The recent unseemly back-and-forth among various Jewish influencers over the issue of Qatar, now apparently with allegations of financial improprieties, has embroiled the Jewish community in a heated dispute over whether the recent free trips for some of said influencers to Qatar were ever in any way appropriate, how is it that some people got to go and others did not, why some people appeared to have changed their minds after initially refusing, and why so many influential Jews seemed to have changed their tune completely after admittedly difficult meetings with the Emir. Israel, meanwhile, issued to statements via Danny Danon to Ha’Aretz and Forbes, stating that Qatar’s goal was influencing Washington policy (which worked, since President Trump agreed to partake in an annual US-Qatar dialogue, following an intense PR campaign by Doha), rather than for the sake of Israel which has a different path to communications.
Despite ample evidence from MEMRI, and other researchers showcasing the full control of Al Jazeera by the Qatari intelligence, the virulent Jew-hatred permeating that medium in Arabic, the hosting of one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leaders Youssef Al-Qaradawi, the long history of supporting Hamas and whitewashing terrorism, the position of the Qatari apologists remains that their ties to terrorism have been greatly exaggerated, and that now Qatar is trying to be more pro-Israel again, that the air, land, and naval blockade imposed by the anti-Terror Quartet (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt) has been self-serving and manufactured, and that the Saudis are no less bad, if not worse. The situation has appeared to reach an impasse with rumors about all of the participants in the controversy swirling around and no real way to prove how it all started.
What remains clear despite the innuendo and the apparent mystery is the following:
- One can hold the Saudis accountable for their numerous shortcomings, while also pressuring Qataris to come clean about their real motivations for this PR campaign, the devious way of pitting Jews of various political backgrounds against each other, and their record.
- At no point anyone from Israel has come forward on record and under his own name and supported Qatar’s assertions about their close cooperation with Israel as to Gaza reconstruction. There have been anonymous officials that have made such claims to Ha’Aretz and a single retired IDF general who testified to US Congress in support of Qatar, without offering any definitive evidence other than his personal authority.
- Qatar could not affirmatively deny its record with Hamas, Muslim Brotherhood or Al Jazeera, and in fact, used Al Jazeera to issue contradictory statements on various political issues. It has also not made any affirmative promises to the visiting Jewish dignitaries with respect to any of the proffered critiques. At the same time, it continued jabbing at the Saudis and seemed to make its new-found interest in Jews contingent on specifically anti-Saudi sentiment among them, rather than focusing on developing an independent relationship. Alan Dershowitz even went as far as accusing the Saudis of trying to assassinate the Emir – a very serious allegation, for which he offered not an iota of evidence.
All of these points should have been enough to at least raise some doubt among those elements of the Jewish community who sided with Qatar. Failure of Dershowitz and the others to get the other side of the story in meetings with members of the ATQ should have been another sign that the visitors were at the very least being willfully blind and have not fully taken advantage of the opportunity to hear from all the participants in the stand-off; quite possibly refusing to engage with Qatar’s opponents could be seen as evidence as bad faith on behalf of the Qatar apologists. Not one piece of the heated exchange has changed anyone’s mind on that issue thus far. Since then, however, two additional pieces of evidence have come to my attention that deserve full scrutiny and consideratoin in light of what is being asked of the Jewish community by Qatar (Saudis and others have not directly asked the Jewish community to come to their defense on this or any other issue, although a Jewish strategic communications firm appears to have represented the ATQ quartet on one specific occasion in response to a pro-Qatar event).
First, despite signalling that Doha no longer funds or in any way supports Hamas, and is working on Gaza reconstruction jointly with Israel, Emir Tamim was quoted by a pro-Qatar outlet in Arabic as having made a call to the newly designated terrorist and Hamas leader Ismayil Haniyeh the day after signing the agreement with the Trump administration, promising Haniyeh millions in support for Gaza reconstruction, the money that Hamas has been notorious for using towards building tunnels into Israel, that were then used to smuggle arms and terrorists into the country. That phone call has not made it into the English language press, but undoubtedly would have unsettled the administration, which believes Qatar to be an important ally.
