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Former Presidential Advisor Jared Kushner Discusses Israel-Hamas War at Harvard Kennedy School

Jared Kushner, former senior advisor to President Donald Trump, speaks during a Thursday conversation at the Harvard Kennedy School with professor Tarek Masoud.
Jared Kushner, former senior advisor to President Donald Trump, speaks during a Thursday conversation at the Harvard Kennedy School with professor Tarek Masoud. By Maria S. Cheng
By William C. Mao and Dhruv T. Patel, Crimson Staff Writers

Jared C. Kushner ’03, an adviser to former president Donald Trump, said acknowledging a Palestinian state would involve “supporting an act of terror perpetrated in Israel” during an event at the Harvard Kennedy School on Thursday.

The event — moderated by professor Tarek E. Masoud, the director of the Middle East Initiative at HKS — was the first installment in his series of conversations on the war in Gaza. The interview with Kushner comes amid growing criticism of Masoud’s “Middle East Dialogues” initiative, with some criticizing the selection of controversial Palestinian professor Dalal Saeb Iriqat, who is slated to speak later this month.

The event was briefly interrupted by pro-Palestinian protestors who silently raised banners alleging that Kushner was a “nepo-genocider.”

In his time in Washington, Trump — his father-in-law — enlisted Kushner to lead U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East. Kushner negotiated the Abraham Accords, an agreement to normalize relations between Israel and several Arab states.

During the event, Kushner warned that supporting the establishment of a Hamas-controlled Palestinian state would “reward” terrorism.

“Giving them a Palestinian state is basically a reinforcement of, ‘We’re going to reward you for bad actions,’” he said. “You have to show terrorists that they will not be tolerated, that we will take strong action.”

Kushner blamed political leaders in Palestine for stalling American-led efforts to improve Gaza’s economic and political state.

“If you want to be pro-Palestinian, the best thing you can do is say, ‘The people who have been holding these people back is their leadership,’” Kushner said.

“The Palestinian leadership really has not passed any tests over the last thirty years,” he added.

Kushner was particularly critical of Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the State of Palestine and Palestinian National Authority, who he called a “broken record.”

“What we found with Abbas was that there wasn’t a great desire to engage because he was protecting the status quo, which was leading to a loss of influx of money,” he said.

But Kushner praised both his own track record in the Middle East — which he called “second to none” — and the Saudi government, saying that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was instrumental in efforts to “turn the tide” in the Middle East.

“They’re being a true leader on a lot of fronts,” Kushner said of Saudi Arabia. “American journalists are not paying attention to what’s happening there, and it’s one of the most exciting transformations in the world.”

Kushner came under fire after the New York Times reported in April 2022 that his private equity firm received $2 billion from the Saudi government after he left the White House. Kushner has denied any wrongdoing.

Though Kushner admitted he took on his role with “no foreign policy experience” — having worked in real estate before working in the White House — he said his background as a political outsider was both a challenge and an asset.

“I think my disadvantage was that I didn’t have any contacts, and my advantage was that I didn’t have any contacts,” Kushner said.

When asked if he would consider serving as Secretary of State in a second Trump administration, Kushner — who returned to the private sector after Trump lost re-election — did not say no, insteading saying that his “number one job” is focusing on his kids.

Kushner also addressed the ongoing crisis at Harvard, as the University faces heightened political scrutiny and a lawsuit from six Jewish students who alleged experiencing “severe and pervasive antisemitism.”

Though Kushner said Harvard had “perhaps maybe lost its way a little bit,” he expressed faith in his alma mater, calling the school a “beacon of excellence.”

“You guys are all so lucky to be here,” Kushner said to students.

Still, Kushner urged students to engage with a diverse array of voices at Harvard, instead of falling into an echo chamber.

“No matter what your persuasion is, just figure out how to engage,” he said. “Pursue independent thought.”

—Staff writer William C. Mao can be reached at Follow him on X @williamcmao.

—Staff writer Dhruv T. Patel can be reached at Follow him on X @dhruvtkpatel.

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