The lobbyists that Qatar hired to improve the emirate’s image among American Jews were earning far more from their relationship with Doha than previously known. These were the same figures who managed the fallout of a still-unaired but much whispered-about undercover documentary produced by Al-Jazeera about pro-Israel groups in Washington, D.C.
The new details about the lobbyists’ payment came out on Oct. 26 when Nick Muzin, a former senior staffer for Republican Sens. Tim Scott and Ted Cruz-turned lobbyist for Qatar, filed a disclosure under the Foreign Agents Registration Act reporting $3.9 million in additional payments related to his work for Doha. Muzin, as Tablet readers will recall, was first retained by Qatar in September of 2017. The payments listed on Muzin’s FARA filing come from Blue Fort Public Relations LLC, “a private firm that is incorporated in Qatar with offices in London, U.K., and Washington, D.C., to foster commercial and international investment-related outreach opportunities for private companies and investors from Qatar into the United States,” according to the filing. Of that $3.9 million, $2.3 million was paid to Lexington Strategies, a firm owned by Joey Allaham, a kosher restaurateur with business links to prominent Qataris who later joined Muzin in lobbying on Qatar’s behalf. According to the filing, the payments from Blue Fort came in September and October of 2017.
Muzin’s initial contracts with Qatar, beginning in September of 2017, were worth some $50,000 a month, an amount which was increased to $300,000 a month that November (with $150,000 to be spent on subcontractors). Allaham filed a FARA disclosure in June reporting that he had been paid a total of $1.45 million from his Qatar lobbying. The October filing indicates that Muzin and Allaham’s lobbying relationship with Qatar was worth more to them than previous filings might indicate. The disclosure also reveals the actual extent of Muzin and Allaham’s work for Qatar: In addition to showing how much the pair were making from their work for Doha, the contract lists various “contacts” with leading figures in the finance, real estate, and energy world, including Martin Oliner, the CEO of First Lincoln Holdings and chairman of Religious Zionists of America. Oliner traveled to Doha in early 2018.
Still, there’s much the contract doesn’t explain. Blue Fort’s website includes only sparse information about the company, its clients, its officers, and its activities, and does not list a phone number. Its Washington, D.C., address corresponds to a “virtual office” that can be rented at an introductory rate of $80 a month while its London address is for a co-working space that also advertises virtual office services. In Doha, Blue Fort lists an address very similar to that of the Arab Engineering Bureau, a company that won contracts connected to the 2022 World Cup, which is scheduled to take place in the emirate. In reality, Blue Fort’s stated address of “950 Ibn Seena St.” would almost certainly be invalid in Doha (the number 950 indicates the block number, but Blue Fort does not list a P.O. Box or building number—in contrast, AEB’s address in Doha Bldg 100, Ibn Seena 950. Although the addresses are very similar, a company representative told Tablet that AEB does not share an address with Blue Fort. “Please note that while BlueFort may or may not be located on the same street, they do not share the same address as ours,” the representative wrote by email).
Muzin and Allaham have a complicated history with Qatar. Muzin had difficulty setting up public meetings between American Jewish leaders and Qatari government officials during the opening of the UN General Assembly in September of 2017 but later succeeded in arranging for Oliner, Mort Klein, Alan Dershowitz, Malcolm Hoenlein, and other prominent Jewish and pro-Israel figures to visit the country. In January of 2017, Tablet reported that Al-Jazeera had sent a recent Oxford graduate named Tony Kleinfeld to infiltrate various pro-Israel groups in Washington, DC and secretly record their employees and activists. After threats from members of Congress to push for Al-Jazeera register under FARA, as well as talks between Muzin and concerned American Jewish leaders, the resulting documentary never aired on the network. Muzin and Allaham both publicly distanced themselves from Qatar in June of 2018, around the same time that the discovery process for a lawsuit from the GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy—whose email account was likely penetrated by Qatari-hired hackers in late 2017—revealed the scope of the emirate’s influence efforts in the US.
Tablet reached out to Muzin, Allaham, and Blue Fort for comment earlier today, and will update when we receive a response.
This article originally stated that Blue Fort shared an address with the Arab Engineering Bureau. The company has disputed this, and it appears that while the addresses are very similar Blue Fort’s would in fact be invalid based on Doha’s address and street-naming conventions. Tablet regrets the error.
Armin Rosen is a staff writer for Tablet magazine.