The second signal came from Israel, which finally went on record, clarifying its position regarding Qatar. Moving away from any ambiguity that may have remained after official statements critiquing Qatar for targeting American Jews, in a briefing for the annual Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, in response to a question, Tzachi Hanegbi, currently the Minister for Regional Cooperation, stated as follows: “I prefer to speak positively, rather than negatively. Israel believes that Egypt and Saudi Arabia should be regional leaders.” That comment leaves no rooms for doubts. Israel acknowledges its ally Egypt, and the important role it plays in the region; it sends a very positive signal towards Saudi Arabia, with which it has an informal but growing defense alliance, and it clearly sides with the ATQ on the issue of security on the region, which implicitly includes the role of Qatar, known to have been growing closer to Iran over many years, despite being a member of the GCC. Hanegbi could not openly condemn Qatar and call it a problem actor; the reasons for that are manifold.
First, along with the United States, Israel hopes that it is still possible to have Qatar move away from Iran and back into GCC, which would strengthen GCC against Iran and other regional threats. However, Israel also did not in any way criticize the ATQ for the blockade of Qatar, and made no comments either way about the legitimacy of the reasons for taking that position. What was left unsaid, was just as telling as what was said openly.
Second, as Ambassador Dannon pointed out, Israel maintains some sort of line of communications with Qatar, and accusing them of financing of terrorism in public would have surely compromised possibly very sensitive behind-the-scenes negotiations.
Third, there is absolutely no reason to add to an already heated situation with controversial commentary. However, to any reasonable person, the implication of naming two specific countries as preferred leaders in the region is as strong an endorsement for them over their rival as one could possibly have in that situation.
Fourth, Israel is still hoping to get Qatar’s cooperation in pressuring Hamas for the return of two civilians and two bodies of soldiers abducted by the terrorist over the course of the last three years. So far, according to all sources, that has not yet happened, but it could change in the future, and Israel has a responsibility to its citizens and would-be citiziens to try to do whatever is possible to secure the release of their family members and burial of the IDF soldiers.
These considerations put Israel in a very sensitive position with regards to the Gulf Crisis. Ultimately, although there is no doubt, that Israel has its share of concerns over Qatar’s record, the time has not yet come for the country to make Qatar her own fight in addition to having to deal with border issues in Syria, Hizbullah’s threats from Lebanon, and assorted other Iran-related and other terrorist threats. However, Israel certainly acknowledges the validity of the concerns and the burden of evidence over Qatar’s past, and all the existing questions over its current record. If there is any way to hold Qatar accountable without alienating it further and causing more problems, Israeli officials would appear to be glad to have that happen. If the American Jews want to be honest with themselves and with each other, Israel has made its case clear, and furthermore (and more importantly), it took an affirmative step endorsing two countries, neither of which is Qatar, as positive forces in the Middle East and not the “not necessarily the good guys”, as Alan Dershowitz implied in his op-ed which started this brouhaha.
At this point, intellectual honesty, good faith, and basic decency demand that the targeted Qatar apologists, who claim that everything they have done has been for the sake of Israel, should
1. Examine the additional, new evidence and reassess their positions
2. In light of this information, either move away from their stand on Qatar in favor of skeptical neutrality (which would be optimal), if not to say open pressure on Qatar to start acting more honestly OR to acknowledge that their actions have been mostly for the sake of their own vanities and egos, and that they have been essentially bought line, hook, and sinker the way any assets are bought by foreign governments to push their own advantage.
I won’t hold my breath waiting for apologies and regrets from anyone who’s been on the Qatari guest list; however, I should hope that those who have been swayed by their arguments on the basis of their authority or personal relationships would think twice before buying into what has looked since the beginning and looks increasingly more so now, self-serving propaganda by an unfriendly state actor.