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As it harbored Hamas, Qatar spent $1 billion-plus trying to influence U.S. education, politics

Lobbying, university reports detail a vast influence campaign by Arab states on U.S. soil, dwarfing the paid efforts of long-time ally Israel.

Published: October 17, 2023 11:00pm

Updated: October 18, 2023 8:35pm

The Persian Gulf state of Qatar, which has reportedly given support and safe haven to Hamas leaders and empowered websites to flourish that promote anti-Israel sentiments, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years shaping U.S. opinion and the American education curriculum, according to lobbying and donation records reviewed by Just the News.

Since at least 2016, Qatar has spent $77 million hiring 29 foreign registered agents to influence U.S. policy – one of the largest lobbying fleets among Middle Eastern countries, according to the Justice Department Foreign Agent Registration Act database. That database shows some of Washington D.C.'s most powerful and influential law firms and public relations outfits have taken millions of dollars to promote Qatar's interests, including Holland & Knight and Mercury Public Affairs, LLC.

The country also has handed out about $1.6 billion since June 2020, and $5.4 billion in total under Section 117 of the Higher Education Act of 1965, in donations and contracts to American universities ranging from Harvard to George Washington University, according to the Higher Education Gifts and Contracts database maintained by the U.S. Department of Education.

The massive outlays, experts say, help to explain how a new generation of young Americans have developed decidedly pro-Palestinian sympathies after generations of staunch U.S. support for Israel.

"Through these instruments, they have been able to, No. 1 create those ideas change the mind of students, and as I argued in my book, once you defeat truth in the classroom is going to spill over to the newsroom, to the courtroom, to the war room,” Walid Phares, a best-selling author and security expert who has advised Republicans for decades, including former President Donald Trump, told the John Solomon Reports podcast.

The sheer breadth of Qatar's influence efforts stirred controversy when the FBI last year seized electronic data from John Allen, a retired four-star Marine general and former leader of NATO forces in Afghanistan, in an influence-peddling probe. Allen ultimately was not charged with any crimes.

Experts say energy-rich Arab states have poured unprecedented sums of money into U.S. influence operations in the post-Sept. 11 era, dwarfing similar investments from Israel and tipping debate toward a less friendly stance toward Jerusalem. For instance:

By contrast, Israel hired just 18 lobbyists, according to DOJ records, and gave only $335 million to U.S. education institutions, according to the public database. 

"The amount of money some of these countries in the Middle East have been dropping on our most prestigious universities is enough to fund another country," Bryan Leib, executive director of CASEPAC, a federal political action committee dedicated to combatting antisemitism, told the "Just the News, No Noise" TV show on Monday evening.

"I mean, it's an enormous amount of money that these have been receiving, and also a lot of very small universities as well, that we probably have never heard of that receive donations from some of these governments," he continued. 

Student groups at the universities funded by Qatar came out forcefully, blaming Israel for the Hamas terrorist attacks and holding vigils for the victims in Palestine. “We, the undersigned student organizations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence,” the letter from 31 Harvard student groups read, according to the New York Post. The letter has since been deleted by the groups, and in a panic to protect their future careers, many university students have whitewashed their social media history.

Some of the funds from Qatar and other Arab states went to George Washington University, where students held an event called a “Vigil for the Martyrs of Palestine.” "We are here today to honor our martyrs and to honor the struggle for liberation that they made the ultimate sacrifice for,” one of the event organizers told attendees.

Qatar's embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The country has tried in recent months to soften its image, announcing it would let Israeli flights land on its soil for World Cup soccer games and try to broker the release of Israeli and Western hostages seized by Hamas after its deadly assault on October 7.

Qatar’s lobbying efforts extend back decades. Its first registration recorded in the FARA database is dated to 1969 when the country retained Squire Patton Boggs, LLP to assist the Qatari government in its “bilateral political and security relations” with the U.S. government. More recently, that firm lobbied on behalf of the entity of the Saudi government that was directly responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and terminated the relationship two years ago.

