(photo credit: NASEEM ZEITOON/REUTERS)
Israel's ambassador to Washington advised American Jewish leaders not to meet with Qatar’s emir last fall during the Arab leader’s last visit to New York, but failed to dissuade them, Israeli sources confirmed to The Jerusalem Post this week.
Several Jewish-organization heads, including Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, were invited by Qatari officials in early September to meet with the nation’s leader as part of a wider Qatari campaign to forge relations with the American Jews.
But the Israeli government viewed Qatar’s effort with deep suspicion from the get-go. And when several leaders of US Jewish groups approached Israel’s ambassador, Ron Dermer, for his opinion on whether to meet with the emir, he encouraged them not to go.
According to an Israeli official, Dermer told them in September that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disapproved of the mission, but they met with the emir anyway.
“Obviously [the Qataris are] trying to alleviate the pressure on them[- selves] with this campaign,” the Israeli official said. “Some people [in the Arab world] think these Jews are going over there with our approval, and they are not.”
The Qatar meetings – which have continued ever since – come at a delicate diplomatic moment for Israel, as it attempts to build trust with Sunni Gulf nations embroiled in their own conflict with Doha.
Reached by the Post
, Dermer confirmed that “Israel is emphatically opposed to this outreach.”
At a meeting of the Conference of Presidents in Israel last week, Netanyahu pointedly singled out Qatar as one Gulf government whose outreach US leaders should avoid.
“There are constructive forces in the region – I think engaging them is very important,” Netanyahu told the group. “I think you’ve just seen some of those constructive forces in your visit to the Gulf. And, by the way, I’m definitely not talking about Qatar, but I am talking about the place where you just visited and many others. They want a better future for their people.”
In recent years, Doha has been a staunch supporter of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Qatar claims that it is sparing Israel another war by funneling “relief aid” to a Palestinian enclave nearing societal collapse.
Qatar’s sudden interest in pro-Israel circles appeared last fall, after Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other countries broke relations with Doha in June and accused the emirate of supporting terrorism. Qatar was isolated and flailing around for support, reaching out to Iran and also to Turkey where it has enjoyed unique support. Turkey sent soldiers to warn off any offensive.
The Gulf crisis led Qatar to seek out what seemed like strange bedfellows in the US Jewish community. But those who have dealt with the Qataris say it’s a more complex story. One of those familiar with the situation described himself as “second- to-none on pro-Israel credentials,” and said working with Qatar is “good work” that helps Israel. “Ultimately Qatar has been in bed with a lot of people,” but there “is an opportunity to move them in a pro-Israel direction and help them out of the crisis.”
That has resulted in a line of Jewish figures, including Zionist Organization of America leader Morton Klein and famed lawyer and author Alan Dershowitz making their way to Doha on flights paid for by the emirate. Dershowitz argued in a recent op-ed that it’s worthwhile listening to Qatar, while subjecting their claims to rigorous testing.Seth J. Frantzman contributed to this report.