NEW YORK - Despite growing tension between the United States, Israel and Qatar, a small group of Jewish leaders is currently visiting the Gulf state in what appears to be an attempt to open a dialogue aimed at advancing a possible prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas, The Jerusalem Post has learned.The senior rabbinic figure on the delegation is Menachem Genack, an Orthodox rabbi and the head of the Orthodox Union’s (OU) Kashrut Division. The trip was organized by Nick Muzin, a prominent Jewish Republican operative who is on retainer by the Persian Gulf nation to establish ties with the American Jewish community. The group is scheduled to meet with the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.Allen Fagin, the OU’s Executive Vice President, said that Genack’s visit was private and was not connected to his work with the Jewish organization.“Rabbi Genack is traveling in his personal capacity as a private individual and this trip is not under the auspices of the OU,” Fagin told the Post.Genack made news during the last election when he came out against Donald Trump and openly supported Hillary Clinton for president.The Post has also learned that the delegation’s trip to Qatar this week comes on the heels of a visit Prince Mohammed, the Emir’s brother, made to New York last month during which he also tried to meet with influential Jews.Muzin is reportedly being paid $50,000 a month for the outreach work which appears to be aimed at deflecting calls to isolate the country due to its ties with Iran and support of radical Islamic groups. While Qatar is officially a US ally and home to an American air base, it is locked in a tug of war with Sunni states. Al Jazeera, which is owned and financed by Qatar, was recently banned from broadcasting Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.An observant Jew, Muzin is seen as an up-and-coming star in the Republican Party and has worked in the past as a senior adviser to Senators Ted Cruz and Tim Scott.On Friday, before leaving the US, Genack was asked about the trip by the Post. "I don't to comment on anything related to Qatar", he said in a phone conversation. In another phone conversation, Muzin asked the Post to write an email with the questions related to the visit but did not reply to the two emails sent to him.Although there have never been official diplomatic relations between Israel and Qatar, like with most Arab countries, the two states have had unofficial contacts. However, even these ties have been on the rocks in recent years over the country’s open support for Hamas. In 2007, then-Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayyad told the US Treasury’s Under Secretary for terrorism that Qatar provides “more support to fundamentalists than Kuwait or Saudi Arabia.” Until recently, Qatar was also home to Hamas’s top leadership, including Khaled Mashal.In recent months, there have been reports that Qatar is trying to mediate a deal between Israel and Hamas that would lead to the return of the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin – captured by Hamas during the Gaza War of 2014 - as well as Israeli civilians Avraham Mengistu and Juma Ibrahim Abu Anima who strayed into Gaza respectively in 2014 and 2016.The head of a prominent Jewish organization in the US familiar with Genack’s visit to Qatar said that Muzin had invited leaders of Jewish organizations to a meeting with the Emir of Qatar when he was in New York for the United Nations General Assembly in September, but that the leaders had declined.“There were serious concerns at the time about holding the meeting due to the ties of Qatar and Hamas,” the leader said.
Another executive of a Jewish organization, who knew of the trip, defended Genack’s visit and said that in contrast to the meeting in September which would have been an “official meeting,” this was a private visit with “no official recognition.”
Qatar donated $12 million of fuel to offset Gaza power shortage (credit: REUTERS)