Jerusalem doubts Indyk’s institute after Qatar funding reports

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September 8, 2014 06:21

Brookings think tank is home to former Middle East envoy; Arab state’s four-year donation totals $14.8m.

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Martin Indyk. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Israeli government officials on Sunday questioned the impartiality of the prestigious Brookings Institution, the past and present employer of former US Middle East envoy Martin Indyk, following a New York Times report Sunday revealing that Qatar is a major contributor to that think tank.

“Qatar has been a major bankroller for Hamas and other terrorist organizations,” one government official said. “The fact that the same Qatari government is also a major provider of funds for a respectable Washington think tank raises a whole series of questions about that think tank’s relationships and impartiality.”

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According to the Times report, Qatar – the single biggest foreign donor to Brookings, which gets 12 percent of its funds from foreign sources – agreed in 2013 to make a $14.8 million, four-year donation to the institution.

Among the questions this has raised in Jerusalem is the degree to which the institute can impartially draw up papers relating to Qatar, such as its role in the Middle East and the financing of terror organizations.

Qatar is Hamas’s main financial backer.

According to the report, “more than a dozen prominent Washington research groups have received tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments in recent years while pushing United States government officials to adopt policies that often reflect the donors’ priorities.”

Despite constant media chatter about how the “Israel Lobby” dominates Washington, Israel was not among the 56 countries listed in a graphic as contributing funds to nine major think tanks, such as Brookings, the Atlantic Council, the Center for Global Development, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Middle East Institute and the German Marshall Fund of the US.

There were, however, nine other Middle East countries on that list of givers.

The report said in addition to Qatar, other major foreign donors to Brookings are the United Arab Emirates and Norway.

Indyk, who took leave from Brookings to serve as the US special Middle East envoy during the nine months of unsuccessful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that ended in April, returned to the think tank after the negotiations failed and is currently its vice president and director of the Foreign Policy Program.

“Our business is to influence policy with scholarly, independent research, based on objective criteria; and to be policy-relevant, we need to engage policy-makers,” he told the Times.

After stepping down as Middle East envoy, Indyk – in speeches and interviews – was highly critical of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and placed a large share of the blame for the breakdown of the talks on the prime minister’s shoulders.

In a recent interview with Foreign Policy magazine about the Gaza conflict, Indyk said US President Barack Obama became “enraged” with Israeli criticism of US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Indyk said Gaza has had a “very negative” impact on the US-Israel relationship.

“There’s a lot of strain in the relationship now. The personal relationship between the president and the prime minister has been fraught for some time and it’s become more complicated by recent events.”

Qatar is by no means the only funder of programs at Brookings. In 2002 American-Israeli film and television producer Haim Saban donated some $13 million to the institute to set up the Saban Center for Middle East Policy. In July the Saban name was dropped from the title, with the director – Tamara Coffman Wittes – writing on the center's website that the Brookings partnership with the Saban Family Foundation was entering a “new phase.” The Saban Foundation and Brookings, she wrote, would continue to work together on the annual Saban Forum dealing with the US-Israel relationship.  

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