Opinion

What Really Turned ZOA's Mort Klein From a Preacher Against Qatar to Its Propagandist?

The Mort I used to know, sometimes a lone ideologically honest voice on the Jewish community's far right, said only a few years ago Qatar backed 'Nazi-like organizations that want to kill every Jew.' Now he's touring Doha and defending funders of terror. What happened?

Morton Klein attends a hearing on moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, Capitol Hill, Washington, November 8, 2017.
TASOS KATOPODIS/AFP

I’ve known Mort Klein, the Zionist Organization of America’s longtime national president, for at least 25 years, dating to my days on the Bill Clinton White House communications team. Throughout the years, we have disagreed much more often than not, but always had a friendly relationship.

I can say confidently and respectfully that Mort was always ideologically honest - and to an ideology I rarely held. He consistently held firm to his conservative positions on Israel and what he perceived as threats by the Palestinians, Hamas, Hezbollah and Middle Eastern countries that he believed support terrorism, sometimes standing alone on the far right.

Among those countries he has been particularly tough on over the years is Qatar. In 2014, the ZOA blasted the Brookings Institution for accepting funding from the Persian Gulf nation, with Mort calling Qatar "a leading supporter of radical Islamic organizations, not least Hamas."

He went on to say: "When a radical Islamic regime like Qatar gives millions of dollars to a Washington think tank, it doesn’t do so out of a laudable dedication to advance scholarly research and inform the American public about the dangers of radical Islam, it does so to help influence U.S. foreign policy in a direction favorable to the radical Islamic orientation of Qatar. This is surely obvious." (Yes, Mort, it is.)

Later that year, ZOA urged the State Department to designate Qatar as a state sponsor of terrorism, with Mort saying it sponsored, funded and promoted "Nazi-like organizations that want to kill every Jew."

Mort’s criticisms of Qatar continued. Last June, ZOA urged the Trump administration to cancel Qatar Airways’ license to fly into the United States because of Qatar’s support for terrorism. In September, ZOA issued a press release saying that Mort would decline an invitation to a "highly confidential" meeting in New York with Qatar’s emir and crown prince. Stating the reasons for his refusal, he cited "Qatar’s support for Hamas and Islamic terrorism and its TV station Al-Jazeera for promoting hatred and violence against Jews and Israel."

(The organizers of these would-be meetings whispered that if Jewish leaders such as Mort would only agree to the meetings, the Qatari emir himself would lean on Hamas to release the bodies of dead Israeli soldiers being held. To his added credit, this was said to only further alienate the likes of Mort, as well it should have.)

Qatar, he continued, "may be trying to create the optical illusion of Jewish support to moderate their image by hiring a well-connected PR firm and by having "secret" meetings with Jewish leaders - which of course won’t be a secret, as the whole reason for the meetings may be for the Qataris to point to them as evidence that the "Jews" (and thus Israel) don’t view them as enemies."

Clockwise from top left: Alan Dershowitz, Malcolm Hoenlein, Morton Klein, Jack Rosen, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, and Ron Dermer.
AP Photo/Steven Senne, ourtesy Conference of Presidents, TASOS KATOPODIS/AFP, Dan Keinan, AP, PERRY BINDELGLASS

If he had asked me, that’s exactly the advice I would have given him.

So, how is it that just two months later a former Qatari diplomat and current head of Qatar Investments would attend ZOA’s big fundraising dinner ("Anyone who pays $700 comes to the dinner," Mort said) and two months after that, Mort would visit Doha on an all-expense-paid trip?

Surely, Mort can’t be bought with free airfare and lodging, along with some pyjamas, "the softest I ever felt."

Mort, of course, insists that he accepted the trip to gather information and to speak truth to power. "When an Arab leader asks the head of a Jewish organization to come make a case for what we would like to see happen, it’s really my mission, and it’s ZOA’s mission, to fight for the Jewish people," he said, noting he distributed to those he met copies of a 50-page report demanding changes from Qatar.

That’s all well and good, but what Mort really did was set himself up as a poster child for the Qataris. And since his trip, all the Qataris and their paid agents in the West have done is hold Mort up as an example of someone who’s for them who used to be against them.

But they haven’t stopped funding Hamas. They haven’t stopped funding the Muslim Brotherhood or the Al Nusra Front. They haven’t deported all those Hamas terrorists living comfortably in exile in Qatar.

The newsroom at the headquarters of the Qatar-based and funded Al Jazeera English-language channel in Doha. February 7, 2011
REUTERS

And they certainly haven’t shut down Al Jazeera, made its coverage more balanced or less anti-Israel, anti-American or anti-Semitic, or registered its U.S. reporters as the foreign agents they truly are.

They’ve done nothing to stop AJ’s outrageously state-sponsored espionage against pro-Israel activists on U.S. soil here in Washington, D.C. And the Israeli Embassy in D.C. issued a rare statement specifically condemning Qatar’s PR push around the Jewish community.

So, Mort, what’s going on? What are you thinking? What happened to the old Mort Klein I used to know?

Steve Rabinowitz is the president and a founder of Bluelight Strategies, a Washington DC strategic communications firm, and a former Bill Clinton White House press aide.Twitter: @steverabinowitz

Bluelight Strategies has worked with Qatari opposition leaders and advised Jewish groups, Democratic congresspeople and Washington think-tanks regarding strategy on Qatar.