Avi Berkowitz

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Avi Berkowitz
Avi Berkowitz.png
Special Representative for International Negotiations
In office
November 1, 2019 – January 20, 2021
PresidentDonald Trump
Preceded byJason Greenblatt
Personal details
Born (1988-11-04) November 4, 1988 (age 33)
Political partyRepublican
EducationQueens College (BA)
Harvard Law School (JD)
AwardsNational Security Medal, Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, Order of Ouissam Alaouite

Avrahm "Avi" Berkowitz (born November 4, 1988) is an American attorney and political adviser who served as the Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations from 2019 to 2021. He was an advisor to Jared Kushner in the Trump administration and worked on the Trump peace plan and the Abraham Accords.

Education and early career[edit]

Berkowitz grew up in Lawrence, New York. He attended Yeshiva of Far Rockaway, an Orthodox Jewish high school. After graduation, he studied at Kol Torah, an Orthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem. In 2009, he returned to the United States and enrolled in Yeshivas Ner Yisroel in Baltimore. Eventually, he transferred to Queens College, where he finished his undergraduate work and received a Bachelor of Arts degree. Afterwards, he attended law school at Harvard University.

During law school, Berkowitz taught undergraduate classes, including one called “Road to the White House,” years before he would campaign for Donald Trump.[1] After he graduated from Harvard Law School, he went to work for the Trump 2016 presidential campaign.[2]

Career[edit]

Berkowitz alongside Steve Mnuchin and David M. Friedman

Kushner Companies[edit]

Prior to serving in the White House, Berkowitz worked for Kushner at his company, Kushner Companies. Berkowitz then worked on Trump's 2016 presidential campaign before finally joining the White House staff after Trump was inaugurated.[1]

The New York Observer[edit]

Berkowitz briefly worked as a writer for the New York Observer. Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law, high-level adviser, and future Berkowitz boss in the White House, had owned the newspaper since 2006.[1]

Donald Trump presidential campaign (2016)[edit]

Berkowitz's job on the Trump campaign was assistant director of data analytics. One of his jobs was to run a Facebook Live talk show called Trump Tower Live. The show was setup in a format similar to a cable TV talk show. At first, the talk show was broadcast before and after the presidential debates. In the final weeks leading up to the election, it played on a weekly basis.[1]

The New York Times described Trump Tower Live in unflattering terms: “essentially agitprop [political propaganda] presented as news.”[2] However, because of its format, the show “fueled speculation at the time that Trump would start his own national news network.”[2]

The first episode of Trump Tower Live got 60,000 viewers.[3]

Executive Office of the President[edit]

Berkowitz joined the White House on Jan 20, 2017 as Special Assistant to the President and Assistant to the Senior Advisor. [4] On September 6, 2018, the White House announced that Berkowitz was promoted to Deputy Assistant to the President and Advisor to the Senior Advisor. [5] On September 5, 2019, the Trump Administration announced that Jason Greenblatt would be departing in the coming weeks, and that Avi Berkowitz would become more involved in the Middle East peace process. [6] A few weeks later Berkowitz replaced Greenblatt as the Special Representative for International Negotiations, a position he held until the end of the administration. [7]

Special Representative for International Negotiations[edit]

Berkowitz alongside Steve Mnuchin and Benjamin Netanyahu

On November 1, 2019, Berkowitz was promoted to Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations.[8] In January 2020, Berkowitz flew to Israel to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Benny Gantz to discuss the possibility of releasing the Trump peace plan.[9] On January 28, 2020, the Trump Administration unveiled the plan in a ceremony at the White House.[10] A component of the plan envisioned applying Israeli law or annexation to roughly 30% of the West Bank. On June 12, 2020, UAE Ambassador, Yousef Al Otaiba authored an op-ed in an effort to halt Israel's planned annexation of West Bank territory.[11] Otaiba's op-ed was addressed to the Israeli public and published on the front page of Yedioth Ahronoth.[12] The White House had reservations about annexation as well, which Berkowitz discussed with Netanyahu in meetings in Israel over three days in late June, 2020.[13] In the meetings Berkowitz proposed an alternative to annexation, normalization with the United Arab Emirates. [14]

On July 2, 2020, Otaiba met with Berkowitz to further discuss an alternative plan to annexation.[15] Along with a mutual interest in creating a unified front against the opposing forces of Iran, the concerns detailed in Otaiba's op-ed and planning with Jared Kushner and Berkowitz helped bring vested parties to the negotiating table to identify an alternative solution,[15] ultimately resulting in a normalization agreement reached in August 2020.[16] As a component of the deal annexation was postponed. [17] Hours after the August 13 announcement of the U.S.-brokered normalization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, senior Bahraini officials called President Trump's senior adviser Jared Kushner and Berkowitz with a message: "We want to be next”. [18] Over the next 29 days Kushner and Berkowitz negotiated, and traveled to Bahrain, before closing the deal on September 11, 2020 in a call between Trump, Netanyahu and the king of Bahrain. [19] All three countries officially committed to the deals on September 15, 2020 with the signing of the Abraham Accords on the South Lawn of the White House.[20]

