- Following Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt’s imminent departure from the administration, 30-year-old White House aide Avi Berkowitz will take on much of Greenblatt’s work.
- Berkowitz is a top aide to Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, and worked on the 2016 Trump campaign as its assistant director of data analytics.
- Former White House spokeswoman Hope Hicks told Insider in March 2017 that Berkowitz’s White House role was primarily administrative and involved assisting Kushner with daily logistics.
- But Berkowitz has long played a key role as Kushner’s aide and is a member of the White House’s Middle East “peace team,” which includes Kushner, Greenblatt, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
- Berkowitz, a 2016 graduate of Harvard Law School, had no foreign policy experience before joining the 2016 Trump campaign and then the administration.
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Following Middle East peace envoy Jason Greenblatt’s imminent departure from the administration, 30-year-old White House aide Avi Berkowitz will take on much of the difficult negotiations to mediate peace between Israel and Palestine, Axios reported Thursday.
Berkowitz, a 2016 graduate of Harvard Law School, has served as White House adviser Jared Kushner’s right-hand since the beginning of the Trump administration. And he’s a member of the White House’s “peace team,” which also includes Kushner, who is President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and Greenblatt.
But the move raised many questions among former diplomats, who wondered how a recent law school grad would resolve an intransigent dispute that has stymied the US for decades.
Prior to serving as a special assistant to the president and right-hand to Kushner, Berkowitz worked on the 2016 Trump campaign as its assistant director of data analytics. He ran “ Trump Tower Live,” the campaign’s pre- and post-presidential-debate talk show that became a nightly Facebook Live discussion in the weeks leading up to the election.
Hope Hicks, then a White House spokeswoman, told Insider in March 2017 that Berkowitz's role was primarily administrative and involved assisting Kushner with daily logistics like getting coffee or coordinating meetings.
Martin Indyk, the US special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the Obama administration, called Berkowitz's selection a sign the position was being downgraded. "Nice guy but does not have the weight or experience of Trump's former real estate lawyer," Indyk said on Twitter.
Berkowitz had already been involved in several high-profile moments in the White House.
In December 2016, Kushner sent him to meet with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, according to The New York Times. Kislyak talked with Berkowitz about arranging a meeting with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a Russian state-owned bank that was under sanctions imposed by the Obama administration. Berkowitz's meeting and Kushner's subsequent sit-down with Gorkov had been unreported.
Raised in an Orthodox Jewish home, Berkowitz has some personal connections to Israel, where he studied for two years at an Orthodox seminary after high school.
Berkowitz's first-cousin by marriage, Howard Friedman, was the first Orthodox president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most influential pro-Israel lobbying group in the US.
On Thursday, Trump announced the departure of Greenblatt, who previously served as the chief legal officer for the Trump Organization.
"After almost 3 years in my Administration, Jason Greenblatt will be leaving to pursue work in the private sector. Jason has been a loyal and great friend and fantastic lawyer," the president tweeted. "His dedication to Israel and to seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians won't be forgotten. He will be missed. Thank you Jason!"
Greenblatt will reportedly leave his post in late September after the White House rolls out the second half of its Middle East peace plan.
"I am incredibly grateful to have been part of a team that drafted a vision for peace. This vision has the potential to vastly improve the lives of millions of Israelis, Palestinians and others in the region," he said in a statement. "I will thoroughly miss working with my friends and colleagues Jared Kushner, David Friedman and Avi Berkowitz, as well as the many other dedicated individuals within the US government who were instrumental in our efforts."