Why Is Alan Dershowitz Defending Qatar?
I was mystified that a colleague I greatly admire, Professor Alan Dershowitz, became the latest Jewish junketeer to succumb to the lure of a free visit to Qatar and parrot the emirate’s propaganda. It is bizarre that someone so renowned for fighting antisemitism and a hero to so many — myself included — would publish such a poorly-argued piece in The Hill defending the principal funder of Hamas.
Professor Dershowitz is known for sometimes working for unsavory characters based on the attorney’s mantra that the US Constitution guarantees everyone a fair trial and the right to a defense. I do not disagree that this is sometimes necessary. The emir of Qatar, however, is not an American citizen, and is not entitled to these protections. He is, in fact, a dictator who the State Department Human Rights Report says “prohibited organized political parties and restricted civil liberties, including freedoms of speech, press, and assembly and access to a fair trial for persons held under the Protection of Society Law and the Combating Terrorism Law.” The report also says that women’s participation in society is limited by “cultural discrimination,” and that “trafficking in persons” is an ongoing problem.
These are all the human rights abuses that Dershowitz normally fights against. So why would he defend such an unsavory regime?
By far the most outrageous comment Alan made, however, was that “Qatar is quickly becoming the Israel of the Gulf States, surrounded by enemies, subject to boycotts and unrealistic demands, and struggling for its survival.”
This is an absolutely shocking statement that must be rebutted.
He is comparing Israel — a democracy — with an autocratic regime that has exercised “full executive power” since 1868 and whose constitution “provides for hereditary rule by men in the emir’s branch of the Al Thani family.”
He says that Qatar, which is surrounded not by genocidal enemies, but by Arab/Islamic countries engaged in a temporary political dispute, is similar to Israel, which has fought multiple wars of survival with its neighbors and remains threatened by Islamic radicals, terrorists and countries such as Iran, which regularly threaten its annihilation.
He compares the boycott of Qatar, which is only maintained by its neighbor Gulf States based on their unhappiness with the emirate’s policies and support of terrorism, with the international antisemitic campaign to boycott Israel based on its sheer Jewish existence.
Dershowitz claims Qatar, ranked the richest per capita country on the planet by Forbes, with no one threatening its existence, is struggling for survival like Israel, a country that has been threatened with genocide by terrorists and neighboring states for nearly 70 years.
I am in shock.
In an effort to appear tough on the Qataris, he says that he asked them about all the allegations made against them– and they have declared themselves innocent of all charges. I doubt that Dershowitz is this naïve when defending clients who also declare their innocence. He makes Qatar sound like some pathetic victim of crimes committed by bullies. He complains that the Saudis are leading the campaign to boycott “their tiny neighboring state,” and that asserts this is immoral and illegal. One may always question the morality of blockades, but they are not illegal in wartime. They are a recognized tactic in economic and shooting wars. Israel and Egypt are currently blockading Gaza, which is justified because of the threat posed by terrorist leaders committed to Israel’s destruction.
Those same Hamas terrorists have been receiving financial support from Qatar; this has allowed them to continue to manufacture rockets to fire at Israelis, and tunnels to infiltrate Israel and kidnap or murder Jews. Dershowitz raised the issue with his hosts, who reportedly told him that they were only providing aid to build homes, schools and hospitals. Are you kidding me? Wasn’t it Dershowitz himself who published the 2014 book, Terror Tunnels: The Case for Israel’s Just War Against Hamas.
Alan rightly noted that “money is fungible and that funds given for humanitarian purposes can then free Hamas to use other funds to support terrorism.” The Qatari response was that their activities are “coordinated” with Israel. He admitted that he could not confirm this, but found their case more credible than that of the Saudis. But it is not only the Saudis who have accused Qatar of supporting Hamas.
Instead, their support for Hamas is well documented. In 2007, Qatar was one of the only countries to support the coup that allowed Hamas to seize control of the Gaza Strip from the Palestinian Authority. In 2012, Qatar pledged $400 million to support “reconstruction” in Gaza, and has been the largest single donor to Gaza for the past five years. Qatar also has provided a haven to Hamas terrorists, including members of the group’s leadership.
Republican Congressmen Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Dan Donovan of New York wrote an op-ed a few weeks ago, noting that “Qatar is the master of playing all sides.” They said that the emirate’s strategy is to “pursue good relations with the United States, make false promises about combating terror, lavishly fund western universities and business projects — all while quietly financing and promoting terror, allying with Iran, and leveraging an American air base as an insurance policy against punishment for promoting terror.”
Qatar’s duplicity is one reason that the country has been targeted by Congress. The Palestinian International Terrorism Support Prevention Act, introduced late last year, would impose sanctions on countries that support Hamas and extremist terror operations. The proposed legislation had an almost immediate impact. According to Ed Royce (R-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee: “When the bill was introduced, Qatar was hosting senior Hamas terrorist Saleh Al-Arouri after being expelled in 2016 from Turkey. Two weeks after this legislation was introduced, he, along with other Hamas terrorists, was expelled from Qatar.”
The Qataris told Dershowitz that the United States told them to allow the Hamas leaders to live in Doha. This seems preposterous, especially given that President Trump complained about Qatar funding terror “on [a] very high level,” and said during his trip to the region that funding for radical ideologies had to stop. Dershowitz’s lawyerly response to his hosts’ assertion, like several of the others, was that these “factual issues should be subject to objective verification.”
Dershowitz also seemed to swallow the ridiculous argument that Qatar has improved ties with Iran out of necessity — because of the boycott imposed by its Gulf neighbors. One reason for the boycott was Qatar siding with the radical Shiite regime in Tehran over their Sunni neighbors, who are being threatened by Iran. They were not forced into the arms of the Iranians; they voluntarily embraced them.
Dershowitz’s defense of Al Jazeera is particularly galling. I understand that he is a believer of freedom of speech. But Al Jazeera‘s all-consuming defamation of Israel is hate speech. He claimed that the English channel is “generally fair.” It is certainly not fair to Israel — which it has accused of “ethnic cleansing” and “mass atrocities” against Palestinian Arabs. Israel has threatened to ban the network because of its incitement. Even the United Arab Emirates said that Al Jazeera had “promoted antisemitic violence by broadcasting sermons by the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Yusuf al-Qaradawi.”
It is astonishing that Alan Dershowitz — a man I deeply respect for his principles and defense of Israel — has allowed himself to become a mouthpiece for Qatar. The fact that someone of Dershowitz’s stature would come back from his visit, which he admits was entirely funded by the government of Qatar, parroting its views only emboldens the Qataris to persist in the tactic of offering Jews free propaganda trips and hiring more Jewish operatives, like Nick Muzin, to whitewash their support of terror.
If the Qataris are so worried about their reputation and their survival, however, they would be better advised to stop supporting terrorism and sever ties with Iran, rather than continue to seek out influential Jews whom they think can help them end their isolation. Let’s pray that more Jewish leaders aren’t taken in by this brazen and dangerous propaganda effort.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s Rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous Rabbi in America” is the international best-selling author of 31 books including his most recent, “The Israel Warrior’s Handbook.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.