The Qatar Controversy and the Jewish Community: What Made It Possible?

After months of turmoil and bitter disputes over the roles of various Jewish community leaders visiting Doha on what appeared to be several free propaganda trips, the story has once again picked up steam in light of several new developments:

  1. Republican political operative Elliott Broidy suing the government of Qatar for an alleged hack into his personal emails, which yielded a trove of embarrassing documentation about his joint lobbying efforts against Qatar along with his UAE counterpart George Nader. That lawsuit also implicated Nick Muzin, formerly a lobbyist for Qatar, who resigned some time after being named a party to the suit; and Joey Allaham, another conservative stalwart, who retroactively registered under FARA for Qatar, and who, along with Muzin, was responsible for bringing the Jewish leaders to Doha in the first place.
  2. Qatar recently aired a video of a dinner honoring the spiritual pillar of the Muslim brotherhood, Youssef al-Qaradawi, which caused even the staunchest of apologists to distance themselves from Doha.
  3. It now appears that a number of these Jewish community leaders and politicos active in Jewish and pro-Israel causes have accepted some form of payment from Qatar, often a very substantial sum for very little work.

We should be less surprised about Qatar’s contradictory position on Jews (at once wooing them and continuing to spout anti-Semitic propaganda on Al Jazeera) or their tactics (using Jews to get to President Trump to condemn the blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia and others while simultaneously trying to spy on Jewish organizations with the help of undercover journalists), than about the fact that so many supposedly principled Jewish defenders of Israel fell so quickly and easily and with such gusto for Doha’s gold.

First, the alpha bet soup of Jewish organizations has produced a personality-driven atmosphere, where heads of large, seemingly influential non-profits, and well known public intellectuals claim to speak for the entire Jewish world’s interests become iconic and expected to be authoritative on a host of issues that are beyond their pay grade or security clearance.  The effect of such adulation is easily predictable: the individuals eventually become increasingly ego-driven, obsessed with access to VIPs at the expense of the mission of organizations or personal values, while everyone else is imprisoned by the very power entrusted to these people.

People with massive egos become entitled – to money,  influence, the company of other bigger celebrities, fame, attention, and hero-worship. They are then easily to manipulate. But this corrupt process affects the community just as much as the leader, who can be hoodwinked by hostile foreign government and mislead the public. To prevent future operations such as the one that is still ongoing, the public culture needs to change – integrity, character, and humility should be as central to the personas of these community leaders as intelligence, education, and oratorial skills. However, for now, there is little hope that the right lessons will be drawn from this PR fiasco. The public did not disavow Alan Dershowitz as a result of his actions. In fact, he has gained credibility among the swath of particularly loud conservatives who are tickled that he is now advising President Trump.

The second issue is precisely that – the dire need for approval, which seems to permeate pro-Israel activists of all backgrounds, who, in whatever form, seem to be heavily dependent on approval of foreign countries, and Arab and Muslim individuals, leaders, or organizations. The fervent posture: “Normalization or bust”, which drives the conservative Jewish approach to relationship building with Arab states, makes these groups susceptible to manipulation. They either disregard completely any reasonable intermediate approaches, as insufficient or dishonest, or are overzealous in jumping at blatantly eager-stroking approaches by demagoguic con artists, whether pseudoactivists who appeal only to the choir of the converted in English or to the countries with a history of talking out of both sides of their mouths. As a result, they miss important opportunities to push relevant agendas where it’s possible, instead wasting time on wild goose chases of the impossible.

Ironically, lack of critical thinking in the heat of trying to one up other supporters in a show of loyalty to certain common precepts undermines the cause. Israel does not need apologists or self-interested activists, for whom activism becomes a way of perpetuating one’s a sense of self-importance. It needs thinkers, doers, creative minds, cold-headed operatives, and common sense perspectives.  The inability to discern over-the-top flattery from genuine commitment to the cause is at the root of the emerging community divisions. This strange combination of cynical indiscriminancy towards potential allies, coupled with a know-it-all attitude of short-sighted ideologues creates a whole class of people who should know better but don’t. We have seen, with Qatar, that a mixture of greed, insecurity, and desperate need to be at the center of attention (rather than quietly working on long-term and accomplishable goals behind  closed doors) served everyone who took that position an ill turn.

Despite the appearances that Qatar is losing the game, particularly with Jews, in reality it has won a decisive victory on a number of levels. First, Doha received the ultimate stamp of approval and legitimacy from President Trump, who hugged Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in public. Few are willing to question, much less argue with the sitting president of the United States. If he says the guy’s ok, it must be so. The logic behind the US government’s mindset is too fold: first, Qatar is an ally, because our base is there; we can’t move that base anywhere for various fairly obvious reasons so we are stuck with them just as they are stuck with us. We might as well try to work things out.

The second, quite simply, is misinformation based on a mixture of naivete of inexperienced foreign policy officials coupled with deliberate deception spread cleverly by Qatar’s substantial lobby (including many less publicly known yet equally influential Jewish operatives, lawyers, and media personalities). The talking point is rather banal: Qatar has made substantial changes in moving away from supporting terrorists, and it has to maintain relations with Turkey and meddle in other countries’ affairs in order to promote an independent foreign policy. It’s afraid of Saudi Arabia’s pressure and attempt to take it over, and will do things that challenge KSA’s and UAE’s policies simply because it wants to be left alone. As for its relationship with Iran, it’s only there because of the evil blockade imposed by evil Saudis, who want to turn Qatar into an island.

