Almost three years have passed since the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) determined that Al Jazeera Plus (AJ+), a subsidiary of the Al Jazeera Media Network (AJMN), is engaged in “political activities” related to the government of Qatar and directed the outlet to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).
While espousing anti-American and antisemitic content on its various networks, AJMN also acts as a propaganda arm for the Qatari government. In 2021, five U.S. senators, including Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland demanding to know why AJ+ refused to comply with the DOJ mandate.
Legislation introduced by Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) in March renewed pressure on the Biden administration. If passed, House Resolution 189 would prohibit employees of foreign state media outlets from accessing Capitol Hill unless they comply with FARA rules. The bill requires foreign media employees to undergo an FBI background check and sets a cap of 10 press passes on “any qualifying foreign-state media outlet.”
Presently, AJMN retains 136 press passes to the House gallery. U.S.-based news organizations, such as The New York Times, have only been issued 82 passes. Granting AJ+ employees unrestrained admission to an American hub of political power exposes them to sensitive government information.
Resolution 189 was introduced after the anti-corruption watchdog Empower Oversight filed a lawsuit against the DOJ last January for failing to address a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request involving developments related to AJ+ and its foreign agent designation.
AJMN has falsely claimed that the DOJ’s directive was a “precondition” set by the United Arab Emirates on normalizing relations with Israel. Yousef al-Otaiba, the UAE ambassador to the U.S., has denied this claim. In a 2020 email to The New York Times, the ambassador insisted that “at no point in our discussions was Al Jazeera or even Qatar raised.”
Enforcement of the DOJ ruling would do nothing more than require that AJ+ adhere to the guidelines imposed on other foreign state-owned media outlets. According to Bergman, “It is difficult to see how anyone could stand in opposition to legislation that merely calls for compliance with current federal laws and regulations on the part of news organizations to receive press credentials. If Al Jazeera feels singled out by this requirement, then that in itself speaks volumes.”
A report released in March by the Zachor Legal Institute, a think-tank and advocacy group, detailed how AJ+ was launched in 2014 as a news portal delivering short-form and socially progressive videos. The platform’s target audience is American young adults between the ages of 18-34. Its content has amassed a collective 17 billion views.
This material is deeply disturbing. A seven-minute video titled “The Racist Origins of the Police Force” ties U.S. law enforcement to past American “slave patrols.” Another video claims “The U.S. Isn’t a Democracy,” dismissing the U.S. Constitution as a document designed to empower those who are “wealthy” and “white.”
AJ+ does not just propagate an ideology antithetical to U.S. interests. It is also an epicenter of antisemitic propaganda. The network promotes Jew-hatred in a deluge of online posts and videos that libel Israel as an apartheid state where “settlers” can walk down the street and shoot Palestinians “without any consequences.” In an April 5 tweet, the outlet’s media critic accused Israel of engaging in an ethnic cleansing project for 70+ years.
President Joe Biden’s reluctance to enforce the DOJ decision may be connected to the administration’s pursuit of a strategic realignment in the Middle East.
Reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal lingers on as a cornerstone of the administration’s foreign policy. Thus, Qatar’s political and economic relationship with Iran may be one reason for the administration’s refusal to enforce the DOJ ruling. In recent months, the U.S. has sought to elevate Qatar’s role in the region by enhancing Qatari involvement in nuclear negotiations between Iran and Western powers. Despite ending without an agreement, indirect talks between the U.S. and Iran were held last summer in Doha. In addition, the use of Qatar as a go-between is far more palatable at the moment than the previous U.S. strategy of using Russia.
Qatar is home to the largest U.S. military base in the Middle East. Its assistance in the evacuation of Americans and at-risk Afghans following the disastrous 2021 Afghanistan withdrawal likely led to Biden’s announcement last year designating Qatar as a major non-NATO ally.
The president’s praise of the oil-rich nation was echoed by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who appeared to sideline the U.S.-Israel alliance by affirming that “in many ways” Qatar is “our best partner in the region.”
Biden’s attempt to accelerate Qatar’s growing regional influence by ignoring the DOJ evades diplomatic tensions at the expense of U.S. national security.
Irit Tratt is an independent writer residing in New York.
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