My organization, a nonprofit legal group fighting anti-Semitism, submitted public-records requests in 2018 to a number of public universities across the country, asking for information about funding each institution had received from the government of Qatar and its related affiliates. This was a routine matter for us, as we have been trying to understand how radical campus groups are funded and organized, and there had been numerous stories that Qatar was funding terror and, in particular, anti-Semitic groups on campus. Our request was straightforward, asking for information on amounts received from Qatari entities that were specifically identified in our request, including the Qatar Foundation.
One of them was Texas A&M, which, based on federally required reporting, we already knew had received many millions of dollars of grants from Qatar. Rather than comply with our request, the university sought a ruling from the Attorney General of Texas as to whether the applicable law allowed it to withhold the bulk of the information sought due to confidentiality concerns. The Attorney General ruled that other than records that identified donors, all of the other requested information must be produced.
In response, the Qatar Foundation hired a prominent international-law firm and brought a suit against the Attorney General, arguing that the ruling to produce documents violated certain provisions of the Texas public-records law dealing with trade secrets and related matters. While my organization was not named as a party to the lawsuit, we intervened in the case to protect our rights and have been represented by Judicial Watch in the court proceedings.
At the first hearing, the judge asked counsel for the Qatar Foundation a question that neatly summed up what we are trying to do (paraphrasing the judge’s question): “Shouldn’t the people of the State of Texas have a right to know how foreign entities are funding and influencing their flagship university?”
Thanks to our attorneys at Judicial Watch, we prevailed at that initial hearing. However, Qatar’s deep pockets funded an appeal of the decision, and that matter is now pending at the Texas Supreme Court. Qatar claims that information about its funding of Texas A&M constitutes a form of trade secret or confidential information—something that is clearly at odds with the requirement that a public university provide full transparency with regard to how it’s funded and what it’s teaching.
We are now in the third year since filing our public-records request. Qatar has succeeded in drawing out what should have been a quick process (other requests we made on the topic of Qatar were completed within weeks of submission) in what we believe is an abuse of the judicial system and aimed to provide Qatar with enough time to either cover up leads that we’d find or otherwise prevent the people of Texas from fully understanding how a foreign entity is influencing their public institutions. Were it not for the generosity and skill of Judicial Watch, we would have simply had to accept the rejection and leave the question of what Qatar is doing at Texas A&M unanswered.
One of the defenses mounted by Qatar at the initial hearing was that the Qatar Foundation is not part of the official government, and thus our records request, which explicitly identified the Qatar Foundation along with the government of Qatar, should have been read to exclude non-governmental entities that provide funding to Texas A&M. While this question has not been litigated yet, we believe that the foundation is an affiliate of the government of Qatar and are prepared to investigate this matter should the court proceedings reach such a point.
Our case is remarkably similar in general terms to another one where Qatar has apparently decided to use the American judicial system to suppress questions about its influence in the United States. In the case of Mosafer Inc., et al. v. Elliot Broidy, et al, a business entity that is nominally unrelated to the government of Qatar but claims to be “ … branded to be synonymous with Qatar” filed suit against an American activist with a history of exposing Qatar’s influence in the United States and its ties to terrorism, with calls to boycott Qatar. This business entity alleges that since its business is tied to the reputation of Qatar, it has been harmed by the activist’s work.
As we are not involved in the Mosafer litigation, we can’t speak to the merits of either side’s arguments, but it appears to be yet another case of Qatar apparently using an entity it claims is not related to the government of Qatar to silence an activist and critic of its misdeeds.
The question of abuse of the judicial system is obviously thorny and fact-dependent, but from our perspective, we are seeing a very disturbing trend with regard to Qatar and American courts. What is also curious is that through its proxy Mosafer, Qatar seems to be trying to suppress boycotts—something we believe Qatar funds and promotes against the Jewish homeland of Israel. The fact that a commercial entity filed suit against Broidy seems to be a strategic litigation choice since the First Amendment would have provided the Broidy parties with strong protections to speak out against Qatar had Qatar itself brought suit.
The American judicial system is not perfect, but it generally provides parties with fair and equitable opportunities to resolve disputes. Our systems can’t survive if malign foreign actors with unlimited resources abuse the process to silence those who only seek to inform the public.
Marc Greendorfer, Founder of the Zachor Legal Institute.