This article has been updated with a statement from Shmuley Boteach – ed.
Qatar’s convoluted efforts to simultaneously blackmail and win over the American Jewish community imploded this past summer and then spilled into public view implicating White House confidants, former congressional staffers, billionaires and celebrity rabbis in a tangled case of influence peddling, email hacking and international intrigue.
Much of the story came to light through a lawsuit filed by a top GOP fundraiser and Trump world confidant Elliott Broidy. Broidy, the Republican National Committee’s former deputy finance chair and a board member with the Republican Jewish Coalition, has alleged business ties to the United Arab Emirates, a chief rival of the government of Qatar. Broidy alleges that his emails were stolen and disseminated by hackers hired by the Qatari government and with the assistance of U.S. agents working for the Qataris. Broidy’s suit names Republican senate staffer-turned-lobbyist Nick Muzin as one of the Qatari-employed agents alleged to have been involved in the hack and its aftermath. The lawsuit was recently dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, but not before the discovery process yielded a wealth of information on how Muzin and his partner, the kosher restaurateur Joey Allaham, went about making the emirate’s case to the American Jewish community and its leaders. In June, Allaham retroactively filed disclosures of months’ worth of pro-Qatar work under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Zionist Organization of America’s president Mort Klein, who had traveled to Doha in early January, then returned $100,000 in donations that Allaham had given his group. Allaham said he was breaking with Qatar in a June 7 interview with Politico, while Muzin tweeted that his company was “no longer representing the state of Qatar” the day before. That same week, The Daily Beast reported that the FBI had opened an investigation into the hacking of Broidy’s email.
Muzin and Allaham’s efforts on Doha’s behalf had been successful in many respects. Jewish and pro-Israel figures, including Klein, Alan Dershowitz, and Malcolm Hoenlein, traveled to Qatar in connection with the pair’s outreach. Meanwhile Muzin—a Yeshiva University, Yale Law, and Einstein School of Medicine graduate who had served as deputy chief of staff and Jewish outreach specialist for Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign—raised American Jews’ concerns with his clients about an Al-Jazeera documentary, based on undercover footage gathered inside pro-Israel organizations in Washington during the summer of 2016, that the Qatari state-owned news network has still never aired.
But Allaham and Muzin’s work entangled them in a slow-burning legal and geopolitical drama—all without really making Doha any more popular among American Jews or U.S. policymakers. Tablet has reviewed extensive WhatsApp communication between Muzin and Allaham spanning from August of 2017 until this past June and produced as part of Broidy’s ongoing litigation against Qatar, Muzin, and other defendants. The messages appear to indicate Allaham was an integral part of Qatar’s outreach efforts in the U.S. going back to August of 2017, even though he didn’t register as a foreign agent until this past June after a court order gave him 72 hours to cooperate with a subpoena in connection to Briody’s lawsuit.
Muzin and Allaham were constantly discussing media coverage of Broidy and the two texted about their efforts to influence stories about Broidy in the media. They also speculated about the activities of some of their opponents in trying to promote Qatar—including the New York rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who was also targeted by the same hackers responsible for breaching Broidy’s email account, according to Bloomberg. In another text exchange, previously reported in Mother Jones, Muzin seemed to suggest that he had briefed a former high-ranking UN official and advisor to the Qatari government named Jamal Benomar about the contents of emails in which Broidy accused Benomar of being an unregistered Qatari agent.
The Qatar portfolio paid off handsomely for the two lobbyists: Muzin’s company eventually made some $300,000 a month according to FARA disclosures, while Allaham reported a $1.4 million contract in his filings. During this same period, hackers with likely Qatari links targeted the email accounts of American citizens including Broidy. As Bloomberg reported last month, phishing emails linked to the same TinyURL account targeted over 1,000 people, including Broidy, Boteach and the Syrian-American activist Maouaz Moustafa; the hackers’ IP addresses were traced back to a Qatari government-owned internet service provider. The Daily Beast also found that “most” of the hacking targets were “outspoken enemies” of Qatar, although there was a curious emphasis on pro-opposition Syrians as well.
According to his FARA filings, Muzin did not begin working on Qatar’s behalf until September of 2017. On Aug. 4 of that year, Muzin appeared in a WhatsApp group chat with Jamal Benomar, Joey Allaham, and Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist who spent over 3 1/2 years in prison for his role in a congressional corruption scandal in the mid-2000s (Abramoff immediately left the WhatsApp group and had no apparent role in any subsequent pro-Qatar lobbying). The partners’ communication with Benomar, who Broidy’s July lawsuit accuses of “help[ing] to mastermind the dissemination of stolen materials to the media and other third parties,” apparently predates their work on Qatar’s behalf.
