St Paul’s Community / Pauline Profiles

Gabriel's journey from Yale to working to counter violent extremism at the State Department.

Today’s world is sufficiently complex that thoughtful problem-solvers are always in demand.  Gabriel Perlman (2003-08) is one such Old Pauline who has leveraged his academic experiences to great effect in his roles abroad. 

A 2008 leaver from St Paul’s, Perlman made the then-unconventional choice to forego a place at Oxford in favour of one at Yale University. Perlman says he doesn’t regret the move in the slightest. “To me it boiled down to the diversity of experience,” he explains. To him, Yale offered more than just a straightforward academic experience, which he credits to providing him a “much more varied perspective on life, the world, and opportunities.” One of the biggest draws for Perlman, who studied for and received a bachelor’s degree in History, was the ability to engage with professors and receive much more specialised research attention as an undergraduate, benefits would prove useful over the course of his career.

After a brief stint in investment banking after graduation, Perlman left to return to his true passion – public policy and international relations. He reunited with one of his Yale professors to help research and edit a book on US-Israel relations, to be released in 2017. He then moved to Washington, DC and began working his way into a variety of government roles. He worked for President Obama’s White House on the National Economic Council before later ending up in the State Department.

Perlman’s first role in the State Department was with the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, working to counter violent extremism across the globe. His work sent him all over the Middle East, Northern Africa and Europe, working with religious leaders and communities to design anti-extremism programmes for youths. 

The following summer in 2014 saw the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. With the aim of rolling back the ideological message of the terrorist organisation, the President appointed a new committee within the State Department to counter the threat of ISIL. Perlman joined that team and worked on the committee until this past summer, holding the title of Special Assistant to the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy to Counter ISIL – a title that’s neither easy to say nor easy to define!

Perlman’s duties included speechwriting for congressional hearings and assisting a coalition of resources to counter ISIL’s message. The team acted as a clearinghouse for most major government resources, including law enforcement and the judiciary. After the Paris attacks in November 2016, the cause gained more momentum, and the committee’s role became less about lobbying for resources and more about capitalising on the worldwide momentum to stop the terrorist threat.

How does one even go about getting involved with a huge governmental organisation like the State Department? After all, there are not exactly university courses offered in “How to Defeat ISIL”. Perlman attributes the arc of his career more to the context of his studies than to the actual content itself. Programs like the ones he found at Yale – “experiential/academic hybrids,” he suggests – prepare one’s attitude for these kinds of careers, “as well as provide hard brass contacts with important people,” he notes. 

Perlman has now moved on to his next challenge – Yale Law School. He reasons that his training in the law will serve him well for future endeavours in public policy. “It’s important to have an in-depth understanding of the Constitution, checks and balances, government agencies and initiatives,” he explains. “People with legal understanding are much better positioned to develop those policies.”