On October 23, 2020 Israel and Sudan agreed to normalize ties, making Sudan the third Arab country to set aside hostilities in two months. [21] The agreement was negotiated on the U.S. side by Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner, Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz, national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security official Miguel Correa.[22]

On December 10, 2020, President Trump announced that Israel and the Kingdom of Morocco agreed to establish full diplomatic relations.[23] The agreement was negotiated by Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner and Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz and marked Kushner and Berkowitz's fourth normalization agreement in as many months.[24] As a component of the deal, the United States agreed to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara.[25]

On November 30, 2020 Kushner and Berkowitz traveled to Saudi Arabia for negotiations on the Qatar diplomatic crisis. [26] The next day, Kushner continued to Qatar, but left Berkowitz in Saudi Arabia so the duo could continue to mediate the deal between the Saudis and the Qataris over the phone in real time. [27] The negotiations led to a breakthrough, [28] and on January 5, 2021, Kushner and Berkowitz attended the GCC Summit in Saudi Arabia, where the parties signed an agreement ending the Qatar diplomatic crisis. [29]

Honors[edit]

On September 28, 2019, Berkowitz was named one of the top 50 most influential Jews of 2019 by the Jerusalem Post for his role as Special Representative in the Middle East peace process.[30] In September 2020, Berkowitz, Jared Kushner and other members of the peace team that negotiated the Israel–United Arab Emirates normalization agreement, were named the most influential Jews of 2020 by the Jerusalem Post.[31]

On December 23, 2020, Berkowitz was awarded the National Security Medal by President Trump for his contributions to the Abraham Accords, which saw peace agreements between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. [32] Berkowitz, at 32 upon receipt, is the youngest known recipient of the award. [33]

On January 15, 2021, King Mohammed VI of Morocco awarded Berkowitz the grade of Grand Officer of the Order of Ouissam Alaouite. [34] In the same week Berkowitz also received the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service for his role in negotiating the Abraham Accords.[35]

On January 31, 2021, Kushner and Berkowitz were nominated for the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the Abraham Accords. [36]

Policy influence[edit]

Berkowitz speaking in Bahrain in 2020

Middle East peace plan[edit]

In 2019, White House advisers Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt wrote a Middle East peace plan. It was kept a secret within the White House staff, with access limited to four people, one of whom was Berkowitz.[37]

In February 2019, Berkowitz flew with Kushner to six countries (Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Saudi Arabia) in order to unveil a new closely guarded plan to bring peace to the Middle East.[38]

U.S. embassy in Israel[edit]

Berkowitz also played a key role in the U.S. decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.[39]

Prison sentencing reform[edit]

Kushner led the White House effort to pass the First Step Act, legislation to reform prison sentencing. Kushner won “bipartisan praise for driving a 20-year effort to reform prison sentencing and criminal justice to the finish line and ignoring repeated declarations that it was dead . . .” Kushner hand-picked Berkowitz and only two other White House aides as part of his team to pass the legislation.[40]

Relationship with Jared Kushner[edit]

Avi Berkowitz met Jared Kushner in Phoenix while he was a student. The two men met while playing basketball.[1]

