ZOA’s Morton Klein: “I was and will be tough on Qatar until they change”
My full interview with Zionist Organization of America’s President
A shorter version of this appeared at The Jerusalem Post
By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
What made you decide to go to Qatar?
As you know a large delegation of Qatar officials, including their Defense and Foreign Ministers, are in the US meeting with their counterparts Secy Tillerson, Mattes, Mnuchin. They have been asking me to go to Qatar since September and I said no every time. I was worried they could simply try to use my going their as president of ZOA for propaganda purposes and I refused to allow that to be a possibility. But then Martin Oliner, President of Religious Zionists of America and Menachem Genack of the OU’s Kashrut division, and Jack Rosen of the AJC and Conference of President’s head Malcolm Honlein went and he invited the Qatar Crown Prince to his daughter’s wedding. I also read Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin on Oct 30 said Qatar is fighting terrorism and that it was setting up strong laws to stop money laundering. Then Alan Dershowitz and Mike Huckabee told me they are going in January. At that point I decided that since all these others significant Zionists are going or had gone, adding my name doesn’t really help Qatar for propaganda purposes. Since my mission at ZOA is to fight for Israel and the Jewish people and the Emir of Qatar asks me to come and make a case for what they need to do and change for the benefit of Israel and Jews; after speaking to Board members, Rabbis, academics, Israeli Officials and others, I decided it’s my duty to make ZOA’s case for Qatar changes and actions.
What happened before you went?
Before I went my staff researched every issue thoroughly and we put together a typed 50 page report, including discussing returning the Israeli soldiers bodies in Gaza and transforming their anti Semitic anti Israel propaganda media arm Al-Jazeera and end their alleged terror financing and throw out the Hamas and Taliban leaders living in Qatar. I distributed my ZOA research report at every meeting. I made the case very forcefully and the Emir told others I know who were involved that I made the strongest case. No one else came with a 50 page report. I was respectful but tough, very tough. They made positive promises but until I see positive actions my feelings will remain negative until they have taken substantial steps for an extended period of time. Since their record was awful for so long, we need to see at least a year of real change. Until then we cannot be happy or comfortable I said.
What else guided you in your decision?
I spoke to yeshiva leaders, professors, Jewish professionals and Israelis and they said that throughout history leading rabbis met with hostile leaders and Begin met with an anti Israel Sadat and Nixon went to China, and Moses met Pharoah and Shamir met those close to the PLO and Golda Meir met with them anti Israel King Hussein and those leaders are at a far higher level than I so I thought I should go and make a strong case [for Israel.]I felt there was little downside and significant potential upside.
But there is lasting controversy about your visit?
Of course I did not get paid for God’s sake. If they had offered to pay me I wouldn’t have gone. I can’t speak for others, but Qatar only paid for the expenses [travel].
What did you speak to them about?
I talked to them about opening [Israel] trade offices, Al Jazeera, Israeli soldiers bodies in Gaza and terror funding, and wrongly blaming Israel for lack of peace. They showed me on their website that Israel athletes participated with the Israeli flag flying and showed me that Cornell Medical School , Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern had campuses in Qatar [they showed me] Jews who are students and professors there. I met with the Emir for two hours, and they said he rarely meets with anyone for two hours. I met the parliament speaker and senior advisors. They claim that they used to fund Muslim Brotherhood and such, but claim that they no longer do this and they want to be part of the civilized world and you see women driving and women at malls without husbands. I said “what about Hamas,” and they said we send money to a special account in Gaza for construction and nothing is built without Israel’s approval under General Mordechai.
You spoke to others about this trip?
