“To the best of my knowledge I’m still employed,” New York Observer entertainment writer Dana Schwartz told The Daily Beast on Tuesday evening.
It was a few hours after she posted on the Observer’s web site an open letter to the weekly’s owner, real estate scion Jared Kushner, scolding him for remaining publicly silent and apparently countenancing his father-in-law Donald Trump’s retweeting of anti-Semitic memes.
Schwartz’s “Dear Mr. Kushner” letter—which has become a social media sensation and been widely covered in news outlets ranging from Politico to The Hollywood Reporter—is a powerful indictment of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s retweeting on Saturday of the image of Hillary Clinton and the Jewish Star of David emblazoned with the words “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” amid a pile of $100 bills.
It is also a direct slap at Kushner, a behind-the-scenes player in the Trump campaign who is married to the reality show billionaire’s eldest daughter Ivanka.
The Observer has endorsed Trump; Kushner and the paper’s editor in chief, Ken Kurson, were the object of controversy and staff protests and resignations in April when it became known that they helped with the candidate’s speech to the influential pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
“You went to Harvard, and hold two graduate degrees,” wrote Schwartz who, like Kushner, is Jewish. (Ivanka Trump is a Jewish convert, and the couple are raising their three children in the Jewish religious tradition.)
“Please do not condescend to me and pretend you don’t understand the imagery of a six-sided star when juxtaposed with money and accusations of financial dishonesty,” Schwartz went on. “I’m asking you, not as a ‘gotcha’ journalist or as a liberal but as a human being: how do you allow this? Because, Mr. Kushner, you are allowing this.”
Kushner, who as of this writing had not responded personally to his employee, also didn’t reply to an email seeking comment.
“I’ve never met him,” Schwartz said. “I’d be interested to know his thoughts.”
Late Tuesday, however, Kushner issued the following statement in response to Schwartz’s open letter:
“My father-in-law is an incredibly loving and tolerant person who has embraced my family and our Judaism since I began dating my wife. I know that Donald does not at all subscribe to any racist or anti-semitic thinking. I have personally seen him embrace people of all racial and religious backgrounds. The suggestion that he may be intolerant is not reflective of the Donald Trump I know.”
Schwartz added, however, that her professional experiences at the Observer so far have been rewarding, and that if she isn’t told, as Donald Trump might say, “you’re fired,” that would only enhance the paper’s reputation for editorial independence.
“If anyone asks me, I will only—so far—say that with everything about the Observer, in my experience, they’ve allowed incredible freedom with their writers. I hope that doesn’t change.”
Schwartz, a graduate of Brown University who has worked at the Observer for all of two months after various entry-level journalism jobs (including, she said, as an assistant cartoon editor at The New Yorker), recalled that she was deeply disturbed by candidate Trump’s retweet as soon as she saw it on Saturday.
“Hmm! What could Donald Trump possible [sic] be evoking with the raining money and Star of David,” Schwartz tweeted over the image.
“Donald Trump is REALLY leaning in to these Hitler comparison,” she added—early remarks on her Twitter feed that prompted an alarming number of self-proclaimed Trump supporters to send her vile anti-Semitic responses (samples of which she included in her open letter)—among them an image of her face photo-shopped into a crematorium with Trump in a SS uniform about to flip the “on” switch, the exhortation from another tweeter to “preheat ovens,” and the musings from another, “A world without Jews would be a far more pleasant one.”
“I immediately saw the imagery as very—unfortunately—familiar, and I was shocked and outraged,” Schwartz recalled in an interview. “And with every second that it had not been deleted, I wondered how did this get through? Doesn’t he have people managing his social media? To me it was blatant. And then came the influx of hate. It was like nothing I ever experienced before.”
Even as Trump complained that the wicked media was unfairly characterizing his innocent retweet—even as notorious anti-Semites such as former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke applauded the image on Twitter—Schwartz said she wondered how her ultimate boss, Kushner, whose own family is devoutly Orthodox, could stand for such dangerous dog-whistle pandering from his father-in-law.
“I felt that profoundly,” she recalled.
When the Trump campaign altered the image by replacing the six-pointed star with a circle, Schwartz mocked on Twitter: “It was even a shitty coverup job. You can see the star point coming out! I thought you hired the best people, Trump!”
And when Trump argued on Twitter that it wasn’t a Star of David at all, but simply a sheriff’s badge, Schwartz retweeted a black-and-white photo of European Jews wearing Stars of David on their chests, with the caption: “Of course we all remember the day Hitler deputized everyone.”
Schwartz, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs culturally Jewish but less than strictly observant in the Reform Judaism tradition, in which she was bat mitzvahed, said she decided over Fourth of July weekend to write about her reaction, and on Tuesday morning pitched Observer editor Ken Kurson on an opinion piece.
“He said, ‘Go!’” Schwartz recalled—adding, however, that she didn’t alert Kurson that she would frame her polemic as a criticism of the proprietor.
“I did not tell him that,” she said. “I just wrote it and put it up, and it was up before he read it.”
Schwartz acknowledged that without her upbraiding of Kushner, her account of anti-Semitism among Trump’s supporters on social media probably would have received far less attention than it did from outside media outlets.
“That’s fair,” she said, adding that even if Kurson had not green-lit her writing an essay, she was ready to place it with another publication.
“The most important thing to me is I got my words out there. I’m an employee of the Observer, but that wasn’t going to prevent me from speaking my mind.”
Kurson didn’t respond to a voicemail message from The Daily Beast, and Schwartz said “he didn’t say anything to me” after the piece was posted. “I’m assuming he loves it.”
In a statement to Politico, the editor called Schwartz “a brilliant and thoughtful writer” but suggested her criticism of Trump was off-base.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, longtime anti-Semitism foe Abe Foxman, the executive director emeritus of the Anti-Defamation League, said that Trump is fair game, but that Kushner is the wrong target. “I think that the complaint is misdirected. The complaint should go to Donald Trump,” said Foxman who has met Jared Kushner on several occasions. “Jared Kushner is not responsible one way or the other.”
Kurson, meanwhile, wrote: “No one I know sets the sensitivity meter higher than I do on anti-Semitism. My mother fled the Holocaust and I am highly identified as a Jewish journalist. If I saw that in Trump, I’d be the first one to write about it, and no one on earth could stop me. In my opinion, Donald Trump is not a Jew hater.”
Having attracted all this attention and stirred all this controversy with something she wrote, it must be said Schwartz seems an astonishingly self-confident 23-year-old.
“Oh God, I’m horribly insecure in everything I do,” she disagreed. “It’s amazing that I’m able to pull off the magic trick of making a stranger think I’m confident.”