Qatar Lies and Spies: The Administration Should Take Note

The recent revelations of the fact that Qatar had actually targeted 250 Jewish influencers for recruitment, and has also leaked portions of its documentary about the Jewish lobby online should surprise no one who has been watching Doha’s maneuvers in recent years, and particularly since the beginning of its propaganda war in the United States.  Part of the goal there was to find advocates against the blockade imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, and Bahrain, and part was to advance its relationship with the Trump administration. While the blockade is still in place, Qatar has indeed succeeded in reaching high profile defenders of Israel such as Alan Dershowitz, who have managed to get the President’s ear through tireless advocacy and willingness to publicly argue with his enemies.

There are, however, several surprising elements to this story.

First, the naivete of the Jewish organizations, such as the Israel Project, which apparently, failed to do even the basic of background checks on the radical leftist reporter filming them undercover is inexcusably negligent given the level of threats Jewish communities in the US and elsewhere face on a daily basis. The very organizations which focus all their energy on decrying threats to Israel and to Jews worldwide in the media and in fundraising campaign lacked basic situational awareness to raise some red flags when a new face just showed up and started filming people in random places. One episode that can be found online and reminiscent of professional surveillance footage, shows people chatting at dinner.  Another episode speaks to the accusations of astroturfing, after one black activist brags about being hired to participate in a Jewish rally.

This story speaks less to the lack of willing participants to partake in such events than in the desire of both conservative and liberal leaning Jewish organizations to foster an image of racial diversity, without making any serious effort to foster real relationships with these communities (occasional virtue signaling public events do not count). Such attitude is hypocritical on the parts of the conservative Jewish organizations, which claim to detest identity politics.  Previously, when there was an outcry about the gratuitous tokenist usage of Ethiopian Israelis in some ad, I was skeptical about the degree various groups are willing to engage in such tactics, but with this revelation there appears to be a real pattern. It is unfortunate that such information ended up in the hands of the enemy, but coupling negligence with arrogance is always a deadly combination. This general sense of carelessness manifests itself in other ways – people’s willingness to talk in public in completely stereotypical cliches, which show Jews as being obsessed with power and control. Those of the Jewish conservatives who were happy about the hack/infiltration of the DNC server and the release of the Hillary and other emails, should ask themselves what happens when this works the other way around and touches on their image and interests.

While these vulnerabilities remain unaddressed, Al Jazeera and other actors may be continuing to infiltrate these institutions and hoarding undercover videos to target their victims at a later date.

Second, what’s most fascinating, is that some of these same influencers have claimed not to be aware of a targeted campaign for the political use of Jewish influencers, and that had they known they may have thought twice about participating. However, I do not see people like Alan Dershowitz, Joey Allaham, and others fully recant for the participation in this shameful spectacle. I do not see them going out of their way to make amends. Dershowitz previously had refused to divulge the source that paid for his Northwestern University lecture in Doha. If he received payment, and if there is good reason to believe that the money came from the government, should he not have mentioned it at this point and returned the money if he is honest about his comments? It is hard to believe that the targeted campaign was a surprise to anyone who actually benefited from it.

After all, Nick Muzin, Joey Allaham, and others were making friends and recruiting customers in the same circles, and surely helped Qatar with identifying these people to begin with. That no word would have gotten out about any of this in the notoriously loquacious political Jewish circles should be the real shocker here – if it were true. The fact that there is a list, however, merely supports the existing reality of certain people who had a reputation for 1. being well connected and influential, if not respected 2. like fame, attention, and money and 3. Open about the degree of influence in or on the Trump administration and who made for obvious and easy targets under these circumetances. Now that we know that Qatar’s attitude towards developing the relationships with the Jewish community was cynical, self-interested, and actually intentionally damaging to the Jewish community in the US – where are the op-eds from the very same people, excoriating Doha for causing such divisions and for engaging in such underhanded and conniving tactics?

