(January 26, 2018 / JNS) Qatar, which has long been a Mideast enigma due to its modernized appearance but simultaneous funding of Islamist terror groups, is engaging in a public relations campaign to recruit increased support in the U.S.—including among American Jews.
The Gulf state’s charm offensive comes after Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and other Arab countries last year cut diplomatic relations with Qatar, citing its terror ties and cooperation with Iran. The Saudis led the charge, calling on Qatar to end support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood—terrorist adversaries of Israel.
Yet Qatar’s PR campaign has enlisted pro-Israel voices such as civil liberties attorney Alan Dershowitz, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Nick Muzin, a former senior staffer of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). They have all publicly praised Qatar after visiting the country or being paid outright for their services. The Qataris reportedly hired Muzin for a monthly fee of $50,000 and Dershowitz wrote a pro-Qatar op-ed after visiting the Gulf state.
The New York Times, meanwhile, recently published a lengthy and seemingly sympathetic feature story on Qatar carrying the headline, “Tiny, Wealthy Qatar Goes Its Own Way, and Pays for It.”
Qatar’s apparent positive PR momentum comes despite publicly available documentation and statements by U.S. authorities that Doha continues to support terrorist organizations and host various Islamists.
According to an investigation by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), “there is no persuasive proof that Qatar has stopped letting certain terror financiers off the hook. Indeed, it is impossible to identify even a single specific instance of Qatar charging, convicting, and jailing a U.S.- or U.N.-designated individual.”
U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) told JNS, “We know that the Qataris have been playing all sides for years, financing heinous terrorist groups and giving sanctuary to the leaders of Hamas and the Taliban with hardly any consequences from Washington.”
“No public relations campaign will cover up the truth: Qatar uses its state-controlled propaganda arm, Al Jazeera, to incite violence, glorify murderers of Jews as ‘martyrs,’ and broadcast virulent anti-Semitism,” said Gottheimer, adding that he believes Doha-based Al Jazeera “should be investigated by the [U.S.] Justice Department.”
Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at FDD, told JNS that the current PR campaign is not very different from patterns of influence-buying that the Qataris have exhibited in the past.
“The difference now is the intensity. With continuing economic isolation imposed by its Arab neighbors, Doha is scrambling to recruit high-level, mid-level and even low-level analysts to articulate their position,” explained Schanzer.
“The strategy, as it has in the past, appears to be working,” he said. “A range of voices have jumped to the defense of America’s top ‘frenemy,’ despite the fact that Doha is still a top patron of Hamas, a home base for the Taliban embassy, the top sponsor of the Muslim Brotherhood and a safe space for a range of other terrorist financiers—including Al-Qaeda in Syria.”
Some analysts, according to Schanzer, “appear to be impressed by the red-carpet treatment. Some appear to be wowed by the high-level access. And some may simply be cashing in. Either way, it’s embarrassing to watch. Cringe-worthy, actually.”
Yigal Carmon, founder and president of the Middle East Media Research Institute, wrote a report stating that due to its ongoing crisis with Arab states, Qatar was “informed by the old anti-Semitic stereotype that the Jews control American policy” and “hired a Jewish law firm, among other lobbyists, to advocate for it.”
“This firm is approaching Jewish leaders in the U.S. and trying to convince them to side with Qatar in its conflict with its neighbors,” wrote Carmon, adding, “Ever since the current emir’s father deposed his own father, Qatar has been playing a double game with America. On the one hand it built the Al-Udeid base for U.S. forces, free of charge, not for altruistic reasons but to defend its regime against its regional neighbors. On the other hand Qatar was and is an enabler of all the anti-American elements in the region.”
Ronald Halber, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, said it is unfortunate that respected Israel advocates like Dershowitz and Huckabee “are believing nonsense by the Qatari government, the second-largest funder of Hamas.”
“No matter how much they are wined and dined in Qatar by seemingly civilized and gracious hosts, it doesn’t change the fact that Qatar has incredible leverage over Hamas,” Halber told JNS.
Halber’s organization held a protest outside of Qatar’s embassy in Washington last September to protest the emirate’s financing of terror.
Qatar has a unique opportunity to show the world that it follows international law by immediately pressuring Hamas to—without any preconditions—return the bodies of two Israeli soldiers who were killed during the 2014 war in Gaza, according to Halber. Instead, he said, Qatar “wants to play the regional role of the polished middle man who everyone respects, but in the meantime is moving closer to the Iranian orbit.”
“Qatar thinks that it can fool us by allowing an Israeli tennis player (Dudi Sela) to play in the country while at the same time funding Hamas,” said Halber, adding that the Qataris “could save themselves a lot of money and instead of the PR campaign in America, they could gain more by brokering a deal with Hamas to release the bodies of the two Israeli soldiers.”