The following overview was written in connection with a Middle East Forum conference, "Qatar: U.S. Ally or Global Menace," taking place in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 6, 2019. To watch it live-streamed, click here.
U.S. President Donald Trump rolled out the welcome mat for Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani during an Oval Office meeting this April, lavishing his royal guest with praise and calling the emir a "great gentleman" and a "friend of mine." Yet, less than a year earlier, Trump supported a Saudi-led embargo against Qatar and singled-out the tiny peninsular kingdom as "a funder of terrorism at a very high level."
A possible reason behind this diplomatic about-face is hardly a closely-guarded state secret. Over the past year, Qatari officials have engineered an unprecedented charm offensive to win the president's approval, targeting a list of 250 associates and influencers known to command Trump's attention.
Some sources estimate that the Gulf monarchy spent as much as $1.5 billion on this public relations blitz, hoping to rehabilitate its image and win the Republican administration's favor. But no matter how much investment funds the oil-rich dynasty offers the United States, or how many Trump associates it employs, one look at the rhetoric of Qatari regime media demonstrates that Qatar is most certainly not a friend of Donald Trump's.
According to one media monitoring organization, since the 2016 Presidential election, Qatar's flagship media outlet Al Jazeera has savaged President Trump in more than 1,800 disparaging news and opinion pieces, often describing him in crudely anti-Semitic and anti-American terms. The state-run media network has demonized Trump in a manner far exceeding the most derogatory reports from Western media, calling him "the conductor" of the "orchestra of Satan" and insisting that he is controlled by Jewish forces.
In 2017, attempts to influence the Trump administration began in earnest after Qatar found itself embargoed by its neighbors - including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain – because of the Doha regime's support for Iran and hostile Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. In response, Qatar sprang into action by engaging the Trump administration.
Joined by Nick Muzin, a physician and lawyer with ties to the Trump campaign, New York restaurateur Joey Allaham approached Qatari officials after the blockade with a radical approach to influencing Trump's opinion of the Gulf monarchy: "We want to create a campaign where we are getting into his head as much as possible," Allaham said in his lobbying pitch. The pair deployed an unorthodox influence campaign – targeting 250 Trump associates, offering them money and inviting them to take all-expenses-paid trips to Doha at the invitation of the emir.
These "Trump influencers" included prominent names such as Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, New York real estate developer Steve Witkoff, and conservative radio host John Batchelor. A total of approximately two dozen prominent Americans travelled to Doha, according to Allaham and Muzin.
Huckabee, whose daughter serves as White House press secretary, was paid a $50,000 honorarium for his visit to Doha, which he called "surprisingly beautiful, modern, and hospitable." Professor Dershowitz, who had previously condemned Qatar for providing sanctuary to members of Hamas, now wrote a column defending the country as "the Israel of the Gulf States, surrounded by enemies, subject to boycotts and unrealistic demands," while Mr. Batchelor praised the monarchy's "transparency."
In a bizarre twist, Qatar even sought to win over highly influential pro-Israel groups inside the U.S., a surreal partnership for a principal state-supporter of terrorist groups that openly vie for the destruction of the Jewish state. Muzin and Allaham are Jewish, and have strong relationships with prominent pro-Israel organizations in America. Some critics suspect that Qatari officials embraced Muzin and Allaham so readily because of a sincere belief in the anti-Semitic trope that Jews hold powerful influence over the world's major powers. Incidentally, Department of Justice filings reveal that Mr. Allaham directed a $100,000 donation from Qatar to the Zionist Organization of America, a secular pro-Israel organization with some close ties to the administration.
Even members of Trump's inner-circle were targeted in Qatar's PR blitz. Just weeks before joining the administration, Trump's personal lawyer and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani enjoyed one of the Emir's opulent hospitality in Doha. Following the visit, Qatar's national oil company contracted Giuliani's company for security consultation, and the former prosecutor was hired to assist with an investigation.
Trump's own family may also have been influenced by the prospect of Qatari sponsorship. In April 2017, the family of Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner appealed to Qatar's finance minister to bail out their floundering $1.8 billion Manhattan office tower. Though these negotiations failed, in May 2018 Kushner's father approached Brookfield Asset Management, a Canadian company partly owned by a Qatari investment firm, with a similar deal.
In total, Qatar hired more than 35 PR firms to influence U.S. policy, many of them with close ties to the president. For instance, a company owned by former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was paid $150,000 to provide "research, government relations, and strategic consulting services." Qatar also paid a legal and lobbying firm led by Bush-era Attorney General John Ashcroft $2.5 million to assist with the reform of its counterterrorism program. Ashcroft strongly endorsed Trump on the campaign trail and supports his economic and foreign policy agenda. Similarly, Blueprint Advisors, a PR firm staffed by Giuliani loyalists, was hired to work with Qatar's attorney general Ali Al-Marri to ensure that U.S. policymakers are kept apprised of Qatar's purported counterterrorism efforts.
But while Trump's surrogates were being plied with lucrative trade deals and entertained with exotic Gulf retreats, Qatar's state-owned media was busy viciously slandering the commander-in-chief. Al Jazeera's Arabic network has produced the most salacious content to date – invariably portraying Trump as a racist dotard who answers to a shadowy Jewish lobby.
