cipel while in Israel. A year later, Kushner sponsored Cipel, variously described as a “sailor” and a “poet,” for a work visa in the U.S. and gave him a $30,000-a-year public relations job in his north New Jersey office. From that position, McGreevey, a Democrat, catapulted the 33-year-old into a $110,00-a-year job as his homeland security adviser.
New Jersey Republicans scoffed at McGreevey’s claim that Cipel’s stint in the Israel Defense Forces qualified him for the job, and, under pressure, McGreevey was forced to sack him. But the men’s close relationship led to speculation about the nature of their relationship, and that public scrutiny eventually prompted Cipel to accuse McGreevey of sexual harassment.
McGreevey, who was then married to a woman, resigned the governorship in August 2004, famously announcing, “My truth is that I am a gay American.”
By that time, Charles Kushner was deep in troubles of his own, being fined more than half a million dollars by the Federal Election Commission for donations made under other people’s names, and battling a federal case. He would eventually plead guilty to illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion and witness tampering. And Jared Kushner, by then at Harvard, would spend the next year regularly visiting his father in an Alabama federal prison.