A Teaching Moment for Israel Activists

A teaching moment can be painful and embarrassing, and it was for a handful of pro-Israel activists.

Over the past few months, a wide swath of the Jewish media has cast an unflattering light on a handful of American pro-Israel advocates who were conned by the government of Qatar to promote Qatari interests to the Trump Administration. Critical news coverage spanned the ideological spectrum, from the Forward, on the left, to the Algemeiner Journal, on the right, and the Jerusalem Post and the New York and Washington Jewish Weeks, in-between. The most alarming facet of this Qatari scheme was that the anti-Israel monarchy hired pro-Israel activists to act as its “foreign agents.” Ironically, these agents may have unintentionally derailed important legislation benefiting Israel. While the Qatari scam was being conducted, the small wealthy kingdom used the contractor who recruited the agents to lobby Congress against legislation to fight radical Islamic terrorism. The bill, H.R. 2712, would have helped prevent Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or any affiliate or successor from accessing its international support networks. Guess which country is a key member of that support network – Qatar.

In the wake of the disclosure of the odd relationship, the tricked pro-Israel activists justify their representation of Qatar claiming they wanted to hasten peace between Arabs and Israelis, or they sought the release of the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, two Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza. Both explanations ignore reality. Qatar never intended to moderate its anti-Israel views, nor did it desire to secure the release of the two dead Israeli soldiers from Hamas. Indeed, the pro-Israel activists were deceived.

A couple of quick facts about Qatar. It is among the wealthiest countries, per-capita, and it finances Hamas and the Islamic Brotherhood. Qatar serves as a proxy for Iran in regional disputes against its Persian Gulf neighbors. It funds extremists who destabilize other countries. It provides sanctuary for terrorists. Finally, Al-Jazeera, the anti-Israel broadcasting network, is based in Qatar’s capital, Doha.

The Qatar-Jewish farce came to light, in a large part, through the disclosure of public documents filed with the Department of Justice and through diligent investigative journalism – not fake news. Under U.S. law, the Foreign Agents Registration Act requires individuals who operate on behalf of foreign interests to disclose that association, the reason for that association, compensation, public officials targeted for influence, and submit to the federal government literature used to support their advocacy efforts. As a result of the filings we learned that a handful of pro-Israel advocates registered as Qatari foreign agents, with the declared goal of “improving US-Qatar relations.”

Qatar’s interest in cultivating support in the United States is not to reserve a chair at a yet-to-be built “Mideast peace table”; rather, it strives to advance Qatari interests in its ongoing feud with other Persian Gulf nations (e.g., Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, etc.). This feud stems from Qatar’s close ties to Iran and its destabilizing actions in the region. The foreign agents were employed as proxies to approach the Trump Administration and those who influence the administration in support of Qatar. Probably the most shocking aspect of the fiasco is that Qatar’s “emissaries” inadvertently advanced the monarchy’s efforts to deep-six H.R. 2712, the “Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act.” In all likelihood, most of Qatar’s enablers did not know that their employer intended to derail HR 2712. Nevertheless, their mission to improve US-Qatar relations and soften Qatar’s image in Washington furthered that effort.

It should be noted that the individuals engaged in Qatar’s lobbying efforts are not identified in this article, because naming the participants in this fiasco is less important than to learn from their blunder. Do not misunderstand me; talking to one’s adversaries is commendable and may reap tangible benefits.However, such negotiations must be conducted with eyes wide open and tainted by personal profit. Here are the lessons from the farce: Beware of Arab sheiks bearing dollars; we are not heroes in a Daniel Silva novel; and, finally, be judicious about whom we represent before policy-makers – risky representation harms our brethren in Israel.

About the Author
Bob Levi has served in numerous Jewish communal positions, worked on Capitol Hill for former Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), and in governmental affairs representing public employee associations for the past 25 years. He is a former two-term chairman of the board of the National Council of Young Israel and past president of Young Israel Shomrai Emunah of Greater Washington.
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