Less than six months into his job as US President Donald Trump’s adviser on international negotiations and chief Middle East negotiator, Jason Greenblatt is already feeling heat.
Following his trips to the Middle East in both March and May, some in the pro-Israel community have already begun accusing the chief negotiator of coming under the influence of left-leaning, wing-tipped bureaucrats at the State Department.
They point to Greenblatt’s meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who they believe (as do I) is not a true partner for peace. They take issue with Trump’s failure to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. They question Greenblatt’s relationship with Tzipi Livni and Ronald Lauder. And they intimate he is slowly falling for a decades-old European campaign for a two-state solution.
The criticisms don’t stop at policy. In the Israeli press, some even criticized Jason for not wearing a kippa. Even Reuters mentioned it last March.
But I know Jason. And it bothers me to see a good man defamed.
So here are the facts: On the kippa issue, there has already been way too much frum-shaming aimed at members of the Trump administration. It is downright disgusting. I am a proud Jew and believe in external manifestations of Jewishness.
But the constant attempts to humiliate Jared and Ivanka about travel on Shabbat, and now Jason about a kippa, subverts basic norms of Jewish decency and punishes those in the administration who are observant. Rather than being proud of their orthodoxy, we seek to prove their hypocrisy.
The Mishna in Ethics of our Fathers is clear: judge everyone favorably. Shame on us that we don’t.
Jason Greenblatt is a devout and observant Jew. Whether he wears a kippa is not the public’s business. Plenty of other generally kippa-clad Orthodox Jews opted not to wear them while serving in their official capacities – among them former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer, Obama’s secretary of the treasury Jack Lew, or even the famously Orthodox Senator Joe Lieberman. While I absolutely believe in wearing a kippa, sitting with a magnifying glass to examine who does and doesn’t wear one is the condescension of the self-commissioned purity police for whom faith is naught but a game of never-ending condemnation. We don’t live in Iran. So let’s stop this disgusting display of judgment.
I consider Greenblatt a friend and saw him recently in the White House again to talk about Israel. He is a good and God-fearing person, a man of genuine humility with a deep moral center. And he is dedicated in heart, body and soul to America, his Jewishness, and Israel.
His critics have told only one side of the story. Here is a figure at the center of Middle East policy in an administration that has preached to the Arab states that they must finally stop all funding of terrorism, that has forcefully challenged UN bias against Israel, that is working to contain and isolate genocidal Iran, that put Israel on the president’s first trip abroad, that had the president make the first ever visit by the leader of the free world to the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, that has reversed the non-stop hostility shown by the Obama administration to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and that celebrated Israel’s Independence Day with the US vice president at the first ever White House celebration.
And let us not forget that the Trump administration demonstrated morality and humanity in attacking the air force of Syrian mass murderer Bashar Assad after Assad gassed innocent Arab children, something president Obama categorically refused to do.
And for all that, Greenblatt, who is helping to shape all these policies, is being attacked for not doing more.
Mind you, I believe he could do more, that he should do more. I believe the administration should be telling Abbas that there will be no negotiations until the PA immediately ceases all payments to terrorists and their families. I believe that a Palestinian state would quickly be overtaken by Hamas and would pose an existential threat to Israel.
And I believe that the Trump administration has a moral obligation to bomb the recently- revealed Syrian crematoria where tens of thousands of bodies have already been burned.
Those are incredibly serious issues, ones which I hope Greenblatt will carefully consider before moving forward.
But for all of that, the Trump administration has thus far shown incredible friendship to Israel, and Greenblatt, Jared Kushner and David Friedman, along, of course, with the president, deserve enormous credit.
Jason Greenblatt has played a pivotal role in reversing the previous administration’s hostility toward Israel. He is a hero for doing so and deserves our thanks.
When it comes to Middle East policy, particularly in how it pertains to Israel, the Trump administration has not been perfect.
Neither was the administration of George W. Bush, who was the best friend Israel ever had in the Oval Office prior to Trump. The Trump administration could have moved the embassy, and still should. Many in the administration, including Trump himself, still seem to believe that the two-state solution can bring peace.
But what they haven’t done is peddle the deeply-flawed policies of the Obama State Department. On the contrary, Greenblatt and all those in the Trump administration’s foreign policy wing have taken huge steps to perfect American policy in the Middle East, make it clear to American allies that there will be no tolerance for terrorist sympathy or funding, and that demonizing Israel will make you anathema to America.
The best proof came last week.
For years under the Obama administration, Qatar was allowed to freely fund some of the most brutal terrorists in the Middle East, including and especially Israel’s arch-enemy Hamas, the leader of which Qatar hosted for over a decade and to whom it promised a billion dollars in 2014. Housing America’s largest air base in the Middle East, they seemed to always get a pass from their American tenants.
Following Trump’s meeting with the Saudi king in Riyadh last month, however, Qatar’s neighbors finally had the American support they needed to take action and rein in the evil kingdom.
And indeed, just last week, the sheiks of Qatar were finally made to pay for the incalculable cash flows they’ve been providing to terrorists across the Middle East and to the thugs in Iran. Following their payment of a billion-dollar ransom to Iran, Qatar found itself cut off both diplomatically and physically from almost of all of its most crucial allies, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. Saudi Arabia even locked its borders with Qatar, preventing the import of 40% of the nation’s food, making prices soar. Qatar’s state-sponsored news outlet, known for its bitter hostility to Israel, suffered crippling cyber-attacks and was forced to shut down its website.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir made it pretty simple. For Qatar to win over its friends again, all it needed to do was cut ties with Islamist terrorist groups Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Finally, someone said it. This would in all likelihood not have occurred without the Trump administration.
President Trump took credit for the actions taken against Qatar, tweeting that his trip to the Middle East was “already paying off.”
And the truth is, while these moves were taken by Arab states, they could not have happened without a presidential go-ahead, which explains why they happened only now.
This wasn’t the first time Trump took Middle Eastern nations to task for their support of terrorism. He did the same with Iran, against whom he’s taken a long-awaited hard line, a U-turn from Obama’s generous nuclear deal, which gave the terrorist state $150 billion, the legitimization of their nuclear program, and the right to build nuclear bombs legitimately in just over a decade.
In the UN, too, Ambassador Nikki Haley has completely reversed the decline of American support for Israel at the UN. Last week she called out the UN Human Rights Council, which she claimed “whitewashes brutality” and reserves its criticism exclusively for the State of Israel. She even threatened to pull American funding for the Geneva- based body. On Wednesday, while on a trip to Israel, Haley told President Reuven Rivlin: “I have never taken kindly to bullies and the UN has bullied Israel for a very long time and we are not going to let that happen anymore.” It’s clearly a new day for Israel at the UN.
I have been honest to Greenblatt about my disagreements with administration policy.
But for the enormous progress he and his team have already made, they deserve credit, our thanks, and our patience.
The author, “America’s rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is the international bestselling author of 30 books including his most recent The Israel Warrior. Follow him on Twitter @ RabbiShmuley.