Qatari Outreach to pro-Israel U.S. Groups Included Attempts to Stop anti-Hamas Bill in D.C.

Documents show that briefings to members of Congress highlighted Qatar’s supposed support among the right-wing American-Jewish community

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Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani attending a dinner at the Orsay Museum on the eve of the commemoration ceremony for Armistice Day, Paris, November 10, 2018.
Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani attending a dinner at the Orsay Museum on the eve of the commemoration ceremony for Armistice Day, Paris, November 10, 2018.Credit: \ BENOIT TESSIER/ REUTERS
Amir Tibon
Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON – Qatar used its recent outreach campaign to the Jewish-American community to fight against legislation that targeted sponsors of Hamas, documents filed with the U.S. Department of Justice show.

The documents filed by Nick Muzin – the lobbyist-attorney who was hired by Qatar last year to improve the Gulf state’s standing within the Jewish community – show a concerted effort to push back against legislation that could have led to sanctions against Qatar over its financial support for Hamas.

As part of the Qatari effort, members of Congress were presented with materials about Qatar’s newfound support among right-wing groups in the American-Jewish community.

Muzin, a former deputy chief of staff to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, was hired by Qatar in 2017 for a lobbying and public relations role. The emirate eventually paid his firm, Stonington Strategies, $300,000 a month for the work, which focused on creating ties between Qatar and leaders of pro-Israel right-wing organizations and policymakers in Washington. This came at a time when the emirate was facing a severe crisis because of attempts by Saudi Arabia to isolate it economically and diplomatically.

Muzin succeeded in bringing the leader of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein, to Qatar last January. Pastor Mike Huckabee, a prominent Christian Zionist and the father of White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, also visited Qatar the same month.

Official documents filed by Muzin with the Justice Department earlier this year, detailing his work as a foreign agent of Qatar, show one area his work focused on was a piece of legislation called the Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act.

This proposed legislation, officially marked HR 2712, was first proposed by Reps. Brian Mast (Republican of Florida) and Josh Gottheimer (Democrat of New Jersey), with the support of Rep. Ed Royce (Republican of California), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

A Palestinian Hamas government employee waiting to receives 60 percent of their salary after $15 million arrived from Qatar, Gaza City, November 9, 2018. Credit: Adel Hana,AP

The legislation would place sanctions on countries and institutions that provide financial support for Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian terror organizations. If it became law, it would create significant problems for Qatar, which is widely seen as the main funder of Hamas’ government in the Gaza Strip.

It should be noted that Qatar’s support of Hamas is currently being conducted with the blessing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in Jerusalem. Just last week, Israel helped Qatar send $15 million into Gaza to pay Hamas civil servants’ salaries, as part of a regional deal supported by Egypt.

The anti-Hamas legislation was first introduced in D.C. in May 2017. A month later, though, Qatar was isolated by its neighbors in the Gulf region over its ties to Iran. A short time after that, Qatar began working with Muzin’s PR firm.

The country’s hiring of Muzin – an Orthodox Jew with right-wing political views – came as a surprise to many in Washington. Yet Mideast experts said that in light of Qatar’s regional isolation in the summer of 2017, and its fear that the Trump administration would support Saudi Arabia’s attempts to isolate the emirate, it made sense for the Qatari leadership to try to improve its standing in D.C. by appealing to one of the most pro-Trump constituencies in the United States: right-wing, pro-Israel groups.

However, the documents filed by Muzin reveal that his work for Qatar was broader than just introducing the emirate to prominent figures in the American-Jewish community. They also show briefings that were prepared for members of Congress about potential visits to Qatar.

Those briefings contain lengthy explanations about why the anti-Hamas bill was problematic and would harm American-Qatari relations and, by extension, the U.S. economy.

One briefing stated that the legislation “jeopardizes both ongoing and potential business relations between the U.S. and Qatar. Nearly all U.S. investment in Qatar would be drastically affected by the legislation, unnecessarily jeopardizing the strong relationship enjoyed by Qatar and the United States.”

That briefing and others similar to it included articles – some published in Haaretz – about Qatar’s outreach to the American-Jewish community. These were cited as proof of the emirate’s attempts to become more moderate and play a constructive role in the region.

The January 21 Haaretz story about Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein's trip to Qatar.Credit: Haaretz

One specific article attached to the briefing was an interview with ZOA President Klein, published by Haaretz last January. In it, he discussed his trip to Qatar, which was initiated by Muzin and funded by the emirate. Klein said the Qataris chose to focus their outreach on groups affiliated with the right who were supportive of Trump’s policy toward Israel. “They didn’t invite people from J Street, Americans for Peace Now or the Reform Movement,” he said in the interview. “I think it’s interesting.”

Klein also told Haaretz at the time that he went to the Emirate to speak with the Emir about antisemitism on Al Jazeera and to push Qatar to distance itself from Iran.

Qatar also reportedly donated $100,000 to ZOA through Muzin’s business partner, Joey Allaham. Klein announced earlier this year that he was returning the donation and breaking off ties with Qatar, after reaching the conclusion that the emirate wasn’t truly willing to change its views on the Jewish state.

It’s unclear what impact Qatar’s lobbying against HR 2712 had on the legislation’s fate. Still, ever since it was approved by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs last year, the legislation hasn’t made any progress.

Right-wing pro-Israel groups are currently preparing another attempt to promote the legislation. For example, the Middle East Forum has been circulating a letter since last week, asking other organizations to express their support for it.

MEF Director Gregg Roman told Haaretz that ZOA is going to support the legislation ­– signaling the end of its relationship with Qatar. He commended ZOA and Klein for adopting that position, adding that other Jewish leaders who traveled to Qatar as part of the emirate’s outreach campaign should also support HR 2712.

Klein told Haaretz on Monday that he indeed supports the legislation. He also said that his group returned the donation it received from Qatar through Joey Allaham immediately after Muzin’s FARA filing got published.

Two questions currently remain unanswered about the legislation: How will the results of last week’s midterm elections affect the issue? And what will Israel’s government say about a bill that could put an end to Qatar’s financial support of Hamas, at a time when Jerusalem is allowing the emirate to send money to the Gaza Strip in the hope that it could lead to calm in the region?

The parties involved declined to give Haaretz an official response for this story.

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