Top US Jewish leader bargains with Qatar for lives of missing Israelis in Gaza

Malcolm Hoenlein, who is close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has long maintained covert contacts with Arab and Muslim countries.

Malcolm Hoenlein (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Malcolm Hoenlein
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
With the apparent knowledge of the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, prominent American Jewish organizational leader Malcolm Hoenlein has been holding secret talks with Qatar in an effort to retrieve two Israeli citizens and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers being held in the Gaza Strip, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
Hoenlein, the veteran executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, was in Qatar a few weeks ago where he met with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Hoenlein later told associates that during the meeting he brought up the issue of the missing Israelis.
In response to the report, Hoenlein issued the following statement: “As a rule, I do not comment on my contacts with Arab and Muslim leaders as well as others which are particularly sensitive, because trust and confidentiality are critical to developing the relationship and achieving the goals we seek. For many years we have been involved in efforts to assist in the return or recovery of MIAs or others who were in hostile hands. We have done the same for endangered Jews in other parts of the world. We are not negotiators nor intermediaries, but representatives of the American Jewish community seeking to be of assistance on these humanitarian issues. In regard to my recent visit to Qatar, a reference was made to the involvement of the Prime Minister’s Office which was not the case. The reference in the article to other initiatives in this regard are to the best of my knowledge also not accurate, and they did not receive the ‘blessing’ of the Prime Minister’s Office.”
The veteran Jewish leader is close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and has for years maintained covert contacts with Arab and Muslim countries, regularly meeting with the heads of state of Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and other Middle Eastern countries.
In addition to leaders of Qatar, Hoenlein has also asked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to use his influence over Hamas to try to secure the return of the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul as well as two Israeli citizens – Avera Mengistu and Hisham Abu-Sayid – who are being held in the Gaza Strip.
In 2011, Hoenlein traveled to Damascus, where he met with President Bashar Assad and reportedly delivered a message to the Syrian leader from Netanyahu.
News about Hoenlein’s contacts with Qatar comes just weeks after the Post revealed that another group of Jewish leaders, including Menachem Genack, an Orthodox rabbi and the head of the Orthodox Union’s (OU) Kashrut Division, secretly visited the small Gulf state.
The trip was organized by Nick Muzin, a prominent Jewish Republican operative who is on retainer to the Persian Gulf nation to help it facilitate ties with the American Jewish community.
The Post has learned that at the same time as Genack’s visit, Martin Oliner – a former mayor of Lawrence, New York, and the president of the Religious Zionists of America – also visited Qatar. Oliner told the Post that he was in Qatar to attend a legal conference and to visit the US air base there.
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, led by Saudi Arabia. Al Jazeera, which is owned and financed by Qatar, was recently banned from broadcasting in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and Netanyahu has also threatened to ban the news station from broadcasting in Israel.
Israel is particularly upset with Qatar over its continued support of Hamas.
For years, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal has found refuge in Qatar alongside other top members of the terrorist organization, which the Gulf state has funded, as it has the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. In addition, Qatar has aligned itself with Iran, which currently supplies it with a significant percentage of its food supplies, after Saudi Arabia cut off the country’s only land crossing in June.
While the Prime Minister’s Office was made aware of Hoenlein’s contacts with Doha, this does not mean that Israel approves of it or of Muzin’s work. In September, when Muzin reportedly hinted to some American Jewish leaders that the Prime Minister’s Office had given its blessing to the work he was doing with Qatar, Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer told Forbes magazine that it was not true.