WASHINGTON (JTA) — A pro-Israel businessman doing public relations work for Qatar donated $100,000 to the Zionist Organization of America out of money Qatar paid him to engage in “community engagement.”
Joseph Allaham, who owns kosher eateries in the US, said his donations to ZOA, a conservative pro-Israel group, came out of $1.45 million intended by Qatar to woo Jewish and other leaders to its side in its dispute with Saudi Arabia, US website Mother Jones reported. Allaham disclosed the payments in a filing last week to register as an agent of a foreign government.
Morton Klein, the ZOA president, told Jewish Insider on Wednesday that he had been under the impression that the money came from Allaham’s own pocket. Klein said that if he determined the funds came from Qatar, he would return them.
Klein, in the past a sharp critic of Qatar, visited the country earlier this year at its invitation. He has said he used the visit to express his concerns about the country’s support for Hamas, its closeness to Iran and the hostility to Israel on Al Jazeera, the government-backed TV network. He has insisted multiple times, including to JTA, that he received no compensation for the visit beyond travel expenses.
Allaham in his filing said he also gave $100,000 to Our Soldiers Speak, a group that organizes US speaking tours for Israeli military personnel, as well as $50,000 to Mike Huckabee, who visited Qatar. Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas, is an evangelical preacher who is prominent in the Christian pro-Israel community.
Since registering as a foreign agent, Allaham has begun denouncing Qatar as inimical to Israeli and US interests.
Another prominent Jewish figure, Nick Muzin, an adviser to Republicans, also said recently that he was ending his paid lobbying relationship with Qatar, although unlike Allaham he did not denounce the country.
Over the past year or so, there has been intensive lobbying of the US Jewish community by both sides in an increasingly acrid Gulf dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and a number of other countries. Saudi Arabia has led a blockade of Qatar, ostensibly because of its Iran and Muslim Brotherhood ties.
The Trump administration has gone back and forth in the dispute. Saudi Arabia is perhaps the most important Arab ally to the United States, but Qatar hosts one of the largest US military bases.
A number of US Jewish figures have landed on one side or the other, and prominent figures have visited the country. Along with Klein, they include Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and Alan Dershowitz, the constitutional law expert and Israel defender.
One figure caught up in the brouhaha is Elliott Broidy, a top Jewish giver to US President Donald Trump’s campaign. Broidy joined George Nader, an Arab-American businessman, in making representations to the Trump administration on behalf of the UAE. He reportedly was involved in organizing an anti-Qatar conference last year put on by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a think tank with pro-Israel ties.
Broidy has sued Muzin and Qatar, believing they hacked his emails, which led to the media reporting revelations such as his payment to an alleged mistress brokered by Michael Cohen, a lawyer who brokered similar payments for Trump.
Nader’s role in cozying up to the Trump administration is reportedly a focus of a federal investigation into improprieties by Trump’s campaign and presidency. Nader is cooperating with investigators.