Sequestered on a brief holiday with her husband Jared Kushner in Vermont, Ivanka Trump, President Donald Trump’s eldest daughter – one of his senior advisers and the closest member of his family who is Jewish – has yet to comment on the events of her father’s Tuesday afternoon press conference.
In the wake of the President’s remarks that he believes white supremacists and neo-Nazis are held in equal comparison to the so-called “alt-left” protesters who clashed in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, Ivanka Trump’s silence, 24 hours later, has raised questions about her engagement in the major national controversy, or lack thereof.
Requests by CNN for comment from Trump and Kushner were declined. Other Jewish members of the Cabinet have likewise not weighed in publicly on Trump’s tirade. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and top economic adviser Gary Cohn, who are both Jewish, were standing nearby during the press conference.
Kushner, for his part, keeps a much lower public profile. He does not use social media or do TV interviews, although he is charged by the President with spearheading efforts to achieve Mideast peace.
The last the public heard from Ivanka Trump was Sunday morning, in the form of two tweets, the first of which called out hate groups by name, placing full blame squarely at the feet of racism. Ms. Trump, who converted to Judaism nine years ago, prior to marrying Kushner, was observing the Sabbath from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday, as is traditional, which is presumably why she waited until Sunday morning to take to social media.
“1:2 There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis.”
Yet three days later, after the President’s impromptu press conference from the lobby of Trump Tower went wildly off the rails, Ivanka Trump has chosen not come forward with her own thoughts about her father’s “both sides” attack, in which he rejected white supremacists and neo-Nazis but also said there were “very fine” people marching alongside them in Charlottesville.
“We can’t imagine that as a Jewish woman, Ivanka Trump is not deeply disturbed by what happened in Charlottesville, and what continues to happen around the country,” says Nancy Kaufman, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women. “Her initial response on Twitter displayed that. But now she has a job to do.”
Kaufman argued that Ivanka Trump’s responsibility is to be an “effective advocate for unity,” something that likely won’t be accomplished via 140 characters in a tweet. Kaufman has called for Trump to organize a meeting with the President and Jewish leaders to discuss what can be done to make sure people feel safe. “It is something that President Obama did several times when he had an issue that greatly affected the Jewish community,” says Kaufman, who back in June wrote a letter, along with leaders of six other Jewish women’s groups, to Ivanka Trump requesting just that. They have yet to receive a response.
This isn’t the first time Ivanka Trump has struggled with effective messaging in the fallout from a controversial statement or decision from her father. Weeks after “Saturday Night Live” parodied her silence on issues with a fake commercial for a made-up perfume called, “Complicit,” she said in an interview she struggled to understand the word’s meaning.
“I don’t know what it means to be complicit, but I hope time will prove that I have done a good job and much more importantly, that my father’s administration is the success that I know it will be,” Trump told CBS News’ Gayle King in an April interview, adding, “I don’t know that the critics who may say that of me, if they found themselves in this very unique and unprecedented situation that I am now in, would do any differently than I am doing. So I hope to make a positive impact.”
Trump’s situation is, in fact, unique; she is both adviser and daughter. The political capital she was said to have held with her father on issues including climate change, women and LGBTQ issues has not yet come to fruition, as the President has pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord, potentially curbed budgets for women’s health care and declared transgender people unable to serve in the military. And while she has made inroads with a portfolio of jobs-related initiatives – helping establish programs for female entrepreneurs, small business owners and military spouses, as well as advocating on behalf of family medical leave and childcare tax credits – her behind-the-scenes tactics to sway influence have been called into question.
In April, again to King, Ms. Trump defended her West Wing strategy. “I would say not to conflate lack of public denouncement with silence. I think there are multiple ways to have your voice heard. In some cases, it’s through protest and it’s through going on the nightly news and talking about or denouncing every issue on which you disagree with. Other times, it is quietly and directly and candidly. So where I disagree with my father, he knows it. And I express myself with total candor. Where I agree, I fully lean in and support the agenda and hope that I can be an asset to him and make a positive impact.”
In this very trying week of her father’s presidency, Ivanka Trump has opted not only for public silence, but also to remain on vacation in Vermont, returning for meetings at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Thursday morning as previously scheduled.
The scrutiny of Ivanka Trump’s trips, her words, tweets, statements and her actions is unquestionably harsher than the spotlight placed on most other senior officials in her father’s administration. Ivanka Trump, who has in the past been criticized for being out of town as scandal roils the White House, in a June interview with Fox News said the barrage of negativity takes a toll. “It is hard. And there is a level of viciousness that I was not expecting. I was not expecting the intensity of this experience, but this isn’t supposed to be easy. My father and this administration intends to be transformative, and we want to do big, bold things and we’re looking to change the status quo. So I didn’t expect it to be easy. I think some of the distractions and some of the ferocity was – I was a little blindsided by on a personal level.”
For Kaufman, and her colleagues, the belief is that Ms. Trump should set aside concerns about difficulty or obstinacy and instead stand up to bigotry – and growing more important by the day.
“The Jewish community is particularly alarmed. We’ve been here before – and not so long ago. Ivanka Trump is in a unique position to speak on behalf of the American Jewish community and to ensure that we not only don’t encourage, but don’t tolerate this type of visceral hate and discrimination in this country,” she said.