CNN | 12/16/2018 | Español | Listen

What Ivanka's smile can't hide

Updated 9:02 PM ET, Tue May 15, 2018

Editor's Note: Michael D'Antonio is author of the book, "Never Enough: Donald Trump and the Pursuit of Success" (St. Martin's Press). The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN) - Ivanka Trump stayed in character in Jerusalem on Monday, blessing her father's decision to open the United States Embassy there. She watched as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pulled the cord on a curtain to unveil a plaque. Then, dressed all in creamy white, and with microphone in hand, she beamed her 100-watt smile and welcomed the attendees on behalf of "the 45th President of the United States on America."

The glitch of saying "on," not "of," would have gone unremarked from a more typical emissary. Who would fault a nervous State Department official or a prominent American citizen enlisted for a meaningful reason?

But this was the President's daughter, and her performance called attention to the fact that she had no qualifications when she was appointed as a White House adviser, a job that mostly involves trying to make her father seem less appalling to the people he offends. Remember when people in Germany booed her defense of Trump's treatment of women? How about the time she dismissed the allegation of sexual misconduct lodged against him by 14 different women?

This time she smiled broadly as she said, "We welcome you officially, and for the first time, to the embassy of the United States here in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel." It was a grand opening of the kind this hotel-hawking real estate clan has presided over many times. Her delivery was one part wedding toast and one part game show host -- which may have been why Judd Apatow took to Twitter to say, "Is this the trailer to a horror film?"

Others on social media posed the very good question of why she and Mnuchin were carrying out key duties at the event when neither is responsible for policies related to the Middle East.

Mnuchin's presence might be credited to his status as the only Jewish person in the Trump cabinet. Loyal to a fault, Mnuchin offered no public comment last year when the President announced there were "fine people" among the neo-Nazis who rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia. Ivanka, who converted as she married her husband, Jared Kushner, is the only one of Trump's children who is Jewish. As such, she has been considered, by some, to be living proof that the President is not bigoted.

The embassy opening celebration occurred even as Israeli security forces were doing battle with Palestinian protesters, killing more than 50 of some 35,000 who massed at the border separating Gaza and Israeli territory. More than 2,000 were wounded as Palestinians surged toward a border fence and security officers were authorized to use tear gaze, rubber bullets, and lethal ammunition in response.

The protesters had rallied against Trump's decision to abandon America's neutral position in the decades-long conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

At the embassy, various dignitaries struck a celebratory tone. Among them was an American pastor, Robert Jeffress, who has said all faiths, except his, lead people to eternal damnation. "Not only do religions like Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism — not only do they lead people away from God," said Jeffress, "they lead people to an eternity of separation from God in Hell."

As the most prominent Mormon figure in America, Mitt Romney took exception to the role Jeffress played at the embassy opening. He expressed his view in clear terms, tweeting, "Such a religious bigot should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States Embassy in Jerusalem." However, Jeffress was an early and vocal Trump supporter who helped deliver the conservative Christian vote in 2016. He was so important that he delivered the sermon Trump heard at a private service on inauguration day.

Jeffress provided such invaluable help to Trump that his appearance on the morning of the inauguration was to be expected. That he popped up in Jerusalem, where his presence could be insulting to both Israelis and Americans such as Romney, is a bigger problem.

Ivanka's smile was undoubtedly offered to calm concerns about him and, perhaps, to distract from the mayhem and death that any thoughtful person could have anticipated as the embassy opened and Trump abandoned America's claim to honest broker status in the Middle East.

It was the biggest test yet of Ivanka's ability to cast a benign light on a man who regularly creates a shadow too dark for her to dispel.


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