Why have a number of prominent Jewish leaders been meeting with leaders of Qatar in the oil-rich emirate that sponsors Al-Jazeera, is a chief supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, the major funder of Hamas, and home to some of the top leaders of the terrorist groups that seek Israel’s destruction?
It’s a question being asked with increasing frequency of late, but the answers are hard to come by.
Earlier this year the government of Qatar hired Nick Muzin of the public relations firm Stonington Strategies “to strengthen” the emirate’s “relationship with the U.S. and build bridges to the Jewish community,” according to O’Dwyer’s Report, an ad industry website. It noted that the firm is receiving $50,000 a month from the emirate.
We can understand why Qatar is seeking influential allies these days. It is facing a blockade from Saudi Arabia, as well as Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, pressuring the country to cuts its diplomatic and trade ties with Iran. The four Arab countries have severed relations with Qatar and demanded that it close down Al-Jazeera and stop its support of the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah.
Feeling the pressure, officials in Doha, Qatar’s capital, may see American Jewish communal and business leaders as having great influence in Washington. As the wealthiest country in the world, per capita, with a $300 billion sovereign wealth fund, Qatar can go a long way toward convincing people to listen. But are Jewish leaders allowing themselves to be played for suckers?
Like many foreign leaders those in Qatar believe that American Jews play an outsize role in determining policy in Washington. So Muzin, an observant Jew and Republican consultant who served as a senior adviser to Sen. Ted Cruz, has been introducing Jewish leaders in New York to Qatari businessmen and offering free trips to Qatar for some leaders to meet with the emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, 37, and other top officials.
In his September speech at the United Nations, the emir blamed Israel for the lack of progress on the peace front, and several senior leaders of Hamas live in Qatar, which pledged $400 million to the terror group after the 2014 Gaza war.
Among those who have been hosted on separate trips to Doha are Martin Oliner, president of the Religious Zionists of America, and Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the Orthodox Union kosher division.
Some who have gone say they believe in engagement, and welcomed the opportunity to hear from Qatar’s leaders, whom they note are fearful of the Saudis and interested in convincing Washington that they are a reliable ally. Jewish visitors have also expressed dismay at Qatar’s support for terror groups like Hamas. One told us the Qataris say they are no longer supporting terror, but he was deeply skeptical of the response and other “half-truths.”
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, also visited Qatar recently. He told us the trip was not paid for by his hosts, that in his role he has visited “all of the Arab countries” and that important relationships can be established that prove helpful over a period of time. His primary interest in his one-day Qatar visit, he said, was seeking the return of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers being held by Hamas since the 2014 Gaza war. “We should do more and talk less,” he said, noting that publicity can jeopardize positive results.
Critics note that Qatar’s public relations campaign — the free trips and efforts to do business with prominent American Jews — is unseemly as long as the emirate is a major funder of Hamas and other terror groups. Those invited to visit should be wary about who’s playing who.
Support the New York Jewish Week
Our nonprofit newsroom depends on readers like you. Make a donation now to support independent Jewish journalism in New York.