Did Qatar Double-Cross ZOA?

On August 2, Josh Nathan-Kazis published an article in the Forward which promised to be the first in a series of investigative pieces covering covert tactics targeting Israel’s critics.

This description was a mischaracterization. The groups listed as “Israel’s critics”, allegedly under attack, are all radical left groups, such as Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which themselves have earned a reputation for bullying tactics against Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus, and who are affiliated with the BDS movement.

The BDS umbrella organization in the United States has been found to have links to foreign funding, including radical NGOs, terrorist organizations, possibly even state actors. Affiliated groups and partners are frequent beneficiaries of this funding via joint events, political campaigns, and various other expenditures. In addition, as in many networks of that sort, high profile members cross-pollinate among the various organizations.

The article in question attacks pro-Israel Jewish establishment in the US and in Israel for allegedly backing a coordinated public and anonymous effort to shut down the activities of these “critics”.  The spectrum of these efforts ranges from employment of experience political operatives to doxxing accumulated dossiers on student leaders of these efforts, asin the case of a clandestine organization called Canary Mission. The author of the article also lists a number of mainstream Jewish organizations, such as AIPAC, the Israel Project, and ZOA, which oppose BDS efforts, and, as he implies, may have been supportive of some of these efforts.

The right way to oppose BDS movement is a controversial tactic. Two years ago, however, I had proposed the obvious: that BDS movement and other such efforts, are a form of information warfare aimed at demoralized and delegitimizing Israel and its supporters. As such, I posited, hasbara (outreach) efforts by the Foreign Ministry and pro-Israel activists, which aim to showcase the positive accomplishment by Israel and to form long-standing relationships with the Jewish diaspora, to recruit supporters, and to attract business investors, should be run separately from efforts to counter the information warfare/psych ops, best handled by intelligence agencies and private efforts, rather than by diplomats.

Whether or not anyone took notice of that article at the time, the spirit of my proposal indeed found life in a number of independent initiatives, which understood BDS backers to be a real threat, not so much to Israel’s survival as its relationship with the diaspora, universities, and the artistic world – in other words, an attempt at cultural and intellectual isolation from the institutions that are best equipped to promote narratives and who are at the forefront of building the public zeitgeist. Whoever is behind these efforts decided to respond in kind to the destructive tactics by the BDSers, clearly informed by identical efforts once perpetrated in the West by leftist radicals, fellow travelers, and embedded agents by the Soviet Union. The playbooks are certainly out there and in more recent times have been used by Iran and assorted Sunni Islamist movements to intimidate and shut down dissent both at home and the United States, Canada, and Europe.

The article goes in depth exposing these counterinitiatives, while also whitewashing the affiliations and downright anti-Semitism by both the organizations allegedly under the attack, and individual members. Furthermore, it seems, some individuals mentioned in the article took it upon themselves to write to the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and a number of other mainstream Jewish organizations that oppose BDS and engage in pro-Israel advocacy, claiming that efforts by the Canary Mission and others harm Jewish students –  never mind, that most of these students are carrying water for foreign interests, strongly opposed to Israel’s very existence.  This development was not known to me a couple months ago, when a number of Jewish organizations, including AJC’s young professionals group ACCESS (I was a member of its New York board at the time) issued very harsh, divisive public statement denouncing the Canary Mission, which in itself caused a controversy inside the Jewish community with many statements for and against.

I had no idea when this transpired that AJC’s participation in this milieu was based on a hearing given to a few individuals who wrote those letters and who deigned to speak on behalf of all the left-leaning activists on campus, mischaracterizing Canary Mission’s efforts as a coordinated attack at any left-of-center criticism of Israel, with a potential chilling effect on all the left-leaning students in the United States. In reality, and to make it quite clear, CM’s mission is to expose unapologetic BDS supporters, who presumably cannot be reached, placated, or educated by any other means. Most members of these groups are not left-leaning Jewish students, by the way, by vehemently anti-ISrael, and often virulently anti-Semitic towards American Jews, Palestinian and Islamist activists, and radical leftists of all backgrounds. JVP is a small organizations, which claims only a tiny number of token Jews, but claims to speak on behalf of a significant portion of the left-of-center Jewish population.

The second article in the series focuses on Canary Mission and delves into the alleged intimidation experienced by the recipients of its attention. The article claims that the reason why no one has sued the CM is because these unfortunate students (who are well funded, and whose umbrella organizations can afford top counsel), are afraid of confronting bullies in court, because such public attention can ruin this life. Can it be that they are afraid of having their anti-SEmitic vitriol paraded in the daylight, thus taking away the effectiveness of the lies they propound in recruiting naive, well-meaning human rights activists? Regardless, none of these students taking public positions, passing secretive anti-Israel resolutions, and intimidating Zionist students from taking public pro-Israel position in class, has been intimidated by the public nature of such actions or by the reputational risk associated with engaging in such activities.

The generalizations and accusations made in both articles are astounding, and clearly made to discredit the CM and paint any hardcore tactics aimed at countering anti-Semitic effort in a sinister light. Frankly, the tone of both pieces harkens back to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about a cabal of the Elders of Zion plotting in the shadows. No attention is given to the fact that the “Israeli critics” themselves engage in secretive, underhanded, conniving, and deceptive tactics – and that organizations like CM are merely calling them out on it. Two can play that game sort of thing.  What’s far more interesting than pondering the substantive dishonesty of yet another anti-right-wing screed is how the author arrived at the subject matter to begin with. Noah Pollack, in a now-deleted Twitter thread,  surmised that the only way the author could have written some of the things he did was if his inquiry had already been informed by some underlying premise. The premise, Pollak concluded, may have been the suppressed Al Jazeera documentary filmed by an undercover Qatari spy (a self-hating Jew) which, as promised, they did not release, but may have been willing to show to a friendly left-wing publication, and a journalist open to using such material even from a questionable source.  Admittedly, there is no hard evidence that this is in fact the case. If, however, it is true, Qatar would have double crossed ZOA’s Mort Klein, who took credit for  this suppression of the documentary, allegedly aimed at exposing the American Jewish lobby (including human rights and pro-Israel organizations), justifying this very narrow success as the outcome of taking a free propaganda trip to Doha.

