Jared Kushner's High School Is Making Children Write Letters of Support to Donald Trump

President Donald Trump and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on May 22, 2017. Kobi Gideon/GPO via Getty

Updated | Jared Kushner's old high school in New Jersey is asking its students to send supportive letters to his father-in-law, President Donald Trump, and parents are not happy.

The Frisch School, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish institution, asked children, without obtaining the consent of their parents, to write letters praising Trump's decision to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That decision angered Arab leaders and gave rise to protests across the Muslim world.

The school's Rabbi David Sher sent a template email to students telling those who "believe that the president made the right decision" in ordering the relocation of the embassy to sign the letter and thank Trump for showing "courageous leadership."

"Just remember to sign your name at the bottom," the children were told.

The letter appeared to suggest that the movement of the embassy was a widely popular decision. It was hailed by pro-Israeli advocacy organizations and some of Trump's evangelical Christian supporters.

But experts say the move risks escalating the decades-long conflict that has cost thousands of lives on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. And Americans overall appear to oppose the move, with 63 percent saying they were against it in a national poll published in December, including 44 percent of all Republicans.

"President Trump, you have displayed leadership and strength among the nations by formally recognizing Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the State of Israel," the template letter said. "We appreciate your commitment to follow the wishes of the American people and your faithful service as our nation's leader. We are grateful for your unwavering support of Israel, America's greatest ally."

Israeli newspaper Haaretz was the first publication to report news of the pro-Trump letter.

Parents of children attending the school told Haaretz that the bid for Trump support was "sycophancy" and an attempt to "normalize" his presidency. They said that the school was apolitical and should remain so.

The email was an advocacy project by the right-wing, pro-Israeli committee known as NORPAC, which raises funds for senators who support Israel and its relationship with the U.S.

After parents complained to the school when they realized that the school was seemingly pushing children in the direction of sending the letter, the principal, Rabbi Eli Ciner, said the email "is entirely voluntary and should be done only if you agree with President Trump."

He said, "We often write to our political leaders if we agree, or disagree, with their decisions. This is one opportunity to allow President Trump to hear your voice."

But parents said that this was not a common practice at the school and that children had not been presented with a template letter to send to the president about some of his more controversial moves and remarks, such as his response to the protests against a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August or his travel ban on six Muslim-majority countries.

In an email statement to Haaretz, Ciner denied the accusation that the school had urged children to sign the letter template.

"As a religious Zionist school, we encourage our students as civic minded American citizens, to write to the administration when they agree or disagree with the government's policies regarding the State of Israel," Ciner said. "In this particular case, many of our students strongly supported the president's decision recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and our AISAC club (the American Israel Student Action Committee) has facilitated their ability to express this support through the NORPAC campaign."

Kushner has been a crucial adviser to Trump on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, shuttling between Israeli and Palestinian officials to give the president ideas about of what any potential peace deal would require.

But the Palestinians say that both Trump and Kushner—as well as the president's Middle East adviser, Jason Greenblatt, and Ambassador to Israel David Friedman—are biased in favor of Israeli interests.

Greenblatt coincidentally is a Frisch School parent and was a guest speaker there last month.

The Palestinians have said the U.S. can no longer be an impartial custodian of bilateral peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians because of decisions by Trump and his team.

Trump's embassy move is controversial because it effectively recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. No foreign embassies were in Jerusalem before his decision.

The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of any future sovereign Palestinian state, and the territory hosts some of the holiest shrines in Islam and Judaism. These include the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, which Muslims consider to be the third holiest landmark in Islam, behind Mecca and Medina.

It also hosts what Jews refer to as the Temple Mount, one of the holiest places in Judaism and the site of two biblical temples. Jews cannot pray at the site because it is still controlled by a Palestinian-Jordanian waqf, or Islamic trust.

Israel captured east Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War, and most of the international community recognizes the territory as occupied.

This story was updated to credit Haaretz as being the first to report that Frisch School students have been asked to send the letters. It has also been updated to include email comment from the school's principal.