By the way, if there is a list of 250 influencers targeted for bribes (which is exactly what the recruitment tactic was based in), was and is there a list of 250 “enemies” like Elliott Broidy, who shared the same personality traits, but worked for the other side (i.e. were either agents of influence for KSA/UAE or at least vocally more sympathetic to that bunch)? Will we find that other people have been hacked and their emails will find their way on the Internet at a convenient time if Qatar does not continue to get its way with Trump, the way it happened with Broidy’s emails just as Al Jazeera appeared to be on the verge of Congressional or DOJ investigation? The indication that there may be a lot more to the story is evident in what has already happened so far.  Despite promises not to release the full video,  Qatar did exactly the opposite. Most recently, Al Jazeera again faked a separation between the state (which is known to fund Al Jazeera) and the media conglomerate, claiming that journalists are free to do what they want, and that the government cannot keep them from releasing any material.

And while the video has not yet been released in full, parts have leaked to anti-Israel websites, such as the Electronic Intifada. Why would Qatar continue with this debunked fiction despite all evidence to the contrary? First, because many still believe in the plausible deniability of separation between Al Jazeera and Doha. However, more importantly, no one actually cares.  The leaks of the documentary and the WSJ article about the 250 influencers did not spark outrage. Most people expect foreign governments to spy and to recruit agents of influence wherever possible. Much worse is the blowback that Jews can expect from the usual suspects – the type to accuse the Jewish community of being fifth columnists for foreign powers, and backers of anti-American ideologies.  A small group of  blowhards with big egos is hardly representative of the community at large, and yet, undoubtedly their example will be used to vilify the entire community, particularly pro-Israel activists. The damage to the Jewish world is potentially colossal.  When I warned several months ago that there may be a potential for Jews to be presented as sell outs, little did I know that the list would come out to solidify this perception, and that its beneficiaries would devote so little effort to putting such rumors to rest.

How do these targets justify reconciling their prominent pro-Israel positions, some of which have also ended up being financially beneficial to them personally, with being seen as easy targets by Qatar, and going along with it, more or less? The answer is more or less obvious. What’s more interesting is that Al Jazeera/Qatar have no qualms about continuing to blackmail the Jewish community through leaks. They can still maintain the facade of innocence by not releasing the film publicly, while continuing to accomplish their real goal – undermining the security of the Jewish community, inciting anti-Semitism among Americans, dividing Jews,  and discrediting pro0-Israel activism.  Journalists and activists like Noah Pollak, portrayed in the leaks about astroturfing a\ rally to counter Students for Justice in Palestine, may very well not have done anything illegal or unethical; however, in the future, they will be viewed with concern even by friends due to being linked to this story.

Interestingly, despite now knowing for a fact that Qatar is not to be trusted, and despite the self-evident blowback from everything that happened, the people, including influential Jews, who used to do business with Doha, are continuing doing so. Did they really believe that Doha would ever keep its word? Maybe in part they wanted to believe that, but experienced lawyers, organization leaders, and others skirting the political world were undoubtedly not as naive. What they did not count on, however, was Qatar’s willingness to sacrifice its assets so quickly and easily.  In fact, the documentary release may have been part of the plan all along, if the idea was not just to use powerful Jews to get to President Trump, but to disarm and to discredit pro-Israel institutions and supporters. In other words, the documentary may have not been a separate project but blackmail bait to get people like Mort Klein, known for their noisy and public pro-Israel proclamations, to go along.  Some of the more reluctant influencers would need a double motivation of personal privilege and a heroic mission (saving the Jews from Al Jazeera) to rope them in properly.

