Unpack with YUPAC: Jason Greenblatt Discusses Experience Working On Former President Trump's Israeli Council
On Sept. 6, a group of YU students went to Belfer Hall to hear from Jason Greenblatt, the former White House Middle East envoy who worked for President Trump and advised him on matters relating to Israel and the Middle East. Greenblatt discussed both his experience working for the former president and his new book, “In the Path of Abraham.”
The event, jointly hosted by the Shevet Glaubach Center for Career Strategy and Professional Development, YUPAC and the Jacob Hecht Pre-Law Society, began with words of introduction from Ezra Seplowitz (YC ‘25). The students then heard from Joshua Meredith, the senior director of Career Strategy and Technology for the CAPS Community for Law, Government, Policy and the Public Sector. He gave some insight into the role that CAPS has in advising people interested in going into careers in those various fields.
Soon after, Isaac Shapiro (SSSB ‘24), one of the co-presidents of the Pre-Law Society, began to moderate the evening’s events, asking various questions that were submitted by the crowd. The first question asked about Greenblatt’s background, which allowed him to talk about his college experience at Yeshiva University. He said that while he originally planned on being a doctor, he eventually decided to go into the field of law. In the late 1990s, he got an in-house job with Donald Trump, a rare opportunity. Greenblatt stayed with Trump for 20 years until he ran for president.
Greenblatt then spoke about the day Trump asked him to join the presidential team in the White House. He explained that there was a time when Trump was getting hit with many policy questions from the press. One of these was about the settlements (a term Greenblatt personally dislikes using) in Judea and Samaria. Trump had thrown the question over to Greenblatt, demonstrating that he was responsible for questions on that topic. In December, then-president-elect Trump reached out to Greenblatt to join the team officially, and after speaking about it with his family over Shabbat (his daughter was in the audience to confirm), he agreed.
Greenblatt went on to discuss some of the day-to-day aspects of the administrative work, describing daily meetings and late nights on the phone with diplomats from all over the world. “Everybody is interested in [the Israeli-Palestinian] conflict,” he commented. He added that the job involved traveling to nations like Jordan, the UAE, Morocco and, of course, Israel.
There were distinct moments during his time in Washington that Greenblatt said stood out to him. One particularly surreal moment that he described was meeting former Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu for the first time. Netanyahu was “very charismatic” and had a “very strong stare,” Greenblatt said. When the two men shook hands, Greenblatt explained that “it felt like three minutes, and it felt like he knew everything about me.”
He also shared with the crowd a particularly emotional moment: the day Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While the press response was intense and the international community was largely against him, Trump still put forward the policy. Greenblatt said that it was deeply important “as a Jew, understanding the impact for the most powerful man in the world to right a historical wrong to recognize a historical reality." He noted that "even in the end [of the conference], he said that he hoped for peace and prayed for Israel.”
After this, Shapiro asked Greenblatt about the role of his religious observance in his professional life. Greenblatt explained that the press would constantly dig into him and the rest of the Israeli counseling team for being Orthodox Jews. Ultimately these attacks didn’t make much of a practical impact on his work. Trump would never make him fly on Shabbat, but that did mean sometimes Greenblatt would have to fly by himself. He told of a time when he needed to fly early to Saudi Arabia and had to spend Shabbat alone in his hotel room. He concluded by emphasizing that there was no conflict between his religious observance and professional obligations.
The talk shifted toward discussing the future of the Abraham Accords, a peace statement between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain. Greenblatt shared his belief that if there continues to be no Iran deal, the Accords will grow as the cultures of the different nations grow acquainted. Concerning the Palestinians, Greenblatt thinks that the Accords will benefit them. He believes that the core of the humanitarian issues in the Gaza Strip stems from the Palestinian leadership, not Israeli governmental policy. The Palestinians can try to improve their economy, but their leadership funds acts of terror. The Accords were a prime opportunity to “clean up house” regarding Gazan leadership. Greenblatt noted the difference in administration between the governments in Gaza and Ramallah, the latter being simply inexperienced, but the former dedicated to terror.
The conversation turned toward Greenblatt’s new book, “In the Path of Abraham: How Donald Trump Made Peace in the Middle East–and How to Stop Joe Biden from Unmaking It.” One important goal of the book, Greenblatt explained, was to bust many of the myths surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Elaborating on his dislike of the term “settlement,” he discussed how the word implies that the Israelis took over land that was once Palestinian. These myths were far-reaching, as Greenblatt illustrated with the story of a highly educated and well-read individual on his national security team. Greenblatt had asked this person where it says that East Jerusalem was once a part of a Palestinian state, and this person didn't have a response. Greenblatt went before the UN Security Council and spoke about the same topic. His speech brought shocked and angry reactions from other countries, and Greenblatt noted, in particular, the response of Germany, France and Kuwait.
In the 12th chapter of his book, titled “Dayenu,” Greenblatt discusses leaving the White House. He said that he was given an incredible opportunity to work with a historical lineup of collaborators that was able to accomplish so much in the region. He noted the continual support of Trump, Netanyahu and the heads of the Arab states he interacted with. He felt that he had made a huge impact and accomplished a lot of what he was going for.
Greenblatt ended his talk by discussing his current work, what he calls “Middle East Peace 2.0.” His main job now is connecting American and Israeli companies with Arab nations, attempting to bridge the historical divides. He has also been working on a podcast for Newsweek, called “The Diplomat.” Greenblatt specifically recommended to the students a new episode where he speaks to Arnold Roth, the father of a woman tragically killed in the Sbarro terrorist attack in 2001.
The evening's remarks concluded with a piece of advice: to go into fields that students find particularly interesting. Greenblatt noted the difficulty and roughness of the political world but presented a more positive outlook on the world of diplomacy. He explained that there is a need for good people in these different fields, and if one has the drive for positive change, he or she can have an impact. Greenblatt took a few questions from the crowd, which led him to discuss whom he goes to for advice on particular issues, urging all of the students to be “honorary diplomats,” creating social bonds with people from different backgrounds, and the general attitudes held by Palestinians and Jews living in Judea-Samaria (a term he prefers over “West Bank”). Greenblatt told the crowd to be as educated as possible on issues relating to Israel because “the world against Israel is vast, deep and powerful.”
The crowd was later invited to purchase a copy of Greenblatt’s new book, and many stayed behind to meet with him. Zachy Krauss (YC ‘25) told me he was inspired by Greenblatt’s drive and determination to make a change. “It was inspiring to hear him discuss that experience with us,” he shared with me. “It’s important for me to see value-driven figures like Greenblatt to look up to.”
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Photo Caption: Jason Greenblatt speaking in Belfer Hall
Photo Credit: Allie Orgen