WASHINGTON ― Rabbi Emeritus Haskel Lookstein from Jared Kushner’s synagogue will speak at the Republican National Convention, a four-day event billed as a celebration of the “core themes” of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign.
The inclusion of Lookstein, from the Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, on the speakers list is the latest effort by the Trump campaign to counter criticism that Trump has shied away from condemning his neo-Nazi supporters and has, at times, propagated blatantly anti-Semitic images and themes himself.
Until now, the leadership at Kehilath
Last month, The Huffington Post surveyed the rabbis at Kehilath
Lookstein, through an assistant, declined to comment. Other rabbis at the synagogue voiced cautiously-worded concern but stopped short of outright condemning the reality television star.
“You would hope that he would say something more direct ― say, “Don’t say things like this.’ I don’t know why he or any candidate wouldn’t want to make a statement like that,” Rabbi Elie Weinstock said in a phone conversation in mid-June.
“I think that’s sort of the nature of politics. You may like certain things about someone. Donald Trump has said positive things about Israel and things that resonate with the Jewish community. And yet there are these supporters of his that go off and do harmful things and hateful things that you sort of can’t imagine are taking place,” continued Weinstock, who has written that he is a registered Democrat.
Rabbi Roy Feldman, who is also affiliated with Kehilath
The tension between Kushner’s Orthodox Jewish faith and the recurring anti-Semitic undertones of the Trump campaign peaked earlier this month after Trump tweeted a meme that was previously posted on a neo-Nazi website. The image depicted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s face over a pile of money next to a six-pointed Star of David, emblazoned with “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever.”
Days later, Dana Schwartz, a reporter at the Observer, a paper owned by Kushner, wrote an open letter to her boss, essentially asking how he could stomach supporting a candidate who openly flirts with anti-Semitic rhetoric and then plays dumb when called out for it.
The letter prompted Kushner to break his silence on the issue and pen a response, defending his father-in-law an “incredibly loving and tolerant” man. He invoked his grandparents’ history as Holocaust survivors, and accused the media of “mob mentality” for reporting on the curious relationship the Trump campaign has developed with anti-Semitic groups. The offensive tweet, Kushner suggested, was the result of Trump having a small, fast-moving team rather than “armies of handlers” ― a clear jab at the Clinton campaign.
If Lookstein’s presence at the RNC is an attempt to bolster Trump’s credibility with Jewish voters, another faith-based speaker at the event may dampen that effect. Pastor Mark Burns, who once told the crowd at a Trump rally that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) a Jewish Democratic contender in the race, needed to “get saved” and “meet Jesus,” is also listed as a speaker at the convention.
Lookstein did not respond to a request for comment on why he’s chosen to attend the convention, which can be interpreted as offering tacit support to Trump.
Fortunately for Lookstein, Trump opted to make the theme of next week’s confab, “Make America Great Again” rather than his second-favorite catch-phrase, “America First” ― an expression widely used by Americans who opposed efforts to overthrow Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and warned that “the greatest danger” to the U.S. was the influence Jews exerted over movies, radio, media and the government.