At least two American Jewish leaders have admitted receiving large payments from an agent of a government that is the major funder of Hamas, in what is being called a growing scandal with possible repercussions in the future.
Beginning last autumn, a number of officials of U.S. Jewish groups suddenly began traveling to the Gulf Arab kingdom of Qatar. This turn of events raised eyebrows in the Jewish community, because Qatar is the single largest financer of the Hamas terrorists, and also sponsors the anti-Semitic Al-Jazeera media network. The Jewish visitors to Qatar insisted that they derived no financial benefit from trips. But in recent weeks, that claim has begun to unravel.
This odd chapter in Jewish affairs had its beginnings at a White House press conference on June 9, 2017, when President Donald Trump called Qatar “a funder of terrorism at a very high level.”
It was a simple statement of fact—but previous presidents had been reluctant to say it out loud. The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, realized that he was dealing with a very different kind of U.S. president. If something was not done quickly to improve Qatar’s image in Washington, the Gulf kingdom could soon face the kind of isolation and sanctions that other terror-sponsoring regimes have suffered.
The one thing oil-rich Qatar has is cash. Cash to sponsor Hamas, cash to underwrite Al-Jazeera and, it turns out, cash to pay American Jewish leaders.
The Qataris hired a Washington consulting firm called Stonington Strategies, headed by Nick Muzin, a Yeshiva University graduate and former adviser to Senator Ted Cruz’s campaign for the 2016 Republican nomination.
In September 2017, Muzin disclosed on U.S. government registration forms that his consulting firm, Stonington Strategies, was being paid $50,000 monthly by the Qatari regime to lobby on its behalf. In November 2017, Qatar increased its monthly payment to Muzin’s firm from $50,000 to $300,000. Half of that money was set aside for “subcontractors.”
The Jewish Voice made several attempts to reach Muzin for comment, but requests for an interview went unanswered.
Muzin’s job was to make Qatar kosher in America’s eyes. He turned to a friend named Joseph Allaham; the Syrian-born owner of several now-collapsed kosher restaurants in New York City, including an upscale steakhouse known as Prime Grill.
According to an investigative report by Mother Jones magazine last month, Allaham began working with Nick Muzin, as a representative of Qatar, in “early 2017.” Three sources told Mother Jones that Allaham was paid for his work. However, Allaham did not register with the US government as an agent of Qatar, as required by law.
The Jewish Voice made repeated attempts to contact Mr. Allaham through text, telephone and e-mail requests for an interview, but he did not respond.
Allaham was a perfect candidate to serve as a public relations consultant who would make important introductions of Jewish leaders to the Qatari officials, despite the fact that Allaham had no background in public relations matters. Allaham’s hefty income was on life support; not only because over the last year his restaurants were failing but because he was facing a number of lawsuits. In addition to his restaurants, Allaham spread his business tentacles when he sponsored luxurious kosher-for-Passover vacations (charging more than $10,000 per person). Two weeks before the start of the Passover holiday last year, Allaham announced that the Passover vacations that had been scheduled to take place in California had been cancelled by the Hilton hotel, leaving hundreds of people totally stranded for the holiday. These people wasted no time in suing Allaham for damages.
Allaham’s troubles were not over. Lincoln Square Synagogue on Manhattan’s upper west side sued him for failing to come through on a $1.5-million pledge to help construct a banquet hall in the synagogue’s new building, as he was the synagogue’s official caterer. As the Jewish Voice reported last year, synagogue officials who reviewed Allaham’s bank records as a result of a court order reported that they believed Allaham may have been hiding some of his assets. An official of the synagogue told the Jewish Week that the records showed Allaham had been rapidly moving “hundreds of thousands of dollars” out of his accounts in recent days in order to avoid the collection of the $1.5 million judgment against him.
It was in the midst of this turmoil that Allaham found a new source of income for himself, due to the offer that Muzin made to him. He was provided with $3 million to use for his main assignment: to funnel payments from the Qataris to select American Jewish leaders, who would then visit Qatar and help improve the regime’s image.
The first Jewish official to come aboard was Dr. Joseph Frager, a New York gastroenterologist who is active in pro-Israel causes and is vice president of the National Council of Young Israel. Frager is also close to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
According to an expose by The Forward earlier this month, Frager registered with the U.S. government as an agent of Qatar this spring. On the registration form, he said he was paid $50,000 to “consult with Qatari officials on strengthening U.S.-Qatar relations.”
