No experience necessary: Orthodox lawyer advises Trump on Israel

Donald Trump’s bid for the presidency includes a top adviser on Israel who used to do guard duty at a Jewish settlement in the West Bank armed with an M-16 assault weapon.

Jason Dov Greenblatt currently works for Trump as a real estate attorney. Trump identified Greenblatt last week as one of two Jewish lawyers who would be his top Israel advisers; the other is bankruptcy expert David M. Friedman of the Kasowitz law firm.

“I do rely on him as a consultant on Israel,” Trump said of Greenblatt at an April 14 meeting with Jewish reporters. “He’s a person who truly loves Israel.”

Greenblatt, 49, has an unusual resume for a prospective presidential adviser on Middle East affairs. An Orthodox Jewish father of six from Teaneck, New Jersey, who wears his yarmulke at work, Greenblatt has worked for Trump for the last 19 years dealing exclusively with real estate and company matters. His titles are executive vice president and chief legal officer. He has self-published three travel books, one about a family trip to Israel, and runs a blog about family travel, Realfamilytrips.com.

Asked about his expertise on Israel, and what he reads and who he consults to stay informed, Greenblatt said his main sources of information are daily email alerts, American Israel Public Affairs Committee materials and a weekly Jewish radio program featuring Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

“I also speak to people that I would say are involved in the Israeli government at certain levels and hear their thoughts,” Greenblatt said.

Jason Greenblatt, Donald Trump’s top real estate lawyer photo/jta-uriel heilman

Though he would help a President Trump navigate the complexities of Israeli-Palestinian affairs, Greenblatt has no Palestinian contacts. In fact, Greenblatt said he hasn’t met any Palestinians since he was a yeshiva student in the mid-1980s at Yeshivat Har Etzion, in a West Bank settlement bloc near Jerusalem, when he had some casual interactions with Palestinian laborers, gardeners and shopkeepers. (That was also when Greenblatt, like all students at the yeshiva, did occasional guard duty.)

As Trump’s campaign for president has intensified, the Republican front-runner occasionally has tapped Greenblatt on Israel-related matters. Greenblatt says he was among those who helped Trump prepare his speech to the AIPAC conference in Washington in March.

Greenblatt could end up playing a crucial role in a Trump presidency. Yet when Trump identified Greenblatt last week as a top presidential adviser on Israel, it appeared to be a spur-of-the-moment decision.

“I knew that he was relying on me for certain aspects of Israel, but I didn’t know I was his top adviser,” Greenblatt said. “I feel fortunate he said it.”

Partway through his meeting with Jewish reporters, Trump noted that he had plenty of Jewish friends, and then asked his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, to bring Greenblatt and another Orthodox Jewish employee to the room. Shortly after they arrived, Trump was asked about his views on the West Bank. He punted the question to Greenblatt.

“I think the settlements should stay, but I think they have to work something out so that both sides are able to live in peace and safety,” Greenblatt said.

It was in an answer to a follow-up question that Trump said Greenblatt would be his go-to man on Israel.

“I don’t think I can find better,” Trump said.

Greenblatt’s positions on Israel are similar to those of his boss. Like Trump, Greenblatt supports a two-state solution, so long as it is reached by the parties themselves and not imposed by an outside body like the United Nations. He does not believe Jewish settlements in the West Bank are a core part of the problem. He says Trump, an “incredible facilitator,” should try to restart peace talks.

To get the Palestinians to the negotiating table, Greenblatt suggests threatening to withhold some U.S. funding from the Palestinian Authority.

Also like Trump, Greenblatt believes Israeli-Palestinian negotiations can be handled similarly to Trump’s real estate negotiations, with money as a main incentive.

“If you take out the emotional part of it and the historical part of it, it is a business transaction. Land is going to be negotiated, water rights are going to be negotiated, security issues are going to be negotiated,” Greenblatt said. “So you need to say to them, ‘Listen, we want to discuss these two issues in this quarter, and then you’ll get your check, and these two issues in this quarter, and then you’ll get your check.’”

This would be Greenblatt’s first real foray into politics. He said he hasn’t voted in primary elections and only registered as a Republican this year.

Raised in an Orthodox neighborhood of Queens, Greenblatt is a product of Orthodox Jewish day schools. He went to Yeshiva University’s high school for boys, the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy, and then to Yeshiva College after a year of study in the West Bank yeshiva. He obtained his law degree from New York University and worked for a law firm doing real estate transactional work — and tried to launch a start-up cappuccino company — until a recruiter brought him to Trump.

Greenblatt said he considers himself very lucky that he may get the chance to play a historic role helping Israel.

“I’m in this unique, amazing position where I might be able to help a country like Israel that I love so deeply by being where I am,” Greenblatt said. “When Donald negotiates deals in the White House, I know how he thinks, I know how to get his bidding done, so I could be useful. And I’d love to help change this country for the better.”