Qatar welcomes head of Zionist Organization of America

US Defense Secretary James Mattis meets with the emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at the Sea Palace in Doha, Qatar, 22 April 2017. (Brigitte N. Brantley)

Morton Klein, the President of the Zionist Organization of America, visited Doha earlier this month at the invite of Qatar’s leader.

News of the trip comes as Qatar’s foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said on Thursday that Doha welcomes such visits and has a “strong alliance” with the US and the Trump administration.

Klein said he used the opportunity of the visit to tell Qatar’s emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani that his “speech on Jerusalem before the United Nations was wrong” and that “Jerusalem has been a Jewish city for thousands of years,” assuring The Jerusalem Post that he was “tough, very tough” with the emir.

The emir “listened” as Klein criticized Qatari leaders for “anti-Israel speeches” and their stance on Jerusalem, The Jerusalem Post reported. The visit comes amid a public relations campaign by Qatar to salvage itself from regional isolation by reaching out to right-wing Americans and staunch supporters of Israel.

Klein also told the emir that the Arab Peace Initiative, which Doha supports, “would be a total disaster.” But the emir said they’d have to disagree on this issue, according to Klein, citing the support for the proposal by some Israelis, including the late Shimon Peres, a former Israeli president, architect of the Oslo process and champion of illegal Israeli settlements in occupied territory.

Klein said he was asked to speak to members of US Congress, but said he wouldn’t until he sees change.

Klein met a number of government officials during his visit, he said, and some told him that if the US asked Doha to expel Hamas members from the emirate, they would “throw them out in a minute.”

They also stressed that they no longer provide funds for the Muslim Brotherhood in hopes of being “part of the civilized world,” according to Klein.

“Everyone is already going”

In an apparent attempt to escape its regional isolation, Qatar hired a Washington lobbying firm to arrange meetings with major American Jewish groups for the emir while he was in the US for the annual United Nations General Assembly last September.

Klein told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Qatar invited him to visit every month since then, but he refused every time because of the Gulf state’s “support for Hamas and the anti-Semitism being broadcast on Al Jazeera television.”

He said he changed his mind when he saw other influential American Jewish individuals visiting, realizing that “they won’t be able to to use me for propaganda because everyone is already going, but I might use the visit to push them on these issues.”

The Qatari government has been sponsoring numerous trips for right-wing American Zionists.

These include Israel apologist and Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, Christian Zionist and former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee, conservative radio host and Israel supporter John Batchelor, former Republican congressman Thaddeus McCotter, CEO of the Orthodox Union Kosher Division Rabbi Menachem Genack, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations Malcolm Hoenlein, president of the American Jewish Congress Jack Rosen and the president of the Religious Zionists of America Martin Oliner.

Most of these trips were paid for by the Qatari government.

Documentary release still pending

When asked about those visits, Qatar’s foreign minister told Haaretz that “all of them are welcome and we are building good relations with them.”

He also talked about concerns regarding Al Jazeera – the Qatari broadcaster – and its coverage of Israel.

“There were some complaints filed against Al Jazeera in the United Kingdom,” the foreign minister told Haaretz, referring to an investigative documentary exposing the extent of the Israel lobby’s influence on the UK government and Labour party.

The complaints were all rejected by the UK’s broadcasting regulator in October, he noted.

Al Jazeera has produced a similar investigation into the pro-Israel lobby in the US, but initially said it held up on broadcasting pending the UK complaints process.

That the documentary still hasn’t aired has prompted some to speculate that politics is interfering, specifically Qatar’s push to burnish its image in the US and Israel.

Israel rejects Qatar’s efforts

Dershowitz, one of the Israel lobby’s most prominent US figures, wrote an article upon his return in which he reflected on numerous meetings with Qatari officials.

He suggested, among other things, that Qatari-Israeli normalization is on the horizon.

“I heard a lot of positive statements regarding Israel from Qatari leaders, as well as hints of commercial relationships between these isolated nations.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson at Israel’s embassy to the US told Haaretz that it does not support Qatar’s campaign to burnish its image through American supporters of Israel, even though Haaretz reported that some of those claimed to have received the blessing of Israeli officials.

Klein claims he spoke to Israeli officials before his trip to Doha, telling The Jerusalem Post that “one said I shouldn’t go, but others said I should.”

On 30 January, the first Inaugural US-Qatar Strategic Dialogue was held in Washington.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US Defense Secretary James Mattis co-hosted Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, and Qatari defense minister Khalid bin Mohammad al-Attiyah at the event.

Mattis celebrated “excellent military-to-military relations” between the US and the emirate and both expressed their concern at the gulf crisis and isolation of Qatar.

“As the Gulf dispute nears the eight-month mark, the United States remains as concerned today as we were at its outset,” Tillerson said.

“This dispute has had direct negative consequences economically and militarily for those involved, as well as the United States.”

The US, Tillerson continued, is keen that Gulf Cooperation Council countries present a united front that “bolsters our effectiveness on many fronts,” specifically counterterrorism as well as countering Iran’s “malign influence.”

Bahrain has also reached out to Israel, while Saudi Arabia is reported to be looking to improve relations. Gulf countries appear motivated by an enmity toward Iran they share with Israel.

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I thought Qatar was one that was not afraid of Iran and working with them and now you have Yemen and possibly other so not sure all gulf countries are working with Israel against Iran but this is news to me I thought Qatar was more sensible.

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Is Qatar's end game simply monarchial self preservation? What about support for Hamas? What about maintaining good relations with Iran, despite extreme opposition by its fellow GCC member states? How does any of that fit with this latest move and Qatar's service as a forward base of operations for US ops in the Gulf. Is Qatar simply diversifying its portfolio, or is it positioning itself to survive the next Arab Spring?
What really keeps me wondering though, isn't so much all the murky diplomacy; it's that after considering all of that, the fact is that the really excellent news bureau, al-Jazeera, still operates with Al Thani support, whereas it's neighbors prop up puppets like Arab News and The National.
I put a lot of stock in that. Am I wrong to?

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Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.