Asked by the Jewish Voice why he would want to build friendly relations with a regime that sponsors terrorism against Israel, Frager replied that his dealings with Qatar were similar to what he said were negotiations that some of his relatives undertook with Nazis during the Holocaust.
“I had family members who tried to negotiate with Heinrich Himmler during the Holocaust to rescue Jews from certain death. At times, one has to speak to their mortal enemies in order to benefit our people, despite the fact that it is abhorrent on every level, but I would risk my life to save Jews,” he said.
He added that his sole purpose for visiting Qatar was to negotiate with the Emir and others on the issue of allowing himself and Governor Huckabee to enter Hamas held Gaza to retrieve the remains of slain IDF soldiers, including those of Hadar Goldin.
“I can tell you that Hadar Goldin’s mother wanted to accompany me to Qatar as it was so very important to her,” he told the Jewish Voice.
Quite disappointed after returning from his trip to Qatar, Dr. Frager said, “The Qataris that I met were not straight people, nor were they reliable in any way. My main concern was finding a way to retrieve the remains of the IDF soldiers and I also asked the government leaders there to donate $100 million for the furtherance of Jewish education around the globe. I was not able to achieve any of that.”
Among those whom Allaham hoped would visit Qatar was Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America. At first glance, that must have seemed like a long shot, since as recently as June 2017, Klein had publicly urged the Trump administration to brand Qatar a terrorist regime and prohibit Qatar Airways from flying in the United States.
In 2014, the ZOA urged the US government to designate Qatar as a state sponsor of terrorism for “funding and promoting Nazi-like organizations that want to kill every Jew.”
In November 2017, an unusual guest attended the ZOA’s national dinner in New York City: veteran Qatari diplomat Ahmed al-Rumaihi. Currently, he is head of Qatar Investments, a new $100 billion internal division of sovereign wealth fund Qatar Investment Authority (QIA). Asked at the time about the Qatari official’s presence, Klein said that “anybody who pays $700 can attend.” Now it has been revealed that Allaham gave Klein $50,000 for that $7,000 table. Being that Qatar’s raison d’etre was to make some formidable inroads in the Trump administration, it comes as no surprise that they would shell out this kind of money for the dinner as the guest of honor was former Trump senior strategist, Steve Bannon.
At one of the tables sat Allaham along with Ahmed al-Rumaihi. Also seated at the table was Rabbi Elie Abadie, former spiritual leader of the Edmond Safra synagogue in Manhattan.
“I spoke in Arabic to the Qatari official, as we share cultural aspects. He was quite talkative and wanted to meet American Jewish leaders. During the course of the conversation he asked me several times to visit Qatar and I repeatedly turned him down. I also told him that he would have a difficult time attracting Jewish leaders to make such a trip as it is factual that Qatar poses a threat to Israel by its full throated support of Hamas,” said Rabbi Abadie.
It was Rabbi Abadie who introduced al-Rumaihi to Jewish Voice publisher, David Ben Hooren at the dinner. “I was just casually talking and joking with the Qatari representative, “ said Ben Hooren. He added, “I did not think anything of it at the time.”
However, in February of 2018, after the news emerged that Jewish leaders had visited Qatar, Ben Hooren said that he discussed it with Nick Muzin. “Nick told me at that juncture that he was not sure which way Qatar would go politically. He was not sure if this was a hoax on Qatar’s part, but he did say that we will have to wait and see how things unfold, “ he said.
He added that, “Because Nick said that we will have to give this matter time, that was the basis for my decision not to run this story months ago.”
Klein flew to Qatar the following month. Shortly after Klein returned to the US, Allaham made another $50,000 “contribution” to the ZOA, for a total of $100,000.
Currently, Klein is in the process of returning the $100,000 he received from Qatar and says that he is not now and never was beholden to them in any way. It is not clear if he is saying that he returned it to Allaham, to Stonington Strategies, or directly to the Emir. The Jewish Voice asked Klein for a canceled check, bank record, or other evidence that the funds were returned.
“I never lobbied for Qatar, I never benefitted in any personal way from my visit there and I remain very critical and “tough” on Qatar. Let’s remember that they have provided billions in support of Hamas and have provided refuge for its leaders. And suffice it to say, that the state run Al-Jazeera network is a raging hotbed for the worst anti-Semitic propaganda,” he said.
