Thursday, February 22, 2024

Did Qatar Buy Munich Security Conference as It Bought 2022 World Cup?

NewsDid Qatar Buy Munich Security Conference as It Bought 2022 World Cup?

When diplomats and security officials from countries throughout the world walk into the Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich, Germany, this weekend, they will likely be entering a stronghold of Qatari influence and surveillance.

The extravagantly wealthy peninsula nation, well known for supporting Hamas and funding Islamist front groups in Europe and North America, has invested substantial funds into the Munich Security Conference, an annual gathering where global decision makers meet to pursue world peace and international security. Qatar’s influence over MSC, sometimes referred to as the “Davos” of international security, will likely affect how Western democracies respond to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in the aftermath of the October 7 massacre.

[Qatar] is a totalitarian, Islamist state with a lot of cash that does understand how power works in the West.

Alberto Fernandez, MEMRI

It’s all a bit disconcerting given Qatar’s destabilizing and corrupting influence on international politics. In addition to giving safe haven to Hamas leaders even after the October 7 massacre, Qatar has been accused of spying on US Senators and Congressional representatives as part of “Project ENDGAME” in an effort to block anti-Hamas and anti-Muslim Brotherhood legislation and policies. Moreover, the country is credibly accused of bribing officials from FIFA, the governing body for the sport of soccer, to bring the 2022 World Cup to its capital Doha, in an attempt to whitewash its terrible human rights record. And then there is “Qatargate,” in which the nation’s leaders have been accused of attempting to bribe the European Union to do its bidding. Put it all together, and it’s hard to believe that Qatar isn’t intent on using its wealth to corrupt the MSC just as it has corrupted the other institutions it interacts with.

MSC isn’t revealing how much money it got from Qatar, but it must be substantial given that Qatar’s former Prime Minister, Hamaid bin Jassim (HBJ), well-known for his antisemitism and hostility toward Israel, was given a seat on the conference’s board of trustees between 2019 and 2023, when he was ousted. Conference organizers have still yet to release information about how much Qatar donated to the conference to obtain the seat in the first place, nor have they recounted the reasons behind HBJ’s ouster, which may have had something to do with reports, one authored by this writer, regarding his antisemitism.

Christoph Heusgen, chairman of the Munich Security Conference (MSC), met with USAID Administrator Samantha Power in Washington, D.C., in April 2023. (Photo: USAID via Flickr)

Clearly, HBJ’s hostility toward Jews became a burden for the German-led MSC. When confronted by Focus on Western Islamism (FWI) in January about his declaration that if oil was sold by Jews, “It would be the most expensive thing in the world,” press representatives for MSC Chairman Christoph Heusgen stated, “Ambassador Heusgen believes that the reported comments by Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al Thani were obviously antisemitic and completely unacceptable.” This was a change from November when Heusgen, former German ambassador to the UN, refused to respond when FWI asked for a comment about HBJ’s remark. The massive outbreaks of Jew-hatred in Germany since October 7 coupled with a desire to insulate the MSC from the wave of antisemitism gripping the globe may help explain the change in tone.

When pressed by FWI in January about HBJ’s payment to the MSC and his departure, the MSC press team responded that HBJ “contributed to the endowment of the Munich Security Conference Foundation with a personal donation 3 years ago before Ambassador Heusgen took over the Chairmanship. Many other private individuals and foundations from Europe and the United States have donated to the MSC. Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al-Thani is no longer a member of the Board of Trustees of the MSC Foundation.”

The MSC is no stranger to expressions of Jew-hatred. In 2010, this writer reported, in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, how Ali Larijani, former president of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s pseudo parliament, denied the Holocaust at the MSC in 2009, declaring that his nation has “different perspectives on the Holocaust.”

Concerns over MSC’s approach to Hamas are rooted in more than Qatari influence over the organization, but also in the attitude of its German overseers. Heusgen, MSC’s chairman, has, like Qatar, shown sympathy to Hamas, even since its massacre of 1,200 people on October 7 in southern Israel. Heusgen, who worked as former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief foreign policy adviser for 12 years, told German ZDF public television that Hamas’s slaughter of 1,200 people was merely a “Hamas action” and supported comments made by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres that suggested Israel was to blame for the mass murder.

“Guterres is a very level-headed man,” said Heusgen, adding that “He was right to both condemn the Hamas action while also noting that it didn’t happen in a vacuum.” 

In an apparent effort to downplay the likely impact of Qatari influence on the proceedings, MSC officials have tried to portray the country as a force for peace between Israel and its adversaries in the Middle East. In an email statement, MSC officials told FWI that

“On Qatar itself, Ambassador Heusgen is aware of the fact that it was among the first Gulf states which back in 1996 took up trade relations with Israel. He is also aware of the fact that Israeli officials are in close contact with representatives of Qatar in view of the release of Israeli hostages. Ambassador Heusgen wishes every success to these efforts which as he stated early on should have the highest priority.”

Clearly, MSC is involved in a campaign of damage control in the run-up to this weekend’s conference. The organization, which has studiously ignored detailed requests for comment from this writer, responded to FWI’s queries on the condition that it publish an extended comment in its entirety with the piece. This comment, published below, is a clear attempt to demonstrate MSC’s good intentions toward Israel, which were challenged by a recent piece in Israel Hayom, which stated Heusgen was planning on sidelining Israel at this weekend’s conference. The MSC declared that it would do no such thing: “The MSC has invited senior Israeli decision-makers to participate in the main program of the conference. Events addressing the hostage situation and the fight against antisemitism will also take place within the framework of the conference.”

Not everyone is convinced of Qatar’s good intentions. Alberto Fernandez, who served as U.S. chargé d’affaires in Sudan from 2007 to 2009, told FWI that “Qatar seeking to influence the MSC is not surprising although it should be a major concern. It is what Qatar does everywhere, leveraging soft power through the use of money and Islamism. This usually targets the same type of institutions for penetration – conferences and other public events, universities, NGOs, media, politicians (as in Qatargate).”

Fernandez, a vice president for the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), added “It is a totalitarian, Islamist state with a lot of cash that does understand how power works in the West. But they do this in both the East and West, in the US and in Europe, although the Europeans seem to be rather more lax than even the Americans on this.”

FWI press queries sent to Qatar’s embassies in Washington, D.C., and London (and to HBJ) went unanswered. Ambassador Heusgen’s press team sent FWI a lengthy statement linked to the condition that Heusgen will only comment if his remarks are fully published. FWI agreed to Heusgen’s unusual demand, which is appended below.

Benjamin Weinthal is a Milstein Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

Appendix:

“Ambassador Heusgen has condemned the brutal terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas on October 7 and his heart goes out to all those affected. He is acutely aware that it continues to be a very difficult time for many Israelis, and Jews around the world.

“The attacks and the ongoing conflict will of course play a central role in the discussions in Munich. The MSC has invited senior Israeli decision-makers to participate in the main program of the conference. Events addressing the hostage situation and the fight against antisemitism will also take place within the framework of the conference.

“Ambassador Heusgen believes that conflating criticism of Israeli government policies with antisemitism is misplaced and counterproductive. He strongly believes it is important not to shy away from discussing the challenges of the region when seeking to achieve a long-term political solution to this crisis, but that any such discussion should be conducted with respect and tolerance. Since its foundation, the MSC has stood for an open exchange and is committed to a solution-oriented dialogue.

“We are also organizing, in cooperation and close coordination with the Israeli government, an event on the situation of the remaining hostages, exploring strategies intended to lead to their rescue. In addition, there are a number of events on other important topics like fighting antisemitism, radicalization and terrorism as well as de-escalation strategies for the wider region.”

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