Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman managed to hack into the White House by recruiting an impossibly gullible official with promises of peace for Israel. This peace will likely never materialise.

Jared Kushner was so out of his depth that the Saudis reportedly made a presentation to explain to each other how lacking he was, as though they couldn’t believe their luck.

This kind of scam isn’t new, foreign governments are expert at pulling fast ones in Washington DC, but what makes this special is that the individual in question is the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, whose primary qualification for the job is that he’s married to Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter. 

The Saudis have decades of Israeli propaganda to thank for how easy it was to manipulate him. Israel relies on maintaining the illusion among its American supporters that an end to the conflict would be easy, if only Palestinians would come to their senses, based on little more than the assertion that  “Israel wants peace.” 

Despite all contradictory evidence, Israeli propaganda uses this slogan to try to absolve Israel of responsibility for the violence. Saudi Arabia was able to use Israeli propaganda to its advantage when making grand, empty promises to Kushner. 

According to a New York Times investigation published Saturday, the Crown Prince groomed Kushner for years before the gruesome murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul in October. By that point, Kushner was reportedly offering MBS advice on how to run publicity interference after the killing. 

More than building schools, hospitals or water treatment plants for Palestinians, or dismantling illegal Israeli settlements, staying one step ahead of the press, and orchestrating flattering coverage for Trump, was the nature of the Kushner-MBS alliance. The Times report also suggests that Kushner may have helped MBS in his bid to seize power in June 2017. 

That Kushner and MBS are close is old news, but the Times revealed the absurd extent to which Saudi Arabia had the 37-year-old wrapped around its finger. Others in the White House were worried that Kushner was getting “played” by the Saud family’s ruthless strongman. Kushner’s ignorance, incompetence, laziness and cynicism were key ingredients, but it’s impossible to disentangle them from the alternative reality Israeli propaganda creates, and Kushner believes. 

Tucked at the bottom of the story is an acknowledgement of the Palestinians’ suspicion of Saudi promises to broker some kind of peace deal. But the story also serves as a stinging indictment of the American Israel Lobby’s distorted view of the realities in the region, a distortion that makes them easy for Israelis, and now Saudis, to manipulate.

First, a word about the term “Israel Lobby.” It’s not something that flies freely from the mouths of policymakers or journalists in Washington, because the first rule of the Israel Lobby is that you don’t talk about the Israel Lobby. Doing so can lead to charges of anti-semitism that can, and have, shattered the careers of those who mention its outsized influence on American foreign policy. 

A collection of pro-Israel think-tanks who jump at the chance to excuse Israeli atrocities, the Lobby has the ear of both Republican and Democratic party lawmakers, whose goal is either appeasing it or at least staying out of its way. By conflating criticism of Israel with vile racism against Jewish people, the Lobby has been able to build a wall around an open and honest debate about US policy towards the troubled middle eastern country.

But the culture of silence over the Israel Lobby may indeed fuel anti-semitic conspiracy theories. One American Jewish journalist, Phil Weiss, editor of Mondoweiss, a news site focused on Israel/Palestine, said it best in a piece about the late President George HW Bush running afoul of the Lobby over illegal settlement construction. Bush then lost to Bill Clinton, who was friendly to illegal settlements on Palestinian land. Weiss (once an editor of mine) put it this way: 

"Of course, discussing these issues in any depth would involve addressing the power of the Israel lobby in U.S. politics. The press doesn’t like to do that because any discussion of Zionist influence is thought to be anti-Semitic. But that failure only empowers the lobby– which loses when it is called out openly, as it lost in 91 to Bush– and because the influence is so obvious that the silence fuels anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, about the lobby controlling foreign policy and the press."

This silence also creates situations like Kushner’s cosy relationship with MBS. How can a grown man believe that Saudi Arabia had some kind of magic lamp it could rub for middle east peace? 

But Kushner, who has funded illegal settlement building in Israel, is honestly the kind of American supporter that Israel loves: Stunted in their understanding of Israel/Palestine at the level of an uncurious high schooler. Although the Kushner family is close with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, somehow Netanyahu never sat the young man down for a frank discussion of how, and why, Israel/Palestine defies any easy resolution.

What is easy for Israel, however, is keeping most Americans like Kushner in the dark about the occupation, and the reason is more linguistic than anything else. Kushner and most other American fans of Zionism don’t speak Hebrew or Arabic, so the raw data from the region remains permanently encrypted, coded from right to left, and encountered mostly in English. 

The Information Age is changing this, as the proliferation of horrific images of Israeli repression reaches American eyes, recorded and distributed by Palestinians themselves. No language is necessary to understand that Palestinian teenager Ahed Tammimi slapping the face of an Israeli soldier was an act of resistance, not terrorism. 

On the purely political front, Kushner’s ignorance is harder to understand. Even if you sincerely believed that Israel is the victim 100 percent of the time, its imprisoning of millions of Palestinians is necessary and right, you might come at any peace plan with some serious scepticism. Kushner had a little, the Times reports, but that melted away when the Saudis explained that Riyadh is a foe to terrorists just as Israel is. 

What the Saudis capitalised on in Kushner was his ignorance and indifference regarding the extent of Palestinian suffering, just as the Israel Lobby does in Congress on a much larger scale. 

Almost a hundred years of Apartheid and bloodshed doesn’t just vanish over the course of a news cycle. A peace plan for Israel/Palestine would need to address the poverty, trauma and daily indignities of occupation generations of Palestinians have endured just for the crime of being born Palestinian. It would also require the remaking of Israeli society. The problem is of literally Biblical proportions. Saudi Arabia throwing billions of petrodollars into the mix isn’t enough. 

But the deepest, saddest reason for Kushner’s stupidity is the lie Israel has peddled for decades: Palestinians do not exist. They are merely Arabs, just like all the rest of them. Their culture and traditions are myths, invented as a reason to undermine the legitimacy of Israel. 

The lie is summed up succinctly in the Zionist catchphrase about the British mandate of Palestine: “For a people without a land, a land without a people!” 

The land did have people, Palestinians, but those people had yet to encounter the concept of nationalism in practice. When they did, it came to them in the form of Zionism. 

Kushner’s understanding is that there are two kinds of Arab: rich, powerful Arabs, who are potential allies, and poor, powerless ones, who are potential terrorists. That appears to be the extent of his understanding of Arab culture. It’s a lie that has worked for Israel for decades. In exploiting Kushner’s breathtaking gullibility, Saudi Arabia decided it was their turn to make that lie work for them too. 

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