Citizens International

Head of US Jewish group secretly visited Qatar

WASHINGTON — The president of the Zionist Organization of America is the latest pro-Israel figure to visit Qatar and meet with its leader.

“They invited me to go a number of times – in September, October, November and December,” Morton Klein told Haaretz on Monday, confirming his visit earlier this month.

“At first I refused because of their support for Hamas and the anti-Semitism being broadcast on Al Jazeera television. But over time, I saw that more and more Jewish leaders were going there, and I realized that at this point, they won’t be able to use me for propaganda because everyone is already going, but I might use the visit to push them on these issues.”

Klein said the officials he met with, including the emir of the tiny oil-rich Persian Gulf state, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, denied supporting Hamas.

Qatar has been on a public relations offensive since last summer, when Saudi Arabia led a regional embargo of the state, to persuade Westerners, and Jews in particular, that it is not a bad actor in the region.

This photo taken on December 6, 2016, shows Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani at a Gulf Cooperation Council summit in the Bahraini capital Manama. (AFP Photo/Stringer)

Backers of the embargo, led by the United Arab Emirates, have recruited pro-Israel and Jewish groups and figures in Washington to make the case for the embargo. The Saudis say Qatar backs radical Muslim groups and is too close to Iran. Qatar has also in the past been more forward than its neighbors in having open ties with Israel; that posture, its funding for Al Jazeera and its relationship with Iran are seen by experts as a function of the role the emirate’s leadership has set for the country as an iconoclastic figure in the region.

Other American pro-Israel figures who have visited Qatar in recent months have included Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish organizations; Alan Dershowitz, the lawyer known for his TV appearances; and Orthodox Jewish leaders.

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