Once Donald Trump was sworn in as president, Berkowitz went to work at the White House as the “right-hand man” to Kushner. Berkowitz's official title at the White House was “special assistant to the president and assistant to the senior adviser.”[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Relman, Eliza. "Jared Kushner's 28-year-old protégé is his right-hand man in the White House". Business Insider. Retrieved 2019-06-24.
  2. ^ a b c "Trump TV Mastermind Avi Berkowitz Tapped as Assistant to Jared Kushner". Haaretz. 2017-01-20. Retrieved 2019-06-24.
  3. ^ Grynbaum, Michael M. (2016-10-26). "Trump TV Offers (Fledgling) Framework for Potential Media Future". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-06-24.
  4. ^ "Avrahm J. "Avi" Berkowitz". ProPublica. Retrieved 2019-06-24.
  5. ^ "President Donald J. Trump Announces Appointments for the Executive Office of the President". whitehouse.gov. Retrieved 2019-06-24 – via National Archives.
  6. ^ "Jason Greenblatt, a Designer of Trump's Middle East Peace Plan, Is Leaving the Administration". New York Times. Retrieved 2019-12-14.
  7. ^ "Avi Berkowitz to arrive in Israel Sunday, first trip since taking office". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2020-05-19.
  8. ^ "Avi Berkowitz Making His First Trip to Israel Since Taking Office". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2020-05-09.
  9. ^ "Trump's Media-Shy New Peace Envoy Berkowitz Meets Israeli Leaders". Times of Israel. 2020-01-07. Retrieved 2020-05-09.
  10. ^ "Trump leaps into Middle East fray with peace plan that Palestinians denounce". Reuters. 2020-01-28. Retrieved 2020-05-09.
  11. ^ Al Otaiba, Yousef (12 June 2020). "Annexation will be a serious setback for better relations with the Arab world". ynetnews. YNetNews. Retrieved 28 October 2020.
  12. ^ Ahren, Raphael (June 12, 2020). "In first-ever op-ed for Israeli paper, UAE diplomat warns against annexation". www.timesofisrael.com. Times of Israel. Retrieved 28 October 2020.
  13. ^ "Behind the scenes: How the Israel-UAE deal came together". Axios. Retrieved 2020-10-28.
  14. ^ "Behind the scenes: How the Israel-UAE deal came together". Axios. Retrieved 2020-10-28.
  15. ^ a b Zieve Cohen, Sam (30 September 2020). "UAE's Al Otaiba goes behind the scenes of the Abraham Accords". Jewish Insider. The Jewish Insider. Retrieved 28 October 2020.
  16. ^ Federico-O'Murchú, Seán (August 13, 2020). "Read: Full US-Israel-UAE statement on normalizing relations". CNN. CNN. Retrieved 28 October 2020.
  17. ^ "Behind the scenes: How the Israel-UAE deal came together". Axios. Retrieved 2020-10-28.
  18. ^ "Behind the scenes of the U.S.- brokered Israel-Bahrain agreement". Axios. Retrieved 2020-10-28.
  19. ^ "Behind the scenes of the U.S.- brokered Israel-Bahrain agreement". Axios. Retrieved 2020-10-28.
  20. ^ PTI (16 September 2020). "Israel, UAE and Bahrain sign Abraham Accord; Trump says "dawn of new Middle East"". The Hindu. The Hindu. Retrieved 28 October 2020.
  21. ^ "Israel, Sudan agree to normalize ties with U.S. help: joint statement". Reuters. Retrieved 2020-10-28.
  22. ^ "Israel, Sudan agree to normalize ties with U.S. help: joint statement". Reuters. Retrieved 2020-10-28.
  23. ^ "Israel, Morocco to normalize ties; shifts W Sahara policy". AP. Retrieved 2020-12-12.
  24. ^ "Morocco to normalize ties with Israel in deal with Trump over Western Sahara". Axios. Retrieved 2020-12-12.
  25. ^ "Scoop: Fallout between Trump and top GOP senator made Morocco-Israel deal possible". Axios. Retrieved 2020-12-12.
  26. ^ "Trump senior aide Kushner and team heading to Saudi Arabia, Qatar". Reuters. Retrieved 2020-12-24.
  27. ^ "Saudi Arabia, Qatar to sign U.S.-brokered deal to ease Gulf crisis". Axios. Retrieved 2021-01-04.
  28. ^ "Saudi Arabia and Qatar near deal to end standoff, sources say". Axios. Retrieved 2020-12-28.
  29. ^ "Saudi Arabia lifts blockade of Qatar in breakthrough agreement easing Gulf crisis". NBC News. Retrieved 2021-01-05.
  30. ^ "The Jerusalem Post's 50 Most Influential Jews of 2019". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2020-05-09.
  31. ^ "A new era in the Middle East: These are the men who helped make peace". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2020-10-28.
  32. ^ "Trump gives awards to top aides for Arab-Israeli deals". Reuters. 2020-12-23. Retrieved 2020-12-24.
  33. ^ "Trump gives awards to top aides for Arab-Israeli deals". Jerusalem Post. 2020-12-24. Retrieved 2020-12-24.
  34. ^ "Trump receives Morocco's highest award for Middle East work". Jerusalem Post. 2021-01-15. Retrieved 2021-01-15.
  35. ^ "Team Trump wins rare recognition: Kushner, Berkowitz, Scavino". Washington Examiner. 2021-01-15. Retrieved 2021-01-16.
  36. ^ "Kushner, Berkowitz nominated for Nobel peace prize for Israel deals". Reuters. 2021-01-31. Retrieved 2021-02-01.
  37. ^ "In leaky White House, Trump team keeps Middle East peace plan secret". Reuters. 2019-04-11. Retrieved 2019-06-24.
  38. ^ Nast, Condé. "Jared Kushner Is Preparing for Another Face-to-Face Meeting with M.B.S." Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2019-06-24.
  39. ^ Chozick, Amy; Seligson, Hannah (2018-11-17). "Are Jared and Ivanka Good for the Jews?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-06-24.
  40. ^ "Jared Kushner 'indispensable' on prison reform, model for future Trump fights". Washington Examiner. 2018-12-13. Retrieved 2019-06-24.

External link[edit]