If there is any basis to Pollak’s speculation, Qatar managed to outwit everybody. It first invited a group of Jewish influencers to Doha, using a mix of bribes (free trips, donations to their organizations, opportunities to lecture at their universities) and blackmail (releasing this documentary) to gain their acquiescence. The entire effort seemed aimed at gaining access to members of the Trump administration and his advisers, such as Steve Bannon. One Qatari, Ar-Rumaihi, now outed to be a high level government official, had appeared at the ZOA gala, where Bannon spoke. After being outed as a government agent, he faced accusations of planning to bribe Bannon, and of bragging about buying off other Washington insiders and officials.

Others in Qatar circles touted opportunities to meet then-CIA director Mike Pompeo, who is now the Secretary of State. These efforts paid off, as President Trump publically hugged Emir Tamim upon his visit to the US and publicized the GCC blockade against Qatar (interestingly, another beneficiary of these trips, Alan Dershowitz, just happened to be at the White House, advising the president, the day Qatar’s Emir was visiting).  Why would Qatar, having achieved its purpose with respect to the Jewish community, continue to stay involved? Pollak’s theory is supported by Qatar’s continuous engagement with Jews and Israel on other fronts. Since the brouhaha about the Jewish influencers and the propaganda trips unraveled, Qatar only intensified its efforts at engagement. Individuals with links to the Qatar Foundation, Al Jazeera, and other Qatari government institutions have suddenly popped in the Jewish organized world in New York and DC, promising money, and looking to take over Jewish interfaith and intercultural efforts, paralleling similar efforts in Morocco.

On the geopolitical front, Qatar, which only recently invested $15 billion dollars into the Turkish economy following US sanctions and tariffs which undercut the lira, appeared willing to sacrifice Turkey, to cut out a role for itself as one of the mediators between Israel and Gaza, in the recent effort by the Trump administration, Egypt, and others to obtain a sustainable ceasefire with Hamas, running up to the release of the long-awaited Trump peace plan. As a recent analysis shows, recent meetings with Israeli officials, and appearances in Cyprus, are backed by bizarre Qatari promises to create a sea corridor for Hamas from Gaza to Cyprus, and to take charge of paying Gaza salaries directly – which shows that Qatar is looking to play a leading role in the negotiations, further cementing its aspirational but growing role as an international power broker. Still, if Qatar looks to use Jews to benefit itself, what possible motive could Doha have to undercut the Jewish community by effectively breaking its promise not to release the documentary, and cause further divisions? This apparent paradox is easily explainable. Qatar, if it is indeed behind informing this series of exposes, is not looking to form mutually beneficial long term relationships either with the American Jewish community or with Israel. Doha views these circumstances as furthering its agenda, and is willing to engage in short-term transactions to this effect. Doha’s role in the world has not changed; it maintains a cordial relationship with Hamas, continues to honor the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader Youssef Qaradawi, while growing its relationship with Iran.

However, it needs Israel’s dependency on its apparent willingness to influence Hamas leaders to outshine its regional rivals, KSA and UAE, who, having largely cut ties with Hamas leadership, are not in a position to broker such agreements, nor are their foreign policies currently focused on such efforts.  Qatar views pro-Israel Jewish community as a thread. If Doha is behind the information that made its way to the Forward journalist, likely the extent of the research that went into the previously unseen Al Jazeera hit piece extend far beyond what we have surmised to be a lame conspiracy-riddled filming of mainstream Jewish groups; rather, it seems, Qatar’s minions have engaged (and possibly are continuing to do so) in trying to expose covert operations aimed at countering information warfare developed and funded by foreign intelligence agencies and Islamist organizations (which may be funded by Doha itself).

These series are a hostile act meant to divide and undermine pro-Israel efforts and the Jewish community, now that Doha has ascertained that some Jewish leaders can be bought, and that the big egos heading major American Jewish organizations, are willing to sacrifice those behind the efforts to public virtue signaling and efforts at garnering personal acclaim. Quite simply, Qatar likely continues to be hostile to Israel and to American Jews, and as usual, playing a very dangerous double game, buying off some, and trying to ruin anything stands on its way to support BDS. The evidence for that is that Al Jazeera continues to spew anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and other hateful drivel. Now, however, Qatar has sophisticated American Jewish lobbyists, PR firms, and lawyers advising it on these strategies, and will become both more brazen and more sophisticated in the delivery of these attacks, while talking out of both sides of its mouth.  However, supposing that Pollak is wrong, and that someone else has been directing the Forward’s attention to these issues, providing the journalist with this information, and putting pro-Israel efforts to counter hostile psych ops at the forefront of the controversy – the question remains, who is it? These acts are clearly hostile, and Forward has fallen hook, bait, and sinker for the opportunity to undermine its ideological opponent – likely playing a useful idiot to a dangerous enemy of the Jewish people and of Israel, be it Qatar or somebody else.  This in itself is worthy of being investigated and uncovered.

About the Author
Irina Tsukerman graduated with a JD from Fordham University School of Law in 2009 and received her BA in International/Intercultural Studies and Middle East Studies from Fordham University in 2006. Her legal and advocacy work focuses on human rights and security issue, mostly in Muslim countries. She is also involved in diplomatic outreach and relationship-building among different communities.
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