Though Donald Trump has wondered aloud why most Jews voted for President Barack Obama – and why they are likely to cast ballots for presumed Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton – he is more “puzzled than furious,” his executive vice president and chief legal officer said on Wednesday, in the immediate aftermath of the withdrawal from the GOP race of remaining rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich.
Jason Greenblatt, an Orthodox Jewish real estate lawyer from Teaneck, New Jersey — who has been working for “The Donald” for the past two decades – made this comment during an hour-long interview with The Algemeiner at Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan.
Making it clear at the outset that the views he was expressing were his own and assessments of his employer’s, Greenblatt – whom Trump “appointed” as his Israel adviser during a press conference last month with members of the Jewish media — gave The Algemeiner an overview of what the United States, American Jews and Israel can expect if his boss wins the White House in November.
The Algemeiner: Pro-Israel conservatives are worried that Trump’s “America First” pronouncements indicate a tendency toward isolationism. Are they right to be concerned?
Greenblatt: I don’t think he’s an isolationist. His concept of putting America first is more in keeping with his whole slogan, “Make America Great.”
He needs to create more jobs here; he needs to secure our borders; he needs to prevent terrorism at home. But at the same time, though he views America’s role in the world as a very important one, he does not want to shoulder the burden himself – meaning that the US has been paying for the defense of so many countries that are not supporting their share of the cost. So it’s not as though he’s saying he’s going to put a wall around the whole country; he’s just saying that others have to pay their share.
As for certain countries in the Middle East – other than Israel – his view is that the US needs to be there to some degree, to help keep the peace or help people, such as the Christians, who are being persecuted. But he’s also saying that we, as America, cannot impose our will on other countries. We cannot say, “We are a democracy, and therefore you have to believe in democracy and be democratic countries.” That doesn’t work in his mind, and I think he’s right.
Where Israel is concerned, I think he’s been clear – in his AIPAC speech, his foreign policy speech and his comments to the Daily Mail this week [that Israel should keep building] settlements – that he views Israel as a very strategic ally to the United States. He views Israel as a beacon of light in the Middle East. He is a very, very strong supporter of Israel. And at the same time, he would love to see if he could negotiate a peace treaty between the Palestinians and the Israelis. He’s very clear that it’s probably the hardest deal ever to be negotiated, certainly in modern history.
At the same time, though he’s very pro-Israel, he’s not saying to the Palestinians, “You’ll take whatever I give you.” That’s not his approach. In fact, he rejects the idea of imposing peace on the two sides. He wants to be a facilitator. He recognizes from more than 40 years in the business world that there is no good deal that gets done when one party is forced into something by the other party, or worse, when a third party — whether the United States, the United Nations, a group of countries together – forces sides to make peace in a way that doesn’t work for them. Because they’re going to have to live with one another. If it doesn’t work for them, it’s just going to unravel.
The Algemeiner: About brokering a deal: Trump has said that radical Islamists have to be defeated. Does he not see the Palestinians in that category — as part of an entity that has to be defeated, rather than treated to negotiations?
Greenblatt: My view – and I don’t know if this is Trump’s – is that I’m not sure if we can paint all the Palestinians with a broad brush of radical extremism. I’m speaking about the Palestinian Authority now, not [Hamas-controlled] Gaza. I believe that a certain percentage of the regular population in the Palestinian territories is radical. Is it 30%? 60%? 20%? I have no idea. But that’s something we’re going to dig into if Donald wins the White House.
However, I do believe that a certain number of them are tired of the constant tension between the two sides. I think many of them would jump at the chance to live in a peaceful, coexistent manner. But there’s no question that the radicalism, the number of people who have been radicalized, has grown a lot.
The Algemeiner: And the leadership?
Greenblatt: Right, it comes from the top down. So, whether the people who aren’t radicalized are too afraid to stand up, don’t have an opportunity to stand up, or can’t organize themselves to do so could be part of the problem. And I think what Trump will try to figure out is how to give those people a voice; how to convince the current leadership that it’s in everybody’s best interest to have peace, not just Israel’s and the Palestinians’, but the whole region’s — ignoring the Sunni-Shiite problem, because that has nothing to do with Israel and the Palestinians.
If you had asked me this question before the Arab Spring started, I would have been a little less hopeful that anything could have happened. But what the Arab Spring shows me is that citizens can round up together and achieve something. And if we could get the non-radicalized Palestinians to recognize the importance of peace, and how everybody stands to benefit, I think we have a shot at it. Is it possible? Yes. Can it be done easily? No. Is Donald the right guy to do it? I can’t think of a better guy who can sit at the table and try to bring everybody together.
The Algemeiner: As an Orthodox Jew, are you perhaps not sufficiently taking the religious aspect of the conflict into account? Business deals aside, if Islamists believe in Allah and interpret their faith and goals in a way that is antithetical to peace with Israel, how could Trump make a difference?
Greenblatt: A certain percentage of that population believes with religious fervor that this [war and conflict with Israel] is the way it has to be. A certain percentage of the population does not believe this. It’s probably no different in Israel. There’s a certain percentage of Israeli society that believes Israel should be everything, including parts of Jordan – though it’s probably not a very high percentage.
I think that if the PA says that Israel needs to be wiped off the face of the earth and that there cannot be a Jewish state, there never will be peace. The first step needs to be to find out whether there are enough people on the Palestinian side who…
The Algemeiner: …Are willing to overthrow their leaders?
