Trump Tower looms over this part of midtown Manhattan. Today it is arguably at the center of the closely watched political activity that dominates the electoral landscape in this country. It was just a week ago, a few days prior to Shavuos, and while we were not there to see the man who knows how to dominate the news—Donald Trump—we were there to meet one of his top lieutenants, Jason Greenblatt in a meeting arranged by Parnassah Network and Lakewood businessman, Duvie Honig.
Greenblatt is a contracts lawyer and has been with the Trump Organization for nearly two decades. He has been tapped by Mr. Trump to be one of his top advisers on Israel and Jewish affairs. While the details of our meeting were, by prior agreement, off the record, Jason said it was fine to discuss the get-together in general without any direct quotes from the participants in the meeting.
So this is the scenario. It’s Wednesday afternoon on Fifth Avenue, and the streets are crowded with the hustle and bustle of people shopping in the upscale stores that dot this part of the city. President Obama is in town as well for two Democratic fundraisers, and traffic here is virtually frozen. Because of the anticipated traffic jams, we took the Long Island Rail Road into the city, but it still took almost an hour to inch our way with Uber up 8th Avenue and then along 57th Street until about Fifth Avenue, give or take a few hundred feet.
Outside of Trump Tower, there is a constant presence of international media—TV cameras, thick coaxial cables, broadcast trucks, and an assemblage of reporters. One truck that I spot has the CNN logo on it. This means that Mr. Trump is, most likely, in the building. A peek around the corner reveals a lineup of large black SUVs, most likely the preferred form of transport for the Trump team as they travel around the city or for a trip to the airport for the next campaign stop.
An aide comes down to meet us in the lobby and escorts us up to the 26th floor. We are led into a small conference room overlooking the many skyscrapers north of 57th Street. The focus of the meeting is Mr. Trump’s positions on Israel and the plan to rally Jewish community support for his candidacy. Our small group is led by Dr. Joe Frager, a longtime friend, an occasional columnist in these pages, and an activist on vital issues affecting Israel.
Mr. Trump is a complicated candidate who conjures up a great deal of conflicting ideas. Still, whatever policies he has advanced are apparently resonating with at least half of this country and perhaps more. The campaign encompasses a myriad of issues—from the economy to trade to potential appointments to the Supreme Court, a matter that can redefine the nature of this country in both the near term and the long term.
And while we are certainly interested in these and other matters, the focus of our meeting is what concerns us in a tiny corner of the world on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea, in a sliver of territory that is the land of Israel. The tiny state of Israel always appears large, especially in presidential campaigns.
Many of us like what Donald Trump stands for as far as taxes, the economy, our military, trade, and Israel are concerned. But it is not a hands-down absolute in the diverse Jewish community that Trump will get their vote. Bear in mind that Barack Obama received 78% of the Jewish vote in 2008. And even after demonstrating his objective of pressuring Israel into making concessions to those sponsoring terror attacks against Israel, the president still received 68% of the national Jewish vote in the 2012 election.
For us and our prime readership, the appointment of Mr. Greenblatt—along with another Jewish confidant of Trump’s, David Friedman—is refreshing and unique. Together they have been appointed by Mr. Trump as his chief advisers on Israel policy. The appointment of these men, who have deep ties and are frequent visitors to the Jewish state, is a major piece of news to the extent that it speaks volumes about Trump’s likely approach to Israel in his presidency should that eventuality come to fruition.
Stated plainly, these are two extraordinary, accomplished men who are yarmulke-wearers, attended yeshivas, reside in Teaneck and the Five Towns (Woodsburgh) respectively, and are keyed in to the issues regarding Israel that are of utmost importance to a healthy Jewish state without the usual diplomatic double-talk and phony political dances.
Friedman has been representing Trump almost as long as Greenblatt; the two know each other well and are both close to Trump and his family. Trump knows that the two will be able to succinctly express and represent Trump’s position on Israel. And this will potentially represent new, refreshing, and breakthrough thinking on U.S.–Israel relations. As David Friedman points out, in a Trump administration there will no doubt be new thinking on settlements and the future of Jerusalem.
“For example,” Friedman said at a later meeting, “we know that freezing settlement-building is the wrong way to do things.” He says that peace with the Palestinians is quite possible but doubtful as long as leaders like Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority have a stranglehold on power.
On Iran, Friedman says, while a great deal of damage has been done, new economic sanctions can, conceivably, still be slapped on the regime there to once again exert pressure on the mullahs to curtail their development of a nuclear weapon and stop their financial support of terror attacks around the globe. “Ten years is just not long enough to make sure that Iran does not develop a nuclear bomb,” he says. He adds that if you have a 5-year-old, what has really been accomplished by the deal is that by the time that child is 15, he or she has to be concerned about the global dangers of a nuclear Iran.
Our talks with Mr. Greenblatt and, a week later, with Mr. Friedman were eye-opening and fascinating. They both have the highest regard for Mr. Trump and his family and are extremely enthusiastic about the possibility of a Trump administration setting up shop in DC come January 2017. We discussed the Trump approach to ISIS, the threats to Israel from Hezbollah and Hamas, and the fact that today there are upwards of 150,000 missiles pointed at Israel.
The thrust of our meetings and conversations was essentially that new thinking is required to bring a greater sense of safety and security to what has become a dangerous world. One of the exciting things about Donald Trump is that he looks at issues and sees things in a sensible fashion, and this has people energized about the possibilities.
In the weeks ahead leading up to the conventions, and then the campaign leading up to Election Day, we hope to bring you updates and insights from the campaign’s leading Jewish advisers. There are great opportunities here for peace and prosperity and to depart from Washington’s broken old ways of doing things, especially when it comes to Israel and the Middle East. And there is that other thing—the matter of making America great again.
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