It is by now common knowledge that the government of Qatar, the tiny Gulf state rich in gas, has been courting pro-Israel American Jews for some time now. Morton Klein, head of the Zionist Organization of America, and Alan Dershowitz, the famous lawyer and Israel defender, are just two of the prominent pro-Israel Jews who went on free trips to Qatar, and came back praising the country.
But it turns out, that some of the trips were not only free – they were sweetened. Last week, Mother Jones reported that Klein's ZOA had received $100,000 from Joseph "Joey" Allaham, a Kosher restaurateur who has registered as a foreign agent for Qatar.
The fallout from the Qatar cash scandal should be a warning to Zionist leaders and pro-Israel activists not to get too close to questionable governments or their paid flacks, lest they start believing empty rhetoric because they "like" the messenger.
Qatar has been targeting the American pro-Israel community since late 2017. Sometimes, these targets were done via incentive, and sometimes via threat.
In addition to the $100,000 paid to ZOA and the free trips to certain Zionist luminaries, Qatar's state-sponsored Al-Jazeera television channel has kept the threat of an undercover documentary about the pro-Israel lobby hanging like a Sword of Damocles over its leaders' heads.
The threat began in 2017, when Al-Jazeera aired an investigative series called "The Lobby" about pro-Israel figures in the United Kingdom. It consisted mainly of an undercover operative who surveilled meetings in London, with the "gotcha" clip coming from an Israeli embassy employee drinking in a pub and boasting about his influence.
But that documentary did not air. To the contrary, Qatari officials switched gears from threats to kisses, employing Nick Muzin, a former aide to Sen. Ted Cruz, for $50,000 a month (and then $300,000 a month) to court Zionist leaders by inviting them to Qatar.
Zionist personalities, some recruited by Muzin, included Morton Klein, Alan Dershowitz, Martin Oliner, Menachem Genack, Jack Rosen, and Malcolm Hoenlein. They all made the trek to Doha.
But free trips were only the beginning. Thanks to a lawsuit brought by U.S. businessman Elliot Broidy against Qatar and its American interlocutors, including Muzin and Allaham, Allaham was forced to admit in federal filings that he paid $50,000 to a company owned by Mike Huckabee, who also visited Qatar, and $100,000 to Our Soldiers Speak, an Israel advocacy group; four days before their annual gala at which then-head of the CIA Mike Pompeo was the keynote speaker.
The Zionist Organization of America, under the aegis of its longtime president and Qatar trip beneficiary, Mort Klein, also accepted two payments from Allaham totaling $100,000.
Klein insists that he didn't know the money came from Qatar. And yet, the money paid to the ZOA correlated directly with a change in Klein's rhetoric about Qatar.
In September 2017, Klein blasted Qatar for supporting terrorism and Hamas, calling it a "monstrous and evil regime." He refused to meet with the Qatari leadership, and accused Qatar of funding "Islamic terrorists who aim to murder Jews, Americans, Christians and even fellow Muslims."
Two months later, in November, Klein accepted Allaham's first $50,000 payment to ZOA prior to its annual gala dinner. When I asked Klein for comment about the reason for the donation, Klein referred to this payment as covering the cost of a "table" at the dinner.
Klein then flew to Doha and met with the emir, and accepted Allaham's second $50,000 payment to the ZOA after he returned from Qatar, in January 2018. And without revealing that he had just returned from Qatar or that ZOA had received $50,000 from a person involved in Qatari advocacy, Klein told Haaretz, "I think we should check out [Qatar's] claims. If they're true, then there's no reason not to go there and engage in dialogue with them."
Three days later, ZOA received a second payment for $50,000, per Allaham's FARA filing.
This was unknown until last week. Indeed, in February, the ZOA president flatly insisted that he had not been paid by Qatar. "Of course I did not get paid for God's sake. If they had offered to pay me I wouldn't have gone," he told Jerusalem Post editor Seth Franzman. ZOA's general counsel, Liz Berney, went further, writing, "ZOA and Morton Klein have no potential financial motive" for defending Qatar, even implying that ZOA suffered financial losses because "staff money" was spent preparing materials that Klein supposedly hand-delivered to the emir.
This is dark stuff indeed. Klein for his part continues to insist that he did not know the money came from Qatar when he took it, and on Friday he declared that ZOA had "returned the entire $100,000 to [Allaham]" because "ZOA learned from [Allaham's] FARA filing" that the money "may well be linked to Qatar funds."
Still, it's hard to fathom that Klein and his staff, who are enmeshed in the tight-knit Jewish community, would have believed that Allaham had the means to make the generous contribution on his own. According to The Jewish Voice, Allaham allegedly owed $1.4 million to the Lincoln Square synagogue. According to the Forward, many participants reversed their credit card charges from his canceled Passover series. And his last kosher restaurant was shut down within days of his first $50,000 payment to ZOA.
In addition, according to Tablet, there were "over 1,000 calls between Allaham and Klein's numbers during a year-long period ending in mid-May." Klein refused to tell me what these calls were about.
Allaham, Muzin, and Klein all publicly severed ties from Qatar in seemingly coordinated fashion on June 6. But following Allaham's recent revelation of the Qatari payments to the ZOA, and Klein's subsequent protestations, the best description of the situation is "murky."
A statement from the ZOA insists that "neither ZOA or Morton Klein ever praised or lobbied for Qatar and, in fact, we have strongly and publicly criticized Qatar's actions and policies."
But Allaham appears to contradict at least part of this statement, according to Frantzman writing in the Jerusalem Post; Allaham wrote to his handlers that he is "proud of the work that Mort Klein has done… working in collaboration with the Emir and other members of the Qatari Royal Family."
Qatar chose Klein, who is known for carving out a unique role on the right flank of the pro-Israel movement, because he was the last person anyone would have expected to suddenly strike a softer tone towards Hamas' sponsor. He was the perfect person to whitewash Qatar's close ties with the terrorist organization.
Klein still won't come clean about what he knew and when, so how can we know what deals or unspoken understandings were reached between himself and the Qatari agents? More importantly, what other benefits came to the rest of the pro-Israel leadership who traveled to Qatar?
It's time for those who accepted Qatari cash and junkets to finally tell people what really happened in Qatar's "outreach" efforts. Transparency is what we need – and deserve.
Gregg Roman is director of the Middle East Forum