Qatar, UAE and the Jewish PR Men Stuck in the Middle
An obscure lawsuit came to an end this week, with a California district court dismissing a case accusing Nick Muzin, a Jewish lobbyist working on behalf of the Qatari government, of involvement in the computer hacking of Elliott Broidy, a Jewish billionaire with deep business ties in the United Arab Emirates.
The ruling put an end to an unusual case involving competing interests of two Gulf nations and their American allies, all playing out in a very current fashion, full with email hacking and strategic leaks aimed at winning the hearts (and taxpayer dollar contracts) of the Trump administration.
The public spat between the two parties also helped shed light on a side of Jewish lobbying often kept in the dark: the efforts of foreign countries to win over Jewish Americans as a way to gain access to Washington’s corridors of power. In this case, a determined Qatari government bent on befriending Jewish Americans in hopes they can sway the administration to adopt a more pro-Qatari policy, and a UAE leadership wishing to use the Jewish businessman’s high-level connections in Republican circles to ensure Trump and his advisers remain on their side in their dispute with Qatar.
To understand this complicated set of interests and advocacy efforts, it is necessary to go back to 2017 and to the flare up of tensions between Saudi Arabia, the Gulf region’s key player, and its tiny neighboring country of Qatar. A coalition of eight nations, led by Saudi Arabia, decided to sever their ties with Qatar and impose an economic boycott, citing Qatar’s support for extremists in the region, including Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. The bigger issue, however, was the role Qatar played in the intensifying power struggle in the Arab world, between the Saudis and their allies on the one hand, and Iran on the other. Qatar was seen as aligning with Iran and Turkey.
With both sides to this dispute competing for American support, the Gulf geopolitical conflict quickly translated into a lobbying race in Washington, with the Saudis and their allies at the UAE having the upper hand.
The UAE government, utilizing the services of George Nader, a political adviser to the monarchy, reached out to Broidy with a tempting deal: Broidy, according to a New York Times report, would use his influence in the Trump administration to make sure the president joins the drive to isolate Qatar. In return, he’d get a chance at signing $1 billion worth of contracts for his defense contracting company as well a nifty consulting fee of $2.7 million. Broidy was at the time the Republican National Committee’s deputy finance chair and a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition board. He was among the few top Jewish donors who backed Trump early on in the 2016 race.
While Broidy was working on behalf of the UAE to deliver the Trump administration, the Qatari government launched its own charm offensive, part of it aimed directly at the American Jewish community. They hired Muzin, a Republican lobbyist and former adviser to Senator Ted Cruz, with a mandate to improve Qatar’s image in the Jewish community. Muzin arranged meetings between Jewish leaders and Qatari officials and all-expense-paid trips to Qatar for influential Jewish figures including Alan Dershowitz and Morton Klein, head of the Zionist Organization of America. Both are also known for their access to Trump and his close circles. In return for a fresh look at the Gulf intricate map of alliances, the Qatari’s promised to use their influence to kill an Al Jazeera documentary which was already awaiting broadcast and would negatively depict the pro-Israel lobby in Washington.
Klein came under fire for taking the trip to Qatar, but at least in the short term, the efforts succeeded in opening a discussion within the Jewish community about Qatar. A vigorous anti-Qatar campaign led by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach turned into a public debate between Boteach, on the one side, and Klein and Dershowitz, on the other, over the merits of Qatar’s role in the region.
The fight got dirty when a trove of emails, presumably stolen by hackers from Broidy, were leaked, revealing his close coordination with the UAE ambassador and with Nader and what could be understood as an attempt by the Gulf country to buy access and influence in Washington through Broidy. The Bel Air venture capitalist, who has made his mark as a major GOP donor, sought legal recourse and sued Muzin and Qatar for allegedly hacking his email as part of their campaign against the UAE. Last Friday, the California district court dismissed Muzin from the case, noting the lack of jurisdiction. Muzin, in a statement, welcomed the “just and conclusive result.”
While it may sound an odd choice, it is not unusual for Arab countries to seek out Jewish American lobbyists and power brokers to represent their business in the United States. Broidy and Muzin aren’t the first and definitely won’t be the last members of the Jewish community to take on Arab clients. In recent years, Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, joined the board of an Israeli energy company involved in oil deals with Egypt. Washington strategist Richard Mintz has been a long time adviser to the UAE government and is considered close to the Saudi ambassador. The Saudi government has recently hired the services of a Jewish-owned PR firm. Other Gulf and Arab countries have often taken on American Jewish consultants to help make their case in the U.S. In the past, the Turkish government used to spend tens of thousands of dollars a year courting American Jews to make sure they oppose recognition of the Armenian Holocaust. These efforts ended with the rise of Erdogan to power and the souring of relations with Israel and the Jewish community. These efforts, to be clear, are not limited to Republican circles or to the Trump administration. The Saudis have been working with Jewish investors and Hollywood executives known for their support for Democratic candidates, as has UAE done with outreach efforts to Jewish Democrats in Washington and New York.
The Qatar case, however, is somewhat different.
In the battle over the hearts and minds of Jewish Americans, both sides have made gains and offered benefits, leaving pro-Israel activists on the fence. UAE and the Saudi government had made a strong case to Jewish Americans as they pointed out Qatar’s aid to Palestinian terror groups and to Hezbollah in Lebanon and portrayed them as a lone ally of Iran in an increasingly isolated region. The Saudis, including in personal meetings held by Prince Mohammad Bin Salman in the U.S., have also let American Jews understand their critical views of the Palestinian Authority and its leader Mahmoud Abbas, a theme that fit well with the prevailing notion among centrist pro-Israel activists. Qatar, on the other hand, not only made sure the damning Al Jazeera documentary never sees daylight, but also played an instrumental role in talks aimed at resolving the Gaza crisis. Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, recently met secretly with the Qatari foreign minister to discuss Gaza.
As an influential community, which not only has inroads to top political circles but has also produced some of Washington’s top political brokers, Jewish Americans are stuck in the middle of this Gulf proxy war. Their views, connections and willingness to advocate will ensure Jewish Americans remain a target audience even in far away power struggles.