What is Qatar doing in Gaza?

The emir of Qatar last week became the first head of state to visit the Gaza Strip since the terrorist group Hamas took over the territory in 2007. The move is being seen as a breakthrough in ending the isolation of the Hamas government.

The emir made a pledge of $400 million to the Hamas government and Hamas’s long-time leader, Khaled Mashal, is now based in Qatar.

Qatar’s outreach to Hamas has many observers speculating. The move may be an effort to challenge Iran, as Qatar also works to support the move to overthrow Bashar Assad in Syria. The move may also be meant to catalyze the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood, or it may be all of the above. Experts will debate this.

It is not debatable, however, that this is awful symbolism, in light of the fact that Qatar was recently awarded the 2022 World Cup. That’s right: The most popular sporting event in the world will take place in this radical Islamist fiefdom by the Gulf. Its leader is hosting and visiting one of the world’s worst terrorist organizations.

And nobody is raising an eyebrow.

Supporters of Israel should make this a cause now. We are rightly concerned with defending Israel against boycott efforts, “apartheid walls” on campus, and slanderous Palestinian motions at the United Nations.  But there are times when we need to go on the offense. Now should be one of those times.

The emir’s visit happens to come at a very perilous time in Israel. The rockets from Hamas territory have increased exponentially in recent weeks. Over 80 rockets have fallen in southern Israel over the last week. Twelve rockets landed in Israel Sunday night from the Gaza Strip. Twenty came in Monday morning.

Meanwhile, by positioning itself as the closest ally of Hamas — rockets landing in Jewish towns notwithstanding — Qatar is raising its profile on the regional and global stage. In that same vain, it is involved in supporting the opposition in Syria. The World Cup is the cultural side of this new Qatari effort on the international stage.

It is appalling that FIFA would allow itself to be put in this kind of company, even if the road to the Qatar World Cup was paved with good intentions.

The head of Qatar’s World Cup committee posited his bid for the cup as an “opportunity for greater understanding and unity between the Arab and western worlds.” When Qatar eventually won the bid in 2010, FIFA President Sepp Blatter said “the Arab world deserves a World Cup.”

So much for “greater understanding.”

This feels like Part 2 of the debacle at this summer’s London Olympics, where the International Olympic Committee refused the request of the Israeli delegation to hold a moment of silence for the fortieth anniversary of the massacre of Israel’s athletes at the 1972 Olympics. While the games are supposed to remain apolitical, the Olympic committee refused a simple moment of silence in the face of political pressure from the Arab world.

For this future World Cup, surely, there will be those who support Qatar’s host status for the same reason, while claiming to be apolitical. But it is the host nation that is using its status to play politics. Indeed, it is helping a terrorist organization raise its status to that of a political entity. The World Cup lends the effort legitimacy.

There will surely be those in the West who defend FIFA’s decision as apolitical. By doing so, they will just be failing to speak out for basic human decency. Hamas is an organization currently shooting rockets into civilian areas. Qatar is a country where homosexuality is a criminal offense and conversion from Islam to another religion is a capital offense.

It is interesting that FIFA, which has been holding an ongoing anti-racism campaign for the past 10 years, chose to hold its World Cup there.

A demand that Qatar change its behavior, and a threat to boycott the cup, would be appropriate. A call for a boycott of the Qatar games from Western countries at the United Nations or in their parliaments would be a powerful message, even if it does not succeed.

It is time that supporters of Israel start demanding fair treatment. A campaign against Qatar’s actions is an opportunity to expose the savage behavior of Israel’s enemies.

There are few times that we have the opportunity to go on the offense. Now is that time and we should take it.

About the Author
Alan Levine is the Managing Director of Hasbara Fellowships and is based in Los Angeles.