 

The decades-long effort was successful if the history of U.S.-Qatari agreements are any indication. In 2013, Qatar and the United States extended a Defense Cooperation Agreement in place since June of 1992. The text of the pact is classified, but the Congressional Research Service reports that it includes “U.S. military access to Qatari military facilities, prepositioning of U.S. armor and other military equipment, and U.S. training of Qatar’s military forces.” The United States still retains access to the Al Udeid Air Force base in Qatar, which the State Department called “indispensable to supporting U.S. military operations throughout the region.”

In a presentation distributed by one of its American lobbying teams and obtained from the FARA database, Qatar highlights its close cooperation with the United States on security and counterterrorism. The presentation underscores Qatar’s cooperation to counterterror financing, in sanctioning individuals supporting ISIS, and in sanctioning other terrorist entities. The presentation also called attention to a major development of Qatar’s lobbying efforts, its designation as a major non-NATO ally by the United States in March 2022.

President Biden designated Qatar an ally during his second year in office, specifically citing the country’s assistance in the Afghanistan evacuation. An "After Action Review on Afghanistan", released by the Department of State in March 2022, detailed how the Biden Administration failed to heed warnings to start the evacuation earlier, leading to many left behind when the last U.S. troops pulled out of the country. Qatar was indispensable to evacuating “Americans and U.S. personnel, allies, partners and Afghans at special risk,” according to Biden Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

You can read the lobbying presentation below:

 

Yet while extolling its own anti-terrorism cooperation with the U.S., spending millions over the decades to influence Washington’s policy, and infusing funds into American higher education, Qatar has at the same time maintained financial and political support for Hamas.

For example, since 2018 Qatar has sent millions to Gaza to ostensibly pay for public sector wages and fuel for utilities. Recently, Doha News reported that in 2023 Qatar pays $30 million per month to Gaza for these purposes.

“These payments are justified to pay civil servants in Gaza, and we know perfectly well that the latter are members of Hamas,” Didier Billon, deputy director of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs, told France 24. “Doha’s money is therefore the equivalent of direct support for this organisation which has held the Palestinian enclave with an iron fist for many years,” he continued.

After the October 7 Hamas attacks in Israel, Qatar’s foreign ministry released a statement that placed the blame squarely on Israel for the “ongoing escalation” in the Gaza Strip. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs holds Israel solely responsible for the ongoing escalation due to its ongoing violations of the rights of the Palestinian people, the latest of which was the repeated incursions into Al-Aqsa Mosque under the protection of the Israeli police,” the Qatari foreign ministry wrote.

Qatar also harbors the current head of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, who resides in the country’s capital, Doha. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the Qatari capital on Friday and was careful not to forcefully call for the country to abandon its support for the terrorist organization or for harboring the terrorist leaders. Yet, Blinken said that he made clear “in all [his] conversations throughout this trip that there can be no more business as usual with Hamas,” at the press conference with Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

“Well, regarding your question about Hamas' political office in Doha, right now actually this office – actually since – this was started to be used as a way of communicating and bringing peace and calm into the region, not to instigate any war,” Al Thani said of Hamas’ political office in Qatar. “And this is the purpose of that office.  As long as we are keeping the communication open right now and focusing on putting an end for this conflict, and this is used to.  That’s what the main – our main focus is this," Al Thani continued.

Another probable reason for the Biden administration’s reticence to demand that Qatar stop harboring terrorists is that the country has been vital to the administration’s diplomatic efforts with Iran, most recently in the hostage negotiations where the U.S. agreed to unfreeze $6 billion for the Islamic theocracy. Qatar was set to allow Iran to access the funds held in the country, but after the Hamas attacks agreed to prevent access in conjunction with the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Other Arab partners of the United States, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in particular, have carried out similar lobbying and expenditure campaigns to influence U.S. policy while taking ambiguous public positions against Hamas’ terrorism, refusing to condemn it outright, but calling for all sides to de-escalate the violence.

Saudi Arabia, for example, released a statement expressing its “unwavering stance in standing up for the Palestinian cause,” according to Reuters. After the attacks, the Saudis also suspended negotiations with Israel to normalize ties that were backed by the United States and instead began to re-engage with Iran, according to the report by Reuters and another by France 24