WASHINGTON – Qatar’s leaders have assured Jewish-American organizations that Al Jazeera’s documentary on the Israel lobby in the United States will not be aired, five sources in pro-Israel circles in Washington told Haaretz.
The sources said the Qatari leaders gave their assurance in late 2017 not to air “The Israel Lobby,” a move that was part of the emirate’s campaign to improve its image in the American Jewish community.
Last week a number of pro-Israel organizations in the United States received letters from Al Jazeera informing them that their employees would appear in the documentary.
The film is based on the work of an undercover reporter who gained access to pro-Israel organizations in 2016 and videotaped their employees at work. The documentary is similar to one that Al Jazeera aired last year on Britain’s Israel lobby. Al Jazeera gave the organizations three weeks to reply to their quotes that will appear in the film.
Last week’s letters caught the organizations by surprise amid rumors in recent months that Qatar’s leaders would block Al Jazeera from showing the film. Haaretz has confirmed that Qatar indeed made such an assurance months ago, but in light of the letters sent by Al Jazeera last week, it was not clear if the Qataris would adhere to it.
Last October, Al Jazeera acknowledged that it had sent an undercover reporter into pro-Israel organizations in Washington. The announcement followed a ruling by the British media regulator Ofcom, which rejected complaints against Al Jazeera’s film on the British Israel lobby and said the work was not misleading or anti-Semitic.
The announcement of an upcoming report on the U.S. Israel lobby came only two months after Qatar hired Nick Muzin, a Washington lobbyist and former adviser to Texas Senator Ted Cruz, for improving the emirate’s standing in the United States, particularly in the Jewish community.
Muzin began arranging meetings between the country’s leaders and leaders of Jewish American organizations. There, the Qataris rejected that they supported Hamas and other terror organizations, and touted their cooperation with Israel on rebuilding Gaza following the 2014 war.
Shortly after Al Jazeera announced that the new documentary would be shown, Jewish-community officials asked Muzin to see if he could use his ties with the Qataris to stop the airing. One of them, Noah Pollak, a political consultant working with a number of pro-Israel groups, warned Muzin that if the documentary were broadcast as planned, it would sink his efforts to improve Qatar’s image with U.S. Jews.
Muzin brought up the issue with the Qataris and by late October received verbal assurance that the film would not be aired. No written assurance was provided, and only a few people were informed of the agreement. One source told Haaretz that the Qatari emir himself helped make the decision.
Muzin and Pollak declined to comment for this article, and no comment was received from Al Jazeera by the time of publication.
Since late October there had been no new reports about the Al Jazeera documentary – until the letters arrived last week.
Meanwhile, Muzin’s work for the Qataris expanded. In January he helped arrange visits to the emirate by renowned New York attorney Alan Dershowitz, Zionist Organization of America President Mort Klein and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who is known as a strong supporter of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Dershowitz and Klein said their flights were paid for by Qatar, and Klein told Haaretz that he brought up Al Jazeera’s coverage of Israel during a two-hour meeting with the emir. Other Jewish leaders who visited Doha in recent months also asked senior Qatari officials if they could change Al Jazeera’s negative coverage of Israel.
When Muzin’s company, Stonington Strategies, was first hired by the Qataris in the summer, it was reportedly receiving $50,000 a month for Muzin’s work. Recent filings to the Justice Department, however, show that starting on November 1, Stonington’s monthly payment from the Qataris jumped to $300,000 – half of which was reserved for “contractors” working for the company on the Qatari project.
Last week a Qatari delegation visited Washington as part of a strategic dialogue between Qatar and the Trump administration. Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani held an event at the American Enterprise Institute where he was asked by Haaretz about the Jewish-American leaders’ request to change Al Jazeera’s Israel coverage.
“Regarding Al Jazeera coverage, in Qatar’s constitution it’s very clear that the government should not interfere in the media,” he replied. “But Al Jazeera also should comply with the international standards and with any code of conduct. And there are clear mechanisms if anyone is complaining about Al Jazeera coverage.”
The foreign minister also mentioned the Ofcom ruling in favor of the network, adding that “there were some complaints been filed against Al Jazeera in the United Kingdom and it’s been proved that Al Jazeera followed the professional standards.”
In recent days, after the letters from Al Jazeera arrived, some of the pro-Israel organizations asked Muzin to see if his assurances from the Qataris had turned out false, or if Al Jazeera was acting independently without consent from Qatar’s leaders. Muzin told them he was discussing the issue with the Qataris and didn’t think the film would be broadcast in the near future.