The past few weeks have witnessed an extraordinary and desperate PR and marketing gambit on the part of the government of Qatar in the highest reaches of New York and Washington Jewry.
Qatar, which serves as the single biggest funder of Hamas, and grants safe haven to its terrorist masterminds, is against the ropes because of a Saudi-led blockade, itself occasioned by Qatar’s support of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood (which includes Hamas) and its close association with Iran.
Rather than changing their ways, however, Qatar seems to have opted for a strategy of lobbying Jews in America and using those relationships to prove their moderate credentials to the Trump administration. After all, they’ve now got the Jewish friends to prove it.
I know what you’re thinking. No responsible Jewish leader would be part of this effort. And yet, every day the media exposes another rabbi or Jewish leader who is either visiting Qatar, escorting a Qatari ambassador around Jewish fundraising galas, or hosting a Qatari dignitary at a personal yet noticeably public function.
The motivation of those working on behalf of Qatar will be made clear in due course. Such things cannot remain hidden forever.
But for now, let’s note the following. The Jewish community has no dog in the fight between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Both governments have historically shown hostility to Israel and Jews, and neither country has diplomatic relations with Israel.
Except for one colossal distinction. The new Saudi Crown Prince is startling the world with his seeming willingness to reform his country, moderate Islam, cease funding of terror, and send subtle yet public signals to the Jewish community that he wants to enter a new era of friendship.
I myself was skeptical — until I read Thomas Friedman’s interview with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Muhamad Bin Salman, known as MBS, in last Friday’s New York Times. It’s not every day that Tom Friedman impresses people in the pro-Israel camp. But what he reported from the Crown Prince was revolutionary.
Most notable was the Crown Prince’s apt referral to the leader of Iran as a modern “Hitler.” Iran’s “supreme leader is the new Hitler of the Middle East,” proclaimed MBS. Apparently aware of the very lesson that our organization, the World Values Network, begged the Obama administration to heed during the signing of the Iran nuclear-deal, MBS went on to proclaim that “we learned from Europe that appeasement doesn’t work.” And, as we said then, he went on to warn that “we don’t want the new Hitler in Iran to repeat what happened in Europe in the Middle East.”
While he didn’t mention Israel, there is little doubt as to his awareness that Hitler is most infamous for having annihilated the Jews of Europe — something that Khameini swears to do to the Jews of the Middle East today.
In the Friedman interview, the Crown Prince mentioned a desire to warm relations with Jews explicitly: “Do not write,” he told Friedman, “that we are ‘reinterpreting’ Islam — we are ‘restoring’ Islam to its origins — and our biggest tools are the Prophet’s practices and [daily life in] Saudi Arabia before 1979.” At the time of the Prophet Muhammad, he argued, there were musical theaters, there was mixing between men and women, there was respect for Christians and Jews in Arabia.”
Of course, words, even strong, revolutionary words, are not what matter, but actions. Will MBS translate his policies into actions? Will he reach out to Israel and create public areas of cooperation? Will he join Israel in combatting Iranian aggression?
There is simply no greater threat to the Jewish people today than the political ascendancy of Iran, whose leaders have not only sworn time and again to eradicate the one and only Jewish State, but who have matched actions to words in facilitating the mass murder of Jews, from Israel to Argentina, via Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah — and, most lethally, Hezbollah.
Saudi Arabia under MBS and his father, King Salman, are demonstrating an uncanny awareness that previous Saudi governments erred wildly in identifying Israel as their enemy when all along the mortal threat was being posed by Iran.
It was Saudi Arabia that launched the blockade of Qatar, which had just dished out a billion dollars to Iran as part of a sham ransom payment. That wasn’t the beginning of Qatar’s swing toward Iranian influence. Qatar’s unparalleled contributions to Hamas was arguably coordinated with the Iranian regime. More telling was the formal partnership announced last July between the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera news network and Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), which includes the Hezbollah-controlled al-Manar TV network. The latter, by the way, is recognized by the U.S. government as a terrorist entity, with individuals being arresting and prosecuted by the American government for re-broadcasting al-Manar in the United States. The charge: material support of terrorism.
The Saudis, too, have maintained a brutal air campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthis of Yemen, who have begun to borrow tactics (and probably military hardware) from Hezbollah, which earlier this month took the form of a rocket launched toward a civilian airport in Saudi Arabia.
Then, just a few weeks ago, Saudi Arabia helped expose the total Iranian control of Lebanon via Hezbollah, which is non-coincidentally also dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Saudi Arabia did so — at least ostensibly — by hosting the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Said Hariri, when he announced his resignation, adding in his statement that Iran had taken control of his country. While many accuse the Saudis of having pressured Hariri into abdicating, MBS told Friedman that the bottom line remains that Hariri can no longer provide political cover for a Lebanese government essentially controlled by Tehran. In my mind, shedding light on that dangerous, urgent fact cannot be a bad thing, and Friedman seemed to acquiesce.
According to the interview, MBS is gradually constructing a coalition of Sunni States (and perhaps Israel) that might finally stand as a bulwark against an ever-expanding and evermore lethal Iranian regime. He is doing so with the backing of the Trump administration, whom MBS referred to as “the right person at the right time.”
From Trump’s decertification of the Iran deal, to his scathing rebuke of “rogue regimes” in his United Nations General Assembly address, this administration has forcefully reversed course on President Obama’s willingness to grant Iran hegemony over the Middle East, even as they use their power to facilitated Assad’s genocide of Sunni Muslims in Syria.
There can be no doubt that the Jewish community continues to hold sharp, serious, and perhaps even insurmountable disagreements with the Saudi government on a large range of issues, not least of which is its continued refusal to embrace Israel publicly, even if reports are accurate that it is working with the Jewish State behind the scenes.
But one thing is clear. If Tom Friedman – who has been nothing but gloomy concerning the tragic failures of the Arab Spring, especially in Saudi Arabia – is now praising MBS as a genuine reformer who wants to stop the Iranian “Hitler” from achieving hegemony in the Middle East, then the Jewish community ought to watch carefully and optimistically. The budding “Saudi spring” might lead to warmer, overt ties with Jews, ultimately culminating in a peace treaty with the Jewish State.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom the Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America” is the founder of The World Values Network and is the international best-selling author of 31 books, including, “The Israel Warriors Handbook.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.