Not to excuse the other Gulf States for whatever wrongdoings, but none of this makes much sense if  a discerning foreign policy student were to look back on the relationship among the GCC members past the last couple of years. The blockade was not imposed out of thin air, it followed years of negotiations over policies, as well as drastic changes in the agenda and priorities of Saudi Arabia. Qatar, on the other hand, has continued to play the same double game the entire time. The consistency of Doha’s double dealing should not have escaped the context in which one might view its current alliance with Iran.

Due to its small size, it is easy for Qatar to present itself as a victim of geography and an underdog hounded by larger states envious of its progress. All of this has been developed on an understanding what sort of tropes will be most happily gobbled up in the West. The myth of the underdog is always a favorite. The existing stereotypes of the Gulf as a group of countries perpetually spatting over issues of little significance is another. When there is a real crisis, these stereotypes can make or break the way the public perceives the narrative. The other states failed to put forward anything remotely as compelling, while also changing their story and tactics several times early on. Scandals related to assorted Republican operatives did not endear them to the public eye either.

But why the double standard? Why are nonsensical overtures between Nader and Broidy in their joint attempt to lobby the President against Qatar have been generating so much attention, while Qatar’s huge payouts to Iran and backing of various terrorist groups in Syria has gone by largely unnoticed? We could spend an inordinate amount of time discussing failed and successful PR strategies, but in terms of the Jewish community it all comes down to one issue: the largely right-leaning Jewish groups who were targeted by Doha’s campaign are torn by cognitive dissonance as a result of these geopolitical battles striking so close to home.

On the one hand, it’s hard to trust Qatar with its reputation for harboring terrorists and its crude methods. On the other hand, the very president who appears to be so anti-Islamic Republic, anti-Hamas, and so pro-Israel, praises Qatar for its progress, and does not make an issue out of the government feteing Qaradawi, or Al Jazeera’s anti-American, anti-Israel, and Anti-Semitic coverage. For these pro-Israel stalwarts, it may very well be that openly coming out against Qatar and its defenders en masse, would mean also coming out against the President of the United States, whom they regard as a friend. So at best, those who are aware of these developments are mostly silent, watching how this story will play itself out. The fact t hat many of these Jewish leaders took money to whitewash Doha speaks for itself, and there is no need to comment further on these individuals.

More worthwhile are the questions of how long will they continue to enjoy credibility of their supporters, who could potentially replace them, and what measures could be taken to prevent more innocent people from being snookered in the same way in the future? The culture of insecurity within the Jewish community – even those who deem themselves very secure, very confident in their Jewish identity, very pro-Western values etc – is not easy to overcome.   And after 8 years of the Obama administration, followed by a year and a half of hysterical caterwauling by increasingly radicalized and anti-Israel progressives, that mindset is easy to understand. Likewise, most people prefer not to be drawn into what they perceive as other people’s battles. At the end of the day, however, the Qatar controversy besmirches us all.

Qatar succeeded in sowing discord in the organized communal Jewish world – as if we don’t have enough divisions without Doha’s meddling. Worse, it has succeeded to portray influential Jews as greedy, ambitious sell outs, who will sell access to the President himself to outright enemies of the United States for a relatively small price. Thus Doha not only exploits anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and stereotypes, but helps perpetuate them, and arouse anti-Semitic sentiments and resentment in parts of the country. This development is unquestionably bad for the Jews. Any country or entity that engages in such divisiveness and views Jews as keys to the administration for sale, rather than allies and partners to engage with and build solid foundation for future relationships, is an enemy, not a friend.

Second, we should understand that the issue is far from over, in fact, it’s only the beginning. While Muzin and a few other token apologists have temporarily retreated from limelight until Qatar recovers from the Qaradawy PR fiasco, all the Jewish lobbyists, lawyers, and others who are professionally employed by Doha and who are not in danger of being swept up in lawsuits or investigations, continue to benefit the country’s agenda. Until there is a mass stigma attached to working with or for Qatar in any capacity, the Jewish community will continue to be the willing victim of Qatar’s scheming. But will a shaming campaign really work? Embarrassment alone will never be enough, particularly where there is a financial incentive. Instead, in order to change the attitude among the influencers in our midst, we should be able to present them with other opportunities, that do not include compromising their conscience for the sake of career success. Those who oppose Qatar’s malevolent agenda, should be identifying new potential relationships, alliances,, and sectors where those who have come to enjoy the benefits of working for Qatar (for the time being at least) could safely transition without feeling pressured or defensive. Guilt trips may be the favorite type of vacation for the Jewish community, but ultimately the positive incentives will be much more effective in moving away the massive lobbying efforts in other directions.

Qatar is spending a lot of money in the United States, but ultimately, it’s bent on destruction of its enemies, rather than on building honest, trustworthy, and productive relationships with friends. It’s campaigning, lobbying, attacking – but what is Doha building?

The essence of Judaism and Jewish culture is building, and creation, rather than destruction. Let us not become agents of chaos and annihilation, but rather catalysts of growth, empowerment, and a vision of positive coexistence and friendship with those who value us for who we are, not just for what we can get them.

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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