I spoke to Israel ambassador to the UN Danny Danon who is a friend of mine and he said it’s true about the money to Gaza goes to construction not directly to Hamas to reduce the likelihood of chaos there. So according to him it seems to be true. Whether they don’t fund other groups I don’t know, but I do know that US President Trump and Secretary Tillerson, Mnuchin and Mattis praised them for counter-terrorism efforts and Mnuchin said so on October 30th . So this gives me a modicum of confidence but is this only happening due to the [Saudi-led] boycott and when that ends will they go back to what they were. I said I have to see they are doing this for a year before my organization feels this is real. Only when I got back I realized that everyone they invited was a right of center Zionist…they didn’t invite Peace Now or the Reform Movement or J Street, even though they would be likely to say more positive things than I ever would. I will never do that I will only say and do what I believe to be true. So that made me think maybe they are serious about changing. I made it clear until you do something for an extended period of time ZOA won’t be supportive of Qatar.
Is this your first experience in the Gulf and Qatar?
Twenty years ago I went to Qatar. I went there and met the father of the current emir and they opened trade offices [for Israel]. So this is my second trip to Qatar where I had
wall-to-wall meetings [this time], except for Shabbos. I thought they would bring me to a resort on the weekend but I stayed at the Sheraton. I stayed for five days. Reports relayed to me said I was the roughest and toughest of all the leaders in presenting the issues. Some others were obsequious and overly warm and overly friendly. I was forceful and focused.
Do pro-Israel voices have a role to play to fix up things with UAE and Israel, etc?
When you have an Emir of an Arab country reaching out to someone like me, and who promised he will get rid of antisemitic books at the Doha book fair and after he saw the report, he couldn’t believe how comprehensive it was. He said they would do their own report and make changes at Al-Jazeera. When I see changes then I will say positive things, and they want me to go to Congress, but I won’t do it until I see real change. So I think if the leader of the country gets in touch with heads of the Jewish community to make things better for Jews, it is my mission to fight for Jews in Israel and I should try to help. I turned them down from September to December, but once all the other guys went then I felt I’m not so valuable as a prop, there is value of me and Dershowitz and Huckabee going.
Was it through Nick Muzin?
No, someone else you haven’t heard of. I knew Muzin when he worked for Cruz.
You consulted with Israelis?
One Israeli official said I shouldn’t go, but others said I should go.
What’s your sense of Emir Tamim?
My experience of over two hours at his palace. He treated me with absolute respect and kindness and I was tough with him and I condemned him for his UN speech and where he had blamed Israel lack of peace and saying Jerusalem is being Judaized and I said if he keeps saying things like that then he will have no credibility with Jews and Israel supporters You can’t say Jerusalem is being Judaized when the majority of people living there since the 19th century have been Jews. And I told him that even the Koran doesn’t mention Jerusalem. He didn’t respond to that, we will have to just disagree, he didn’t want to discuss it. So those things are troublesome. He said, can we complain about the Occupation? And I said that many Jews use that term but I then explained that this is disputed land and that 99% of the Arabs live under their own rule in Gaza and Judea/Samaria and that Jewish communities comprise less than 2% of Judea/Samaria. But those I met gave me a lot of their time and they took my 50 page report and showed respect toward my concerns.
I tried my best. To fight for Israel and Jewish people with head of an Arab country, my views won’t change until I see change.
How did Doha look?
I’ll tell you Doha is a gorgeous city with magnificent architecture and was clean and safe. I was shocked. Twenty years ago it didn’t look like that.
And what do you think will happen?
We have a cold peace with Egypt and Jordan and maybe that can happen with Qatar, I don’t know, I didn’t see the negative of not going.
How was the flight?
It’s an 8 hour difference time zone and a 13 hour grueling flight. The airline had great service. They handed out pajamas, the softest I ever felt, I wear them every night.
Were the meetings with the Emir alone?
Every meeting was alone except with several of his Aides. But the ambassador to Gaza was a dinner with Dershowitz and Huckabee, but with emir and speaker of parliament it was one on one.
And what about Hamas?
A lower level official asked me if I would meet with Khaled Mishal, and I said absolutely not. They said if America told us to throw them [Hamas] out then we would throw them out in a minute.