Qatari courting of pro-Israel figures only puts the spotlight on Doha’s glaring contradictions
Qatar’s outreach to pro-Israel Jews in the United States was hot news in Israel in recent weeks with Doha attempting to cement its ties with the United States in the face of unwavering regional isolation.
The move by the tiny emirate, which has consistently cultivated the support of Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers and Arab nationalist fringes, has raised many eyebrows.
Reports by the Israeli daily Haaretz said right-wing American Jewish leaders met with senior Qatari officials in recent months. For some of the meetings, prominent Jewish leaders were flown to Qatar, all-expenses-paid junkets arranged by the Doha regime, which has been isolated by a Saudi-led Arab quartet for its alleged support of extremism.
The latest pro-Israel figure to visit Qatar was Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organisation of America, who met with Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in January. Klein, in an interview with the Jerusalem Post, said the Qataris told him that if the United States asked Doha to throw out Hamas members, the Qataris would do it “in a minute.”
Other US pro-Israeli figures who visited Qatar included Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations; Alan Dershowitz, a former Harvard Law School professor; and John Batchelor, a conservative host for WABC radio in New York.
Qatar reportedly began its outreach to influential Jewish leaders in mid-2017, using the services of Nick Muzin, a Jewish-American public relations consultant who previously worked for US Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas.
Muzin arranged meetings between senior Qatari leaders, including Sheikh Tamim, and leading figures of the Jewish community.
The initiative included right-wing segments of the US Jewish community, as well as non-Jewish supporters of Israel, such as former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who are being pressed to explain their ties to Doha.
The Israeli Embassy to the United States distanced itself from the Qatari outreach programme and the initiative faced strong criticism from many within the Jewish religious community.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, an Orthodox Jewish leader from New Jersey who has been described as “the most famous rabbi in America,” went so far as to mock Doha’s efforts in a January 15 letter to Sheikh Tamim.
“Your efforts are going to fail, which is why I’m writing,” wrote Boteach. “Not because I care about you wasting your money. Indeed, many of the people taking it have told me that better that it go to them, then to Hamas.
“Don’t be fooled by the fact that some Jews have been willing to accept hefty retainer fees to lobby other Jews on your behalf. They are not your friends or allies. They are opportunists,” he added.
Boteach published articles criticising Jewish leaders who visited Qatar, with one appearing on the far-right Breitbart news website carrying the headline “Jewish Community for Sale to Qatar?”
The unexpectedly virulent criticism shows that Doha is caught up by its contradictions.
Despite its long history of support for the Islamist Hamas movement, Qatar has kept contact with Israel for strategic and economic reasons. Doha’s relations with Israel are clearly aimed at promoting good will with the West, particularly the United States. Ultimately, Qatar hopes to achieve other additional benefits, including the economic dividends that could come with increased sales of natural gas to Israel.
In addition, the Qatari government is said to be interested in strengthening its technology sector through cooperation with Israel, whose high-tech companies could be interested in exporting products and knowhow to Qatar.
Beyond such possible motives, Doha is struggling to clear its reputation from accusations of support to extremist groups. Such accusations, which were more than once echoed by US President Donald Trump, have been among the main reasons for the diplomatic row that pitted Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt against Doha.
UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash, in an interview with CNN last June, summed up the dispute as being the result of continued “lack of trust.”
“Various countries are fed up with this sort of duplicity that we’ve seen, that has been undermining the region… it is time for cooler heads, to restructure Qatar’s approach on foreign policy,” Gargash said.
Qatar’s attempt to win over pro-Israel influencers has at least partially backfired since it has ironically put the spotlight more than ever on Doha’s glaring inconsistencies and double talk.
Junkets cannot gloss over that.