Qatari Foreign Minister on U.S. Jewish Groups Visiting: 'We're Building Good Relations'

In response to a question from Haaretz about requests by U.S. Jewish leaders to change Al Jazeera's coverage of Israel, the Foreign Minister says Qatar's government 'should not interfere in the media'

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani attends the U.S. Qatar Strategic Dialogue at the State Department, Washington, January 30, 2018.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP

WASHINGTON – Qatar’s foreign minister reacted publicly on Thursday to the recent wave of visits by leaders of U.S. Jewish organizations to his country at the invitation of the ruling Emir. In reply to a question from Haaretz on the subject, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani confirmed the visits and said his country does not discriminate on the basis of religion or ethnicity. “All of them are welcome and we are building good relations with them,” he added.

Al-Thani spoke at an event hosted by the American Enterprise Institute focused on the crisis in the Gulf and the partial blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia on his country. He is visiting Washington this week as part of a senior Qatari delegation holding strategic talks with the Trump administration. Al-Thani said the conversations were positive and that Qatar has “a strong alliance” with the United States, including with the current administration. Qatar and the United States recently completed a memorandum of understanding on combating terrorism and extremism

All of the Jewish and pro-Israeli figures who recently visited Qatar or met with its Emir in New York raised the issue of how Al Jazeera, the international television network owned by Qatar, is covering Israel. For years now, Israeli officials have been accusing Al Jazeera of inciting violence and spreading anti-Semitism – accusations that the network has strongly denied. 

In response to a question from Haaretz whether Qatar gave any assurances to U.S. Jewish leaders regarding Al Jazeera's coverage of Israel and the Palestinians, Al-Thani stated that Qatar’s constitution forbids the government from interfering in the media. He did, however, say that “there are clear mechanisms” should Al Jazeera’s content contain hate speech or incitement, adding that the network “should comply with the international standards and with any code of conduct.” According to Al-Thani, anyone filing a complaint about the network to government bodies will obtain “a just result.”

Al-Thani mentioned the fact that last year, Britain's television regulator rejected complaints filed against Al Jazeera for a documentary series it broadcast about the so-called Israel lobby in Britain. “In fact,” he said, “there were some complaints filed against Al Jazeera in the United Kingdom and it's [been] proven that Al Jazeera follows the professional standards. We are not questioning the content of Al Jazeera.” 

Regarding the Gulf crisis, Al-Thani said that the U.S. should increase its involvement in putting an end to the conflict between Qatar and its neighbors. He called a recent gathering of the Gulf countries, which failed to lead to a breakthrough, “a missed opportunity” to end the crisis. Ending on a positive note, he added that the “silver lining” of the situation has been Qatar’s ability “to show its resilience and survive under siege.”

With regards to the memorandum of understanding signed with the U.S., which came under criticism from members of Congress of both parties because of Qatar's ties to Hamas and other terror groups, Al-Thani stated that “Qatar agrees with the U.S. that terrorism must not only be destroyed through military efforts, but also by lifting up the oppressed with visions of openness, hope, and lasting social transformations.”

In recent months, Qatar has begun a public relations effort to reach out to the U.S. Jewish community and to pro-Israel figures, particularly on the right wing. Figures such as New York attorney Alan Dershowitz, Zionist Organization of America president Morton Klein, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Conference of Presidents vice chairman Malcolm Hoenlein and others have all visited Qatar and met with its senior leadership. 

On Wednesday, Haaretz reported that the Israeli embassy in Washington is not fond of the Qatari outreach. Israel cooperates with Qatar on some issues in the Palestinian arena, such as rebuilding Gaza and improving the Palestinian economy, but it also has complained over the past years about Qatar's support of Hamas and the content broadcast on Al Jazeera. A spokesperson for the Israeli embassy said that “we oppose this reachout,” and added that anyone who says it has won the blessing of ambassador Ron Dermer “is not telling the truth.”