NEW YORK (JTA) – There were a few things Donald Trump made clear when he met Thursday with a select group of Jewish reporters, almost all of them Orthodox, at his corporate offices in Manhattan.
Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly was the one who initiated Wednesday’s one-on-one powwow with Trump to mend fences, not him. He’s a great friend of Israel. He has many Orthodox Jewish friends, including his chief lawyer, Jason D. Greenblatt. And he considers himself a very loyal boss.
But in a 20-minute question-and-answer session that touched on religious liberty in the workplace, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and federal education tax credits, Trump offered scant details.
On some substantive policy questions, the Republican front-runner for president didn’t answer at all, instead delegating the question to Greenblatt, a real estate attorney from Teaneck, New Jersey — one of two people he said he’d appoint as his White House Israel policy advisers.
Here’s Trump’s answer to a question on whether religious employers should have the right to discriminate on the basis of religion when it comes to hiring:
“That’s the question that’s been asked and discussed very brilliantly on many different levels over the last short period of time,” Trump said. “And I’m going to really leave that decision to you. That’s your personal decision. What would your answer be to that question?”
When asked about tax-exempt status for religious groups, Trump said, “It’s really become a very big point of discussion and a very complex point of discussion and it’s something that I’m very interested in and I’m really forming policy on it and I’m actually going to be announcing something that I actually think you’re going to be very happy with. OK?”
On a question about Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Trump turned to Greenblatt and said, “How do you feel about that, Jason, the settlements?”
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.”
There were some issues on which Trump offered a glimpse into what kind of presidency he’d run. He named two men he said would be his chief advisers on Israel: Greenblatt and another real estate lawyer, bankruptcy expert David M. Friedman of the Kasowitz law firm.
“I don’t think I can find better,” Trump said. “Jason’s very much a consultant to me on Israel, on everything. He’s a tremendously talented lawyer, one of the great real estate lawyers of the City of New York, and he has tremendous passion for Israel. When he goes on vacation, he goes to Israel.”
Trump did field some Israel questions himself. He said he supports a strong Israeli response to rocket attacks: “When missiles are being shot at a country, whether Israel or any other country, I don’t know what ‘disproportionate force’ is supposed to mean.”
He said he likes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though he was disappointed by Netanyahu’s public rejection last December of Trump’s comments about barring Muslims from entering the United States. Trump clarified that it was he who canceled his planned visit to Israel last December, not Netanyahu.
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