In response to my recent op-ed about Qatar in The Hill titled “Why is Qatar being blockaded and isolated,” several critics have deliberately distorted my views. Contrary to what my critics would have you believe, I am not a mouthpiece for Qatar nor am I its uncritical defender. To the contrary, I believe it necessary for the international community to take a more critical view of the facts surrounding Qatar’s relationships in the Middle East. What is needed is a probing and objective inquiry into competing narratives and claims. This is why I accepted the Emir’s invitation and disclosed that he paid for my trip. Do my critics really believe I can be bought? Do they think I am willing to express views I don’t believe for money? Do they think I would abandon my lifelong support of Israel for cash? This is the kind of argument I would expect from anti-Semites, who stereotype Jews as “money hungry,” not from reasonable people.
My views on Qatar are similar to those reflected in the extensive New York Times reporting on Qatar titled “Tiny, Wealthy Qatar Goes its Own Way, and Pays for It.” Do they also believe that the Times reporter was bought off by Qatar? Is it their contention that all those who disagree with simple minded, extremist hatred for Qatar must have been bought and paid for? Insisting on falling in lockstep with Saudi Arabia (certainly not the good guy in this conflict) gets the international community no closer to resolving the Gulf crisis. I do not believe it is in the best interest of Israel or America to create an intractable enemy out of a country that may prove not to be one.
My critics have been quick to attack my article in light of Qatar’s track record for human rights violations, citing a State Department report detailing a Qatari history of “prohibited organized political parties and restricted civil liberties, including freedoms of speech, press, and assembly…” They point out that “women’s participation in Qatari society is ‘limited by cultural discrimination.’” Are they suggesting that Saudi Arabia is better? The New York Times disagrees: “Saudi women will finally be allowed to drive in June, Qatari women have been driving for decades. In Qatar, there are cinemas, bars and even female race jockeys. Christians can worship openly. Although Qataris share the puritanical Wahhabi strand of Islam with Saudi Arabia, there are no public beheadings or other spectacles that offend the modern conscience.” The critics introduce no comparisons or calibrations in their one-sided screeds. There are no democracies in the Gulf, so why do my critics insist on singling out Qatar?
In my piece in The Hill, I criticize Saudi efforts to shut down or censor Al Jazeera. My critics distort that point into a claim that I support the anti-Israel rhetoric of the organization. I do not support the content of Al Jazeera any more than I supported the content others whose free speech I have defended—from pornographers to communists to Nazis. I oppose the Saudi self-serving efforts to censor it. The state controlled Saudi media is no model of fairness to Israel or Jews.
My critics have been quick to criticize my comparison of Qatar and Israel, but they know that I did not compare Qatar to Israel, except to point out that they are both subject to boycotts and are surrounded by enemies who seek their destruction. Of course, there is no comparison between Israel’s thriving democracy and Qatar’s monarchy, just as there is no comparison to the other Gulf monarchies.
The New York Times reporting addresses the nuance in Qatar’s relationship to terrorist organizations, pointing out that “Some of the charges are red herrings, American officials say. Tamim cut funding to most extremist militias in Syria and Islamist groups in Libya in 2015, at the urging of the Obama administration.” They go on to say that “Where Qatar does have a case to answer, officials say, is in its treatment of Qatari citizens accused of financing terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.” However, “The Saudis have long been accused of exporting radical Islam across the world through hard-line madrassas.” I appreciate how complicated and nuanced Qatar’s relationship with radicalism is, as is Saudi Arabia’s. For this reason, it is important that we objectively address the underlying facts.
The critics dispute my claim that Qatar’s funding of civilian buildings in Gaza is coordinated with Israel. An objective investigation will determine who is correct. My critics claim that I “seemed to swallow the ridiculous argument that Qatar has improved ties with Iran out of necessity.” It appears that this “ridiculous argument” has also been swallowed by the New York Times. In their words, “The trade restrictions have forced Qatar into deeper economic ties with Iran. [C]ordial ties with Iran are a matter of necessity because the two countries share the giant gas field that is the source of Qatar’s wealth.” Furthermore, “Iran’s biggest trading partner in the region is not Qatar but Dubai.”
I have called for a fact-finding commission to resolve the conflicting factual claims. My critics do not want to see any evidence. They think they know the truth without hearing both sides. Meanwhile, I am making the effort to further my understanding through an in-person visit to Qatar and a call for an investigation. Why is it that my critics seem so opposed to an objective investigation into competing factual claims? Why do they trust the Saudi version more than the reporting by the New York Times? Are they afraid that an objective investigation will make their certainty look biased and foolish?
The first thing I saw, with my own eyes, when I got to Qatar was an Israeli tennis player being welcomed by Qatar while an Israeli chess champion was banned in Saudi Arabia. That made me suspicious of my critics’ black and white narrative under which the Saudis are the good guys and the Qataris are all evil. I went with an open-mind and left with many questions which I now am making efforts to answer. My critics’ minds appears to be closed based on outdated information questioned by current New York Times reporting. Let us conduct an objective investigation and then we can all express opinions based on current facts.
I find myself thinking back to an exchange I had with the Lubavitcher rabbi many years ago when I doubted his decisions to honor Jesse Helms who had a questionable record on Israel. He replied by telling me that honors sometimes change people. He was right. Helms became one of Israel’s staunchest supporters in the senate. I am not honoring Qatar—just listening to their side of the story and subjecting their claims to rigorous testing. If they are indeed trying to change, we should encourage their doing teshuva.