According to Mother Jones, phone records show there were more than one thousand phone calls between Klein and Allaham in recent months.
Klein told the Jewish Voice that he was initially approached by Allaham in the latter half of 2017 to visit Qatar and meet with the Emir. His reasons for declining the offer clearly indicated his reluctance to meet with a chief sponsor of terror but he said that his main concern was that “ZOA’s good name and reputation might be used to whitewash Qatar’s ugly actions.”
During the months before it became publicly known that Allaham had given the ZOA $100,000 for the $7,000 worth of dinner seats, Klein and his representatives forcefully denied that there was any financial factor in his trip to Qatar and his reversal of his position. He told the Jerusalem Post that Qatar had covered only his airfare. He also made a point of saying that Qatar Airways “had great service” and “they handed out pajamas, the softest I ever felt, I wear them every night.”
In interviews upon his return, Klein made a number of statements praising the Emir and his regime. He told the Jerusalem Post “they want to be part of the civilized world” and he said that the Emir’s statements to him “made me think maybe they are serious about changing.” He told The Forward that the Emir is “gracious, kind, respectful, sensitive.”
Klein also defended Qatar’s treatment of women, saying: “They asked me…to see how they are trying to liberalize. By the way, women are driving. Women are walking alone all over the place. It’s not Saudi Arabia.” Klein’s spokesperson, Liz Berney, wrote in The Algemeiner about what she called “Qatari indications of change.”
In an interview with the Jewish Voice, Klein claimed for the first time that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had advised him to go to Qatar.
Olmert recently served a prison sentence after being convicted of corruption charges, including receiving $160,000 in bribes. Asked by the Jewish Voice whether Olmert was an appropriate role model, in view of the fact that he is a convicted criminal, Klein chuckled and said, “yes he is, but he knows a lot about international relations.”
Also, in November of 2017, an organization called “Soldiers Speak” which sponsors speaking dates for Israeli military and law enforcement personnel around the world, held their gala dinner in New York City. According to Sgt. Benjamin Anthony – a dinner coordinator – a company check in the amount of $100,000 that was earmarked as a donation to the organization was handed to him by Joseph Allaham’s wife. The check was signed by his wife as well.
The Qataris also felt that this was a beneficial place to drop some money as the guest of honor at the dinner was the former CIA Director and current Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.
In a November 29, 2017 article in the Jerusalem Post, Rabbi Marc Schneier of the Hamptons Synagogue on Long Island said that he had spent a week in Qatar and Bahrain, where he met with the emir of Qatar, and spoke with Bahrain’s King Hamad.
“I firmly believe that Israel is sitting on an extraordinary opportunity to actually realize peace with the Gulf states, but I don’t believe there will be regional peace with the Gulf, until the internal conflict among these countries is resolved,” he told the JPost.
As a prominent figure in the fostering of Jewish-Islamic ties in the US as the head of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, Rabbi Schneier has traveled to Qatar and other Gulf state over the course of many years and has developed relationships with leaders and officials.
When contacted by the Jewish Voice for perspective on this trip to Qatar, Rabbi Schneier’s public relations representative said that “he has no comments.”
Other Jewish leaders who visited Qatar were Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice-chairman of the Conferences of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, retired Harvard law professor and Israel advocate, Alan Dershowitz, as well as officials representing the American Jewish Congress, the Orthodox Union and the Religious Zionists of America.
In November of 2017, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach reported in an article in the Jerusalem Post that Hoenlein had invited the Crown Prince of Qatar to his daughter’s wedding.
Another American Zionist official who visited Qatar during the same period was Martin Oliner, co-president of the Religious Zionists of America. Oliner visited Qatar in November 2017. He told the Jerusalem Post at the time that he went there “to attend a legal conference and to visit the US airbase.” He did not mention meeting with Qatari officials.
Writing in The Algemeiner in March 1, Oliner said nothing about the legal conference or the airbase, stating that he “accepted the invitation [to visit Qatar], because I wanted to persuade the Qataris that they could play a more positive role on the Palestinian issue and stop helping Hamas. I wanted to hear their side of the story.”
In an interview with the Jewish Voice this week, Oliner insisted that he did attend the legal conference, but he was vague as to what that had to do with his meetings with Qatari officials. Oliner denied that he received any payments or business favors in exchange for going to Qatar.
The investigations on “Qatar-Gate” continue and journalism sources close to the case have offered speculation that more damaging information may indeed surface in the coming months.