These were the very people who were best positioned to stand up to Doha, because of their reputation as pro-Israel advocates, access, reputation, fame, and influence.  Now, by all accounts, these people cannot be taken any more seriously than Jared Kushner (who, by the way, was used in very much the same way).  Now the same people , if they were to change their minds about Doha, and try to get President Trump to admonish Qatar for its foibles, could not suddenly come to the White House and do so without losing face. They are stuck with making face-saving denials, while being more or less forced to maintain their positions of siding with Qatar – or else lose access to the White House and the media altogether.  They know that if they are to admit to being completely wrong and to have been used, they would also become scapegoats for the administration, which will blame any future policy failures in that regard on them – and if they were to flip flop immediately following these revelations, either their judgment or honesty would come into question. Either way, they are in a no win situation, and the best they can hope for is going along with the popular policy line on Doha, pretending that the whole story is a nothingburger, and hope that their reputation will continue championing them to additional opportunities, while Qatar keeps them on the dole for the time being.

What’s truly astounding here is not the example being made from these unfortunates, but that the Jewish community at large is failing to denounce what is happening and continues to laud such people for their vocal stands supposedly in support of Israel and the administration. With all due disrespect to willing pawns of adversarial governments, with such advocates, the Jewish community and Israel, needs no enemies. The world of activism is complicated enough as it is with constant threats and accusations, without also embracing people who are seen as willing to do just about anything for money and self-aggrandizement. Maybe at one point all these influencers were indeed genuinely devoted and helpful; however, it may be time to let go of the people who have been tainted possibly beyond any political redemption (the spiritual redemption is up to their own consciences) and to look for and give support to others who have not yet mired themselves in such inglorious activities.

The sooner they lose the power, the influence, and the access, the safer our country and the Jewish community is going to be from directly harmful foreign influence. As for building bridges with other countries? There is no shortage of people who are able to do that without necessarily ending up in every scandal.  And with a bit of humility, they can probably do a far better job. The Jewish community needs to let go of its poor habit of excessive adulation of those making frequent appearances on TV (“our boy who did good” mentality), and desperate clinging to the attention mongers who are willing to say the kind of thing that alienates half the crowds and wows the other half. Polarizing popular figures may be great for talk shows; they are not always so great for getting anything done, much less conducting sensitive business of any sort. Real diplomacy should come with a sense of service, in that service comes first, and fame should at best be incidental to positive outcomes. Far from being made powerless, for now, the same cast of characters resurfaces in a very similar capacity – Nick Muzin and Joey Allaham just launched a new public affairs consulting firm.. Will they continue doing business with Qatar in public? That remains to be seen, but full contrition for the time being is unlikely. Allaham, for instance, claims to have access to top decision makers in the Middle East. Who might those be and will they be willing to take a chance on him given his connections to a major political investigation in the US? That, too, is an open question. But the fact that after all this, the two realistically think they have more opportunities, rather than being shunned by the political circles domestically and globally, speaks for itself.

The most surprising thing, however, is the silence from the White House, which should have been alarmed at the fact that its new best buddy in the Gulf has acted so unceremoniously towards the portion of the Jewish community, which has contributed to so much to getting the instant president elected. That silence may be explained by the fact that the administration itself may likely be filled with people who have long standing ties with Qatar and are reluctant to make a big deal of its maneuvers, so long as these maneuvers do not interfere with their own jobs, or the wider operations of the US government.  However, ultimately, their own careers may be in jeopardy, if Qatar’s reckless antics ultimately expose the fragility and sensitivity of any personal or governmental accomplishments built as a result of these ties.

Quite simply, the officials keeping mum on Qatar’s espionage against US citizens, may soon find themselves in the same boat as Alan Dershowitz and Joey Allaham – either targeted by investigations and discredited, or else, tied to Doha through blackmail, and unable to operate freely. How much of an ally is Qatar given the level of belligerent meddling it’s willing to make in the US internal affairs, and given that it has openly spied against US citizens and is now looking to cause additional divisions and problems? What Qatar did is no less bad, harmful, or threatening than Russia’s attempt to undermine US democracy by spreading chaos. Thus, instead of being embraced quite literally by President Trump, Qatar should be subjected to the same opprobrium that Russia has rightfully earned itself for its malicious behavior, and to public reprimands for its unwelcome attacks against American Jews and the integrity of the political process in the US.

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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