The network's equal contempt for America and its president were communicated just days after the 2016 election, in a published open letter to the president-elect titled "Message to Donald Trump." After declaring Trump "devoid of culture" and "a stupid person," the author explained that he had hoped Trump would win so he could see "America's ugly face." He then referred to Trump as "a miniature version of America, an ugly copy of an ugly state."
Since then, Trump has been regularly attacked by the Qatari network – proffered as an example of racism that Arabs should reject. One article, condemning intra-Arab rivalries and the hypocrisies of the Arab world, concludes: "we are Nazi Trumpites and even Zionist-like... we are all racists to varying degrees, whether we like it or not, we are all Trump." Other Al Jazeera articles are just as unequivocal, stating that Trump is "clearly racist and completely hostile to anything that is not like him: a 'White American.'"
Even Al Jazeera's book reviews are subject to unrestrained anti-Trump rants. In an assessment of Trump's Great Again book, one critic describes one side of Trump's personality as "the arrogant white man who only cares about the superiority of people with his skin color even if by hitting the necks of the rest of humanity."
Al Jazeera contributors suggest that Trump is controlled by Jews or Israel, and they cite this conspiracy to explain White House policy. One December 2017 op-ed explaining the potential U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem stated: "This interest in the issue of Al-Quds and affirming its Jewishness in Trump's eyes may seem strange, despite all that is said about his need to appease the symbols of the Zionist lobby in America..."."
The article concludes by expressing optimism that the embassy move will "produce a new stimulant for the conflict with the occupation, and heat up the atmosphere of lukewarm rage, and refocus attention towards Jerusalem, which is still the explosive spark of most of the Intifadas [violent uprisings], or possibly lead to the launching of new incubators of extremism (in the language of the official Arabs)... "
An openly anti-Semitic article from June 2017 discusses the political influence of two prominent Jewish families and suggests that Israel controls U.S. foreign policy. The six-part article series titled "The Orchestra of Satan" outlines the "wretched instruments that have been played in the Middle East" to "the melodies of one composer: Israel." This essay, published just days after the Saudi-led embargo was implemented, claims that sanctions "came directly after receiving the musical note from the leader of the current conductor, Donald Trump, in his visit to Saudi Arabia recently." In other words, Trump is the conductor of the Orchestra of Satan.
An encyclopedia entry titled "11 Officials of Jewish Origin Surround Trump" lends a false veneer of scholarly authority to Al Jazeera's anti-Semitic commentary. The entry explains how "Jews loyal to Israel" were occupying increasingly powerful positions within the Trump administration. Crucially, it includes a photo with a caption reading: "The Jewish figures who surround Trump support Israel and the settlements and moving the embassy to Jerusalem." But few of the 10 individuals in the photo are actually Jewish, and other officials described in the passage are low-level staffers, cherry-picked to give the appearance of Jewish influence. The entire section bears a remarkable resemblance to the anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Trump is not just accused of supporting Jews. Guests appearing on a televised Al Jazeera program discussing the 2016 election results included Hamas Leader Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, who said, "I do not rule out the possibility that [Trump] is a Jew." A year later, Al-Zahhar returned to discuss the impending embassy move and remarked, "Trump's own home is a Jewish home."
Other op-eds attack the American president's intelligence in absurdly bombastic terms. A December 06, 2017 translation of "The Madness of King Donald" refers to "The fact that Trump appears to have some mental disorder, or disorders" and notes that medical professionals believe "that the president is suffering from the onset of dementia."
In Al Jazeera political cartoons portraying the president, Trump is caricatured as a worm, a serpent, and with a bag of cash stuffed into his gaping mouth. Trump's highly touted "Deal of the Century" is symbolized as poison and a ticking time bomb forced on the Palestinian people, while Israel is rewarded with the contested Al-Aqsa Mosque in several cartoons.
Although its Arabic-language department is notorious for publishing anti-American propaganda, even the more careful Al Jazeera English (AJE) has sought to demonize Trump. "Many are questioning Trump's ability to make sound decisions," an AJE reporter said in a December 2017 broadcast analyzing a single slurred word in a presidential speech. The report even compared Trump to former President Ronald Reagan, who was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.
On AJ+, the network's internet-only answer to its short-lived Al Jazeera America experiment, Trump is excoriated in a short film reviewing the "9 most racist moments of the Trump presidency." Trump is accused of "celebrat[ing] the financial exploitation of Africa" simply for saying, "Africa has tremendous business potential" and encouraging investment in African countries. Furthermore, the report charges that the U.S. president with racism because "he made up an African country" when he mispronounced the name of Namibia, calling it "Nambia."
What has the president received in return for tolerating this unrelenting character assassination? Qatar Airways responded to the U.S. renewal of economic sanctions on Iran by adding additional flights to the Islamic Republic, and the Qatari regime continues to pay Hamas officials' salaries despite fears that the funds could be diverted to the group's military wing.
Trump "influencers" have brought into the President's inner orbit a foreign power which oversees a propaganda outlet that Anti-Defamation League National Director Jonathan Greenblatt has called "a major exporter of hateful content against the Jewish people, Israel, and the United States."
With over 1 billion views on Youtube, and over 10 million followers on Facebook, Al Jazeera is used to multiply Qatar's regional and global influence. The emirate is currently using that soft power to undermine U.S. interests and slander the president. Given the network's global influence, the U.S. should consider implementing sanctions of its own if Qatar continues to promote anti-Semitism, support terrorist organizations, and produce propaganda against the United States and its highest office.
Benjamin Baird is a writer for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.
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