Last week’s Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) gala generated controversy and comment based on the appearance of Steve Bannon, who has been falsely accused of antisemitism even as he has always publicly stood with Israel. In his speech Bannon sharply criticized Iran, Turkey, and Qatar as the wicked state actors in the Middle East.
At the same dinner, I was shocked to see a highly placed communal leader whom I greatly respect escorting the former Qatari ambassador to the United States to meet attendees.
It was a strange sight. Here you had Bannon, often and unfairly excoriated by Jews, condemning the foremost supporter of Hamas in front of a large Jewish audience even as some in the audience were welcoming Qatar.
The appearance of the former ambassador at the ZOA dinner follows a well-chronicled effort on the part of Qatar to whitewash its terror-funding activities by hiring an Orthodox Jewish-owned PR firm in Washington. Qatar’s calculus seems straightforward. Finance the murder of Jews in Israel while covering it up by silencing the Jews of America with cash. But who would have thought that American Jews would buy it? The Jewish community is renowned throughout the world for its philanthropy and commitment to ethics, not to mention its unwavering support for Israel. So what is going down with Qatar?
ZOA is, of course, one of the finest and toughest pro-Israel groups in the United States, with absolutely impeccable pro-Israel credentials. ZOA’s head, Mort Klein, is universally regarded as one of Israel’s most important defenders. Yet even at its gala those who worked for Qatar were trying to infiltrate.
Through the Jewish-owned PR and lobbying firm, Qatar has reached out to Jewish leaders everywhere, all in an effort to help make Qatar kosher, with the effort culminating in a Jerusalem Post story that revealed that the head of the Orthodox Union’s Kosher division, Rabbi Menachem Genack, traveled all the way to Doha for meetings. You can’t make this stuff up.
I have also heard from several Jewish businessmen about Qatar approaching them to do deals, with one even telling me that the Qatari representatives who approached him had no issue with stating they were specifically looking for Jews to do business with.
In this Qatari effort, it has been dispiriting to watch how some in our community are seemingly up for sale. There has been no demand that before embracing Qatar they first stop funding Hamas terrorists. And those Jewish individuals hired by Qatar and accepting Qatari money are no doubt aware that their embrace will lessen the pressure on Qatar, which is currently experiencing a severe boycott because of its terror-funding activities.
At one time, Qatar was viewed as a relatively moderate Gulf state. After the Oslo Peace Process agreement was signed, for example, Qatar and Israel developed a relationship that included the opening of a trade office and a visit to Doha by Shimon Peres.
That was in the mid-1990s. Qatar has subsequently become a friend of Iran and financier of Hamas terror.
Qatar is currently in a high-profile fight with its neighbors, led by Saudi Arabia, who accuse the Qataris of supporting terrorists that are destabilizing the region. The Saudis especially object to the emir’s warming relations with the Iranian regime in Tehran. The Saudis, like Israel, see the Shiite theocracy as their mortal enemies, and are currently fighting a proxy war with Iran in Yemen and Syria. Qatar is also the home of Al Jazeera, the propaganda agency that masquerades as a news outlet. Al Jazeera has frequently enraged the Saudis with its critical reporting on the kingdom.
The United States has sided with the Saudis in the dispute, but the administration is in a difficult position because Qatar hosts the largest American major military base in the Mideast. Enter the head of a PR firm whom the Jerusalem Post described as “a prominent Jewish Republican operative who is on retainer by the Persian Gulf nation to establish ties with the American Jewish community.” The paper says this firm is working to counter the efforts of the Saudis to isolate Qatar. Like so many who believe in the antisemitic notion that Jews control, or at least have great influence, over American policy, the emir apparently thinks that currying favor with American Jews will lead them to side with Qatar against the Saudis.
The Post says this Jewish-owned Republican firm is reportedly being paid $50,000 a month by Qatar. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assert that they honestly believe they can change Qatar. But they are, thus far, being used as a foil by Qatar to gloss over its terror funding, all while showing that some of its best friends are Jewish.
Equally perplexing is the rationale for any Jews visiting a country that is siding with Israel’s mortal enemies in Gaza and Tehran. The Post reported that the delegation was supposedly trying to negotiate a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas.
Who deputized these Jews to negotiate on Israel’s behalf?
In 2011, Israel exchanged more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, a soldier kidnapped by Hamas. Many of those freed returned to terror, and at least six Israelis have been killed by former prisoners. The exchange also gave Hamas an incentive to take additional captives in hopes of gaining the release of more terrorists. That is why Hamas currently holds two Israelis hostage as well as the bodies of two soldiers. Recognizing the threat of ongoing blackmail, the Israeli government has explicitly ruled out another exchange.
My suggestion to Jewish individuals who have taken money from Qatar is that they can atone for it by donating it to victims of terror in Israel.
The poor judgement of these individuals is one concern, but the larger issue is the spread of Iranian influence throughout the region. They control Lebanon, have established a beachhead in Syria, are funding the war in Yemen, are threatening the other Gulf states, and exert a dangerous degree of influence in Iraq. Simultaneously, Iran continues to sponsor terror, develop more advanced ballistic missiles, and pursue its ambition to become a nuclear power.
Just as the administration is working now to isolate North Korea, so too must it isolate Iran. Pressure must be exerted on Qatar to sever its ties with Tehran.
To the extent that American Jews have a role to play in relations with Qatar, demanding that the Emir cease funding a genocidal Hamas, and distance itself from a genocidal Iran, should be the top of the list.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the international best-selling author of 31 books, most recently The Israel Warrior. The winner of the London Times Preacher of the Year Award, he has been called by Newsweek “the most famous Rabbi in America” and named by the Jerusalem Post as one of the 50 most influential Jews in the world. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.