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February 9, 2018 4:22 pm

Defending Ourselves on Qatar

avatar by Morton A. Klein

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Qatar maintains close relations with Iran and terrorist groups such as Hamas. Photo: File.

Yigal Carmon’s February 2 op-ed is a falsehood-filled, unhinged and  hypocritical screed viciously attacking Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz and me for finally accepting the Emir of Qatar’s repeated invitations to meet and explain and advocate for changes that Qatar must make affecting America, Israel and the Jewish people.

It is personally painful to me that Carmon — whom I have long treated as a good friend — wrote his ugly piece without even having the decency to call me to express his concerns and hear my response.

Mystifyingly and extraordinarily, Carmon did not name the other Zionist leaders who also pleaded the Jewish people’s case in Qatar, including Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (COP). (Hoenlein even invited a Qatari prince, the brother of the Emir, to his daughter’s recent wedding.) Other prominent pro-Israel leaders who went include former presidential candidate Governor Mike Huckabee;  top Orthodox Union official Rabbi Genack; Religious Zionists of America President Martin Oliner; and American Jewish Congress President Jack Rosen. Others are soon planning to go.

Were all these experienced long-time pro-Israel leaders, and Professor Dershowitz and I, all wrong about the potential upside of such meetings? Were we all wrong to accept the opportunity to press for change and communicate our concerns directly to Qatar’s leaders — while only Carmon is right?

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Jewish leaders throughout history have met with hostile leaders on behalf of the Jewish people. Indeed, leading rabbis and yeshiva leaders whom I consulted reminded me of this, and urged me to go.

I nonetheless declined the Emir’s initial invitations for many months, out of concern that the Qataris wanted to use a meeting with me for propaganda purposes. But that concern lessened over time. After so many other pro-Israel leaders went, my additional presence (if it became public, which I sought to avoid) would no longer be of much, if any, propaganda benefit.

The Emir’s repeated invitations stressed that Qatar wanted to sincerely deal with all our concerns. How often does the leader of an Arab nation express a desire and personally request to listen to an ardent Zionist’s demands for change in their actions and policies that would benefit the Jewish people and Israel.

I consulted with other Jewish leaders, leading rabbis, academics, ZOA officials and donors — and Israeli and American officials — almost all of whom said that if the top leader of an Arab country, who claims they have changed and wants to change more, reaches out to the ZOA to personally discuss our serious concerns, I must go.

I also continued to monitor the recent meetings that US officials had with Qatari officials. On October 30, Secretary of the Treasury Mnuchin, after meeting with the Emir, announced that “the United States and Qatar will significantly increase our cooperation on [countering terrorism financing] to ensure that Qatar is a hostile environment for terrorist financing.”

Therefore, I and my advisers concluded that the downside of my going there was minimal, while the upside had significant potential.

My research staff and I put together an extensive and comprehensive research report detailing all our issues of greatest concern and gave copies to each Qatari official. (The report is currently posted on the ZOA’s website.)

Nevertheless, Carmon falsely and absurdly claimed we went “to intervene” in a conflict among Arab Gulf countries. What nonsense. Our agenda was concerned only with helping Israel, America and the Jewish people.

Arab nations are frequently embroiled in disputes with one another. Using Carmon’s logic, no Jewish leader would ever visit an Arab nation to discuss matters affecting Jews.

But Carmon’s outrage is selective and hypocritical. He said nothing about the COP’s upcoming trip to the United Arab Emirates — although the UAE is on the other side of the intra-Gulf dispute with no relations with Israel, or about the COP’s trip last year to Turkey — despite Turkey’s support for Hamas and hosting of a Hamas conference, and its monstrous hostility to Israel.

Carmon also absurdly wrote that if this was a “humanitarian” matter, we would have traveled to Syria, Yemen and Myanmar, to address those nations’ “more compelling causes” unrelated to the Jewish people. The ZOA’s mission and compelling humanitarian cause is to fight for Jews and Israel, and strong US-Israel relations.

Carmon also falsely claims we “boasted” about pressuring Qatar for Hamas to return bodies of Israeli soldiers, and that addressing this issue was wrong. Nonsense. I never boasted about it and at least two major Israeli officials gave me detailed descriptions of the issue and urged me to confront the Qataris about this.

Another ridiculous complaint Carmon leveled was that antisemites will attack me for being an American fighting for Israel. But that’s what almost all real pro-Israel groups do. As former ZOA President and US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, a powerful way to be a loyal American is to be a Zionist.

Carmon also falsely wrote that the Emir “brushed him [Morton Klein] off” and “respectfully disagreed” with all issues I was raising. Nonsense. The Emir only said he disagreed with my condemning his support of the disastrous Arab Peace Initiative and his position on Jerusalem. The Emir promised to remove antisemitic books from the Doha book fair, and promised action or investigations on all my other issues.

Yet, Carmon opined that the only way I could “really” have helped the Jewish people was to wait for Muslim Brotherhood leader Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s to depart from Qatar, prior to my visit. I indeed pushed for al-Qaradawi’s and other terrorists’ departures. However, Carmon’s  unsolicited single-issue opinion ignores developments such as the Mnuchin announcement and the multiplicity of issues at stake here.

Most insultingly, Carmon also falsely claimed that my and other Jewish leaders’ pro-Israel efforts were “really” motivated by a desire to enjoy a “luxurious junket.” Nonsense. My trip involved extensive preparation and study, the ZOA’s production of a detailed report and lengthy issues agenda, an exhausting 13-hour plane ride each way, eight time zones, and numerous tiring meetings with Qatari officials all day, every day in Qatar, to try to help our people. And  I stayed at a Sheraton — not at a Four Seasons.

And if Carmon’s thesis is that it enhances Qatar’s image to have people become aware of our trip to Qatar, why is he writing about it, thereby letting even more people know?

I hope and pray that my extensive meetings with Qatari officials can help begin to move Qatar forward. I don’t know what the ultimate outcome will be. If the ZOA sees no positive changes in Qatar’s actions or negative actions, I will strongly publicly condemn them. I made it clear to Qatari officials that I will need to see significant pro-Israel changes for an extended period of time-before I can express any modicum of  comfort in their policies. I also spoke to US Congress members, urging them to hold hearings to determine the truth of Qatar’s actions. (The ZOA was instrumental to sparking the 2014 Congressional hearings on Qatar.)

Regardless of the outcome, and regardless of the unfortunate rant and ravings of Mr. Carmon, and as a child of Holocaust survivors born in a displaced persons camp in Germany, I strongly believe it would have been irresponsible of me to reject this opportunity to try and help my people. My own 96-year-old Holocaust surviving mother begged me to go and fight.

And it was encouraging to hear Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu state in Davos, “There is an alliance between Israel and Arab countries that would have been unimaginable years ago. I’ve never seen anything like it in my lifetime. … We see the beginning of changes in the attitudes toward Israel of Arab publics – not all of it but a significant minority. That is hope, that is the future of peace.” Amen.

Morton A. Klein is the national president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).

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