Greenblatt: We’re not calling for an overthrow of any leaders, because that would constitute imposing our will on somebody else. Our goal is not to foment a riot or the overthrow of a government or anything like that. Our goal is to see whether this leadership can recognize that a nice enough portion of its population is not radical and can co-exist. If, from the outset, we hear from the Palestinian side that there is no way it will allow a Jewish state to exist, and that it will continue its efforts at this until successful, our view is that in such a case, we’re not going to do anything but side with Israel, and stand by it to make sure its security is guaranteed.
The Palestinians have to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. They have to stop preaching hate. They have to start teaching the kids coexistence, not how to commit terror attacks.
The Algemeiner: You are a real estate lawyer, and someone who studied at a yeshiva in a West Bank settlement. In Israel, the Right says this conflict is not about real estate, and therefore land deals won’t work. The Left says that peace could be achieved if Israel stopped building settlements and withdraws from more territory. What is your position?
Greenblatt: I don’t think it’s about settlements. Look at what happened in Gaza after the Israeli withdrawal. I think real estate is an aspect of a bigger picture. If we’re able to get past square one – which is getting the Palestinians to fulfill the requirements stated above – we will need to figure out security and other issues, like sharing water. But even the Temple Mount has real estate types of issues surrounding it, such as access rights, what people can do when there, etc.
The Algemeiner: But the Temple Mount is also a religious issue, isn’t it? Though it is the holiest site in Judaism and third in Islam, Jews are forbidden from praying there, and Palestinian leaders have been using accusations against Israel – saying it is trying to storm and destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque — as a propaganda tool to inflame the current stabbing intifada.
Greenblatt: Yes, it drifts into propaganda. Israel is not trying to take over the Temple Mount. I believe firmly that Israel’s not doing anything wrong. And that’s why the whole issue of the security cameras [that Jordan intended to install there, but has postponed due to Palestinian complaints] is important, since installing them would allow all sides to have evidence of what is actually taking place there.
The Algemeiner: Many Trump supporters are controversial figures, such as white supremacist and antisemite David Duke. Others get rowdy at rallies and verbally violent on social media. The journalist, Julia Ioffe, who profiled Melania Trump in GQ magazine, said she received vitriolic antisemitic messages after the piece appeared. Antisemitism often accompanies mob behavior. Is this phenomenon causing Trump concern?
Greenblatt: First of all, in my opinion, the antisemitic messages sent to Julia Ioffe are outrageous and unacceptable, and I am confident that Melania Trump, who is an amazing and talented individual, would not condone that behavior in any respect. Secondly, it’s interesting you should bring up the issue of mobs, particularly in light of what happened to Trump in California last week, where he was forced to jump a barricade to enter the venue of his speech, due to angry protesters. In other words, you have the same kind of thing happening on the other side, with radical groups who are anti-Trump behaving probably even worse than the people you’re talking about who support him. In any election, you’re going to have these deep passions on both sides. But I haven’t heard any among the Jewish community expressing worry about that kind of mob. And you know what? I’m more worried about those people, because they’re not willing to open their eyes and ears and see that there are two sides to this story. They are so violent and want so badly to impose their views and thoughts on everybody else. They’re way too extreme.
Am I sitting here as a Jew worried about either side? No, I’m not. I think America is a safe and secure country for us, different from any other country the Jews have lived in in the past — other than Israel, of course. I feel blessed and fortunate to live in a country like this, where all people, not just Jews, are tolerated and productive members of society.
The Algemeiner: Trump said he would have brokered a better deal with Iran — a regime that calls for the death of America and Israel. Why has he not said he would have defeated Iran and then dictated terms of an agreement?
Greenblatt: I haven’t discussed that with him, but I think he would say that if there’s a deal to be negotiated that would allow the world – especially Israel — not to worry about Iran having nuclear weapons, then it’s something to talk about. Whether or not we get along with the Iranians, whether or not we are worried about them on so many levels, if we can knock this one aspect off, it’s worth talking about.
The Algemeiner: Couldn’t one say that the way to “knock this aspect off” would be to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities?
Greenblatt: Only a deal that would ensure Iran no longer had the capacity to build nuclear weapons – and that guarantees our right to monitor it and make sure it wasn’t cheating – would have made sense.
The Algemeiner: But what do you do when the entity with which you are making a deal doesn’t honor it?
Greenblatt: If Trump had been in [President Barack] Obama’s shoes, and were warned that the deal wouldn’t be honored, he would have weighed not making it.
The Algemeiner: If he is elected, and the next day he is informed about Iran’s violations of the nuclear deal and repeated aggression against America – such as today’s threat to close the Strait of Hormuz to the US – what will he do?
Greenblatt: I know that he would take very quick and decisive action, but I don’t know what that action would be. I don’t think he will stand by and let America look weak – or convey to the rest of the world that we don’t want to enforce agreements or that it’s ok for others to violate them.
The Algemeiner: In 2010, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent 45 minutes berating Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the announcement — made during a visit to Jerusalem by Vice President Joe Biden — of the construction of 1,600 apartments in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood of the capital. Trump recently said he canceled a trip to Israel when Netanyahu rejected his comments about the need to investigate and screen Muslims entering the US. If elected president, will Trump chide Israel when it engages in policies he opposes?
Greenblatt: No. Not in a million years. First of all, I don’t know how Hillary had the nerve to berate Netanyahu that way. It’s disrespectful. You don’t talk to the leader of another country that way. You can air your differences, but you air them politely. Donald is not that kind of person.
Donald was justified in being a little upset about Netanyahu’s comments, though I understand the position Netanyahu was in. Still, though he was entitled to feel that way about what Netanyahu said, he got over it and they talk. He views Israel as a strong ally and as a friend. He thinks Netanyahu is doing a great job, particularly under the circumstances. And I think they would continue to have productive dialogue.