Jared Kushner
Jared KushnerYonatan Sindel/Flash90

(New York Jewish Week) — At the opening of its annual conference on fighting antisemitism, the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) CEO defended the decision to honor Donald Trump’s son-in-law and former senior adviser, Jared Kushner.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s chief, presented Kushner with an award recognizing his Middle East diplomacy. It came less than a day after Trump won a string of overwhelming primary victories, essentially guaranteeing him the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

Kushner is not involved in his father-in-law’s 2024 campaign but defended him from the stage of the ADL conference. Speaking after Greenblatt, he touted Trump’s record on Israel and said, “You can think whatever you like about Donald Trump, but he’s not an antisemite.”

The ADL Abraham Accords Champion Award for Kushner marks a pivot of sorts for the ADL, which in 2016 and 2017 was an early and frequent critic of the Trump administration and was the first major Jewish group to call for Trump’s removal from office after the US Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021. It also comes as the ADL has emphasized its battle against anti-Zionism — especially following Hamas’ Oct. 7 invasion of Israel and the ensuing war — drawing a parallel between antisemitism on the far right and far left.

Introducing Kushner to the audience of around 4,000, Greenblatt acknowledged that the decision to honor a key Trump administration figure may have come as a surprise. He said that he had received pushback and heard “exasperation” over the award from the ADL’s supporters and board members.

But he stressed that the ADL is nonpartisan, and called for unity following Oct. 7. He praised Kushner for his leading role in brokering the Abraham Accords, the 2020 normalization agreements between Israel and four Arab countries.

“We are living in an Oct. 8th world and I firmly believe that we as a Jewish community cannot afford to be divided,” Greenblatt said. “We cannot allow the partisanship and the polarization that has poisoned so much of our society. We can’t allow it to do the same to us.”

He added, “I really don’t care how you vote, but the Abraham Accords are a groundbreaking achievement.”

That line, which has since circulated on social media, has drawn criticism from opponents of Trump who have previously cited and praised the ADL.

“For the record, I care how you vote,” posted the CEO of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, Halie Soifer. Listing a litany of criticisms of Trump, she added, “And I can’t fathom why anyone would normalize” him.

The speech took place near the end of the conference’s opening session on Wednesday. The two-day gathering in New York City focused on combating antisemitism, with panels discussing “swatting” attacks, anti-Zionism on campus, and threats to Orthodox communities.

Other speakers on Wednesday morning included the State Department’s antisemitism envoy, Deborah Lipstadt, as well as Daniel Lifshitz, an advocate for Israeli hostages in Gaza whose grandfather, Oded, is in captivity and whose grandmother, Yocheved, was released early in the conflict. Israeli President Isaac Herzog addressed the crowd by video.

Kushner, speaking after Greenblatt, focused his speech on preventing antisemitism and on his experience mediating the Abraham Accords. He called for more education about Jewish history and for Jews to engage with other minority groups. In particular, he said Jews should be more open to closer ties with evangelical Christians, a group that reports favorable opinions of Jews in surveys, and that he said he got to know at Trump rallies.

Kushner’s speech was interrupted by a handful of hecklers. One yelled out “ceasefire,” and another shouted that Kushner was a “warmonger,” before being escorted from the room. But despite occasional jeers, Kushner was generally well-received by the audience, drawing applause throughout his speech.

Kushner said he had been “skeptical” of the ADL and viewed it as a “political organization,” but had accepted because he believed Greenblatt had sought to “transcend political ideology.” He also defended Trump, pointing to his record on Israel and other issues, including moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and an executive order reinforcing civil rights protections for Jewish students. The order has come to bear in particular after Oct. 7, as Jewish students and advocates for them have filed federal complaints over alleged antisemitism.

Denying that Trump held animosity for Jews, Kushner said, “He blessed my wife converting to Judaism. He wore a yarmulke at our wedding.”

He added, “We cannot let this be about politics. This is about the Jews. If Jews cannot look past their partisan beliefs to acknowledge positive efforts on behalf of the Jewish people then we will be doomed.”