August 22, 2019

The Policy Shaper

Gregg Roman

A rather disturbing image of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in a pair of Speedos and carrying a suitcase full of cash recently accosted Israeli commuters on Tel Aviv’s main highway. An Arabic-language caption accompanying the image read: “Thank you Israel, I love you. Ismail.” Underneath was written, “Enough being scared. Demand victory for Israel.”

The billboard is part of a campaign by the Israel Victory Project, an initiative of Philadelphia-based think tank the Middle East Forum (MEF), urging the government to force the Palestinians to admit defeat.

According to the campaign’s mastermind, Gregg Roman, wars were won not when one side declared victory but when the other declared defeat. Until the Palestinians surrender their rejectionism of Israel as a Jewish state, the conflict will never be resolved, he said. “It’s all resistance ideology. You have to break the resistance in order to break the ideology.”

As director of MEF, Roman has one foot in the U.S. and one in Israel. Prior to MEF, he was director of the Community Relations Council for the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, liaising with local and national authorities, including the FBI, to formulate community security policies. While he doesn’t dismiss the scope of October’s Tree of Life shooting tragedy, he said it could have been far worse had such policies not been in place.

“I’ve been on the edge of a lot of tragedies. It’s not like think-tank professionals are on the [battle] front, but you don’t just forget.”

Roman is no stranger to tragedy. In 2013, ISIS executed his friend, American-Israeli journalist Steven Sotloff. The gruesome murder was broadcast during the same hour Roman’s second child was born. “It was one of the greatest moments of my life and one of the saddest moments of my life at the same time,” Roman said.

Roman had been involved in clandestine activities to save Sotloff, whom he had met during studies at the IDC Herzliya in 2007. One of the most critical points was ensuring Sotloff’s Israeli identity was kept a secret from his Islamist captors.

“I’ve been on the edge of a lot of tragedies,” Roman said. “It’s not like think-tank professionals are on the [battle] front, but you don’t just forget. Damn straight I wanted to get more involved.”

So at the age of 30, Roman took the directorial job at MEF under its president, Daniel Pipes. At age 19, he worked a paid gig at the Inter-University Center for Terrorism Studies in Washington, D.C. He made aliyah from Washington in 2006 and began working as a firefighter in Herzliya. Even in the army —where, at the age of 24, his comrades called him “Grandpa” — he often rubbed shoulders with servicemen who towered above him in rank and age.

Handling external relations in COGAT (Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories), the Defense Ministry unit that liaises with the Palestinians, Roman was the first Israeli to translate the infamous 2009 Goldstone report alleging Israeli war crimes. Roman described sitting in rooms with corporal stripes adorning his sleeve while the generals next to him ask, “Nu, Gregg, what do you think?” He laughed, recalling he only spoke about a thousand words of Hebrew at the time.

“I learned Hebrew,” he said, “by participating in state-sponsored investigations against alleged Israeli actions, which were proven by the state committee to not have happened.”