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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

Qatar funded pro-Israel US groups in lobbying campaign

Details of payments revealed in filings by New York-based Syrian lobbyist 

Qatar spent hundreds of thousands on lobbying for pro-Israel groups before Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani met President Donald Trump in April. Reuters
Qatar spent hundreds of thousands on lobbying for pro-Israel groups before Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani met President Donald Trump in April. Reuters

Qatar spent $200,000 on donations to pro-Israeli groups in the United States during an intensive lobbying campaign after the Middle East state was branded a “funder of terror” by President Donald Trump, official documents show.

Papers filed by a Syrian lobbyist for the Qatari government showed two payments each of $50,000 to the Zionist Organisation of American, which has campaigned for sanctions to be imposed on Saudi Arabia.

A further $100,000 was spent on Our Soldiers Speak, a US-based organisation which organises lecture tours by Israeli military, police and diplomats to promote Israel’s world view, according to the group’s website.

The filings – required of lobbyists working on behalf of foreign powers in the US – showed that a separate company controlled by former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee was also paid $50,000. All four of the payments were made within a three-month period from the end of October last year.

The lobbying campaign started after Mr Trump criticised Qatar in June 2017 for its terrorist funding, a key element of the months-long dispute between Gulf states. Mr Trump later hosted Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani at the White House in April and portrayed him as a partner in the fight against terrorism.

The payments were revealed in a document filed last month by Lexington Strategies, a New York-based consultancy run by lobbyist Joseph Allaham.

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The Syrian was paid $1.45 million to promote Qatar's 2022 World Cup effort before his role expanded to include “fostering better international relations” within the Gulf region and with the leadership of the Jewish community in the US, according to the papers.

The payments to Mr Huckabee’s company and the pro-Israeli groups were listed under a section that requested information on payments made “in furtherance of, or in connection with your activities on behalf of” the principals, listed as the state of Qatar and the emir and the World Cup organising committee under Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al Thani.

Despite filing the documents, Mr Allaham said that he made the payments in a personal capacity. “I don’t know why everyone’s making such a big deal out of this. If I made the donations to a playmate, I wonder if it would get the same attention,” he told The National.

“I made those donations on my behalf – nobody’s else’s behalf, without any expectations. I have supported ZOA, I still support ZOA and I will always support ZOA.”

He said he was no longer working for the Qataris “because the job was done. We did what we had to do."