© 2024 Allbritton Journalism Institute
Rick Grenell AP-22282585751313
Rick Grenell met with about 40 Arab American leaders Tuesday night at a chain Italian restaurant in Troy, Michigan. Jose Luis Villegas/AP

‘Like a Lead Balloon’: Trump’s ‘Shadow Secretary of State’ Meets With Arab American Leaders

“Frankly, the guy — I don’t want to say bad stuff — is clueless on the Middle East,” one source told NOTUS.

As Arab Americans hold back their support from President Joe Biden until he changes course on the Israel-Gaza war, Donald Trump’s “shadow secretary of state” — Ric Grenell — met with Arab American leaders Tuesday night to try to convince them that the former president is a viable option for their community come November.

It didn’t go well.

The meeting — which took place at chain Italian restaurant Maggiano’s in Troy, Michigan — featured about 40 Arab American leaders, Grenell, Trump’s son-in-law Michael Boulos, and Boulos’ father, Massad Boulos. According to two sources in attendance for the private dinner, Grenell came off as unsympathetic to the plight of Palestinians while actually angering some participants by reiterating a comment from Trump’s other son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who said in March that Israel should remove Palestinians from the valuable “waterfront property” in Gaza.

“He repeated Jared Kushner’s statement about beachfront property, which I think floated like a lead balloon in the room,” one of the meeting’s participants said of Grenell, who was Trump’s former acting director of national intelligence.

Another participant in the meeting stressed that Grenell kept saying how “brilliant” Trump was with his handling of the Abraham Accords, which were agreements Israel signed with certain Arab countries in 2020. But this person also mentioned that Kushner’s comments about turning Gaza’s waterfront property into world-class beaches fell flat.

“This is either too naive or too stupid of him to say something like this. Even the Israeli press made fun of Kushner when he said that,” this source said.

“Frankly, the guy — I don’t want to say bad stuff — is clueless on the Middle East,” this person added.

This source told NOTUS that Grenell said “typical Republican” things about the war Tuesday night. “Fox News stuff,” said this source, who voted for Biden in 2020 and Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Both attendees who spoke to NOTUS said Arab American leaders told Grenell they had three conditions for supporting Trump in November: his support for an immediate cease-fire, funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency — which has been the primary provider of humanitarian aid in Gaza — and a commitment to enact the so-called Leahy Laws in Gaza. (The Leahy Laws, written by former Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont, prohibit the United States from funding foreign militaries that violate human rights.)

The sources agreed that the purpose of the meeting was for Grenell to lay out the case why Arab Americans should vote for Trump. However, both agreed that most participants left unsatisfied.

Sign up for the latest from NOTUS.

For one, Grenell didn’t seem sufficiently disturbed by the loss of Palestinian lives, these sources said. Grenell also seemed more concerned about how Arab American leaders in Michigan could help the Trump campaign rather than how the Trump campaign could help them.

(Grenell didn’t immediately respond to a text message about the meeting late Tuesday night.)

The sources said Arab American leaders didn’t leave entirely empty-handed, however. Grenell “promised” leaders that Trump wouldn’t enact a “Muslim ban,” as he called for in 2016, according to these sources.

“It was an interesting and positive meeting because they’re reaching out to our community, asking what they can do to win our vote versus, you know, the alternative right now,” one of the meeting’s participants told NOTUS.

Tinashe Chingarande is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.