Saban praises Kushner for trying to sandbag the Obama administration at the UN

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner (L), speaks alongside Haim Saban at the Saban Forum in Washington DC on December 3, 2017. (Photo: James Lawler Duggan/Reuters)

The president’s son-in-law and senior advisor, Jared Kushner, was praised yesterday for attempting to derail a vote at the United Nations Security Council about Israeli settlements during the Obama administration.

“You’ve been in the news about an issue that I personally want to thank you for, because you and your team were taking steps to try and get the United Nations Security Council to not go along with what ended up being an abstention of the U.S., going against a 50-year old tradition,” Democratic mega donor Haim Saban told Kushner at the top of a 30-minute discussion at the Saban Forum, during Kushner’s first comments on the Middle East.

What Saban alluded to—but did not state outright— is that a senior White House official widely reported to be Kushner dispatched former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to make secret contact with the Russian ambassador in December 2016 in an effort to undermine or delay the resolution, which condemned Israel for settlement construction.

“To be honest with you, as far as I know, nothing illegal there,” Haim Saban, a Democratic donor who was a key supporter of Hillary Clinton, told Jared Kushner. “But I think that this crowd and myself want to thank you for making that effort, so thank you very much.” The audience at the Brookings Institutionin Washington applauded.

On Friday Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and agreed to cooperate in the on-going investigation on potential collusion between Trump administration officials and the Russians. Shortly after NBC revealed per sources that it was Kushner who told Flynn to seek out the Russians. 

On December 23, 2016, the Obama administration abstained on the resolution, which allowed it to pass otherwise unanimously. 

Making his first appearance since the critical breakthrough in the Robert Mueller investigation, Kushner was keynoting the Saban Forum, an annual venue of Israeli and American policy influencers, founded by Saban.

Kushner is arguably at the nucleus of the Trump administration’s inner circle, so his involvement raises serious questions as to whether he violated U.S. law, or also misled investigators. 

Outside of the Mueller investigation, Kushner has also been in the news over the weekend regarding his failure to disclose that he presided over a family charity that donated at least $58,000 to Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Newsweek broke the story yesterday, reporting that Kushner did not disclose 100 contacts with foreign nations despite three rounds of revisions to his disclosure forms. Those contacts including meetings with a number of Russians during the campaign. The revelation was first made by the progressive watchdog the American Bridge whose researcher director Pat Dennis confirmed to Mondoweiss the group cross-referenced the Charles and Seryl Kushner Charitable Foundation 990 tax forms with Kushner’s public financial disclosure form.

Kushner has not been issued a security clearance because of discrepancies in paperwork, including a confidential security clearance form known as a SF-86. Kushner has “an interim security clearance nearly a year into the administration, as investigators continue to assess his trustworthiness and analyze his web of active foreign investments,” Newsweek reported.

At the Saban Forum podium, no one referred to these suggestions of malfeasance or other headlines. Although some attendees spoke jokingly in private about the ill-fated timing for Kushner.

During his remarks, Kushner was vague about his progress in formulating a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians. He spoke about building the U.S. negotiations team with Trump, appointing two lawyers who had previously worked for the Trump Organizations “who had the right qualifications, who we both trusted.” He described the Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman who also presided over a charity that donated to same West Bank settlement as Kushner’s family foundation, as “a close friend of mine.”

Of the chief U.S. envoy to Middle East peace, Kushner related, “there’ no better real estate lawyer than Jason Greenbelt, who has been working on this,” adding that within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “there are a lot of real estate related issues.”

“I’ll definitely say it’s not a conventional team,” he admitted.

Saban asked directly if the administration can make peace.

“We do think it is achievable and there are a lot of reasons why this is the time and why it should happened,” Kushner said. He cited shifting priorities within the Arab world including Iran’s “expansive regional mischief” and the presence of ISIS, “which the administration has down an unbelievable job of beating back and almost defeating at this point.”

“Israel who was traditionally their foe is much more a natural ally today than they were 20 years ago,” he said. He noted, “The president has a very long career of accomplishing things that a lot of people say were impossible, I think the most recent example was the election.”

Challenges, Kushner highlighted, stemmed from the lack of trust between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Yet according to him the bright spot is that “both sides really trust the president, and I think that’s really important.”

When asked about Trump’s upcoming announcement this Wednesday in which the president is said to plan to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Kushner countered that Trump is “still looking at a lot of different facts” and has not make a final decision. Recognizing Jerusalem would mark a major break in U.S. policy. Previous administrations have adhered to the Oslo Accords tenet that the status of territory should not change outside of formal agreements between the Israelis and Palestinians. 

Palestinian officials have emphatically come out against the expected move, warning that relocating the embassy or naming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could throw off peace talks. 

PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat said in a statement yesterday, “If the U.S. Administration decides to contradict its international commitments and historic foreign policy by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, it is not only going to promote international anarchy and disrespect for global institutions and law, but it will also be disqualifying itself to play any role in any initiative towards achieving a just and lasting peace.”

Saban, the founder by and namesake of the Saban Forum, is an Israeli-American tycoon and major donor to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race. Even so, he and Kushner appeared to have a warm rapport. Sharing a personal anecdote, Saban said he initially met Kushner during the presidential race after it was brought to his attention that the White House advisor had sent him a fan note in 2010 praising a New Yorker profile of Saban. “The article, which I hated,” Saban said, “he loved it. Go figure.” (It was titled “The Influencer,” by Connie Bruck.)

“We became friends and we exchange ideas on an ongoing basis. He advises me, and I advise him,” Saban said.