A month later, on Sept. 7, 2017, Muzin appeared in a separate group chat with just Benomar and Allaham in which he texted that he had sent an article link to the two of them On the same day, Muzin sent a text message to Allaham identifying the highly connected, pro-UAE, and anti-Qatar Broidy as an obstacle to their outreach for the Qatari kingdom. Later that month, Allaham and Muzin tried to set up public meetings between Qatari officials and American Jewish communal figures on the sidelines of the opening of the United Nations General Assembly. In the end, their efforts were largely unsuccessful and provoked a backlash from groups including the Zionist Organization of America.
Muzin and Broidy had an amicable run-in during a Hanukkah party later that year—“Broidy was actually friendly to me,” Muzin texted Allaham on Dec. 7. However, this didn’t change Muzin’s perception that Broidy was an obstacle to their work. “We got the press going after Broidy!,” Muzin texted Allaham on Jan. 25. Allaham replied that Muzin should “Just be very careful. Alan is doing something tomorrow himself.” The next day, Alan Dershowitz, who had recently gone to Doha, published a lengthy opinion piece in the Washington Examiner further defending his decision to travel to the country.
Allaham and Muzin had a streak of success in late 2017 and early 2018. Prominent pro-Israel figures, including Klein, Dershowitz, and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, all traveled to Doha. The Al-Jazeera undercover documentary, a matter Muzin had brought to the emir’s personal attention, still hadn’t aired, relieving the anxieties of pro-Israel figures in Washington and allaying likely congressional pressure on Al-Jazeera and Qatar. But the two lobbyists were distressed at the possibility of being locked out of the Republican Jewish Coalition’s annual meeting in Las Vegas this past February. Muzin was a former senior staffer for Republican senators Tim Scott and Ted Cruz—the RJC meetup would bring together powerful figures inside of Muzin’s network, exactly the people he needed to reach as part of his work on Qatar’s behalf. The RJC confab was, in essence, the kind of event Muzin was being paid to attend. But in early January Allaham and Muzin were under the impression they had been deliberately left off the list of attendees. On Jan. 26, as recently reported in the Jewish Journal Allaham messaged Muzin to say, “This Vegas thing is bothering me,” and Muzin responded “It’s really shocking…Someone very influential there is out to get me. It must be Sheldon [Adelson]. I think Shmuley [Boteach] stirred him up.”
*Boteach provided the following statement to Tablet: “There have been numerous alarming reports that Qatar has attempted to retaliate against me. … My priority at this time is to protect my family from these efforts. I trust that anybody involved in illegal action taken against Americans exercising their First Amendment rights will be held accountable and brought to justice.”
In September of 2017, Boteach’s organization ran a full-page ad in The New York Times opposing Qatar (and specifically Muzin’s) outreach around the U.N. General Assembly, and on Jan. 22 the Jerusalem Post published an opinion piece in which the rabbi questioned why Dershowitz was “defending Qatar.” In the Jan. 26 text exchange, Muzin suggested to Allaham that Boteach convinced a powerful donor to bar them from the RJC meeting: “It is Sheldon or Broidy or both. I don’t think Broidy on his own would have enough juice” (Broidy was an RJC board member at the time, a position he still holds. Muzin wasn’t invited to Las Vegas, but according to multiple sources he showed up anyway, appearing during the conference’s Saturday night gala dinner.
Throughout March, Allaham and Muzin were in constant communication over media reports based on material pilfered from Broidy’s email account in a breach from late December 2017. On March 1st, Allaham sent Muzin a link to a Wall Street Journal story about Broidy’s relationship with a Malaysian state investment fund under federal investigation in the U.S., which was revealed through the email hack. “He’s finished,” Muzin replied. “How’s it going?” Allaham asked on March 5th. “It’s good,” said Muzin. “Everyone asking me about Broidy.” “U saw this,” Allaham asked the next day, sending along Bloomberg and New York Times pieces. “Saw it,” says Muzin. “Means more Broidy stuff will be coming out.” “Bloomberg reporter called me about Qatar and Broidy,” Muzin informed Allaham on March 9th. “I just heard fr0m media guy—major NYT piece come out today or tomorrow,” Muzin texted on March 21st. (He was correct).
Allaham was also updating Benomar. On March 4, 5, and 6, Allaham sent links to several articles that were based on Broidy’s hacked emails, including articles in the BBC and Bloomberg. On the 6th, he texted a link to a New York Times piece about Broidy’s ties with the UAE along with the words “Just now!”
On March 13, Allaham and Muzin appear to discuss Jamal Benomar’s role in deciphering information from Broidy’s emails: “Try to get the emails. That what I think he was doing there. Reviewing them. He did it right before MBS comes,” Allaham texted, referring to the Qatari-opposed Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Washington on March 20. Muzin responded, “Why would they need Jamal to review emails? He doesn’t know anything about Broidy or the groups that are mentioned, other than what I told him.”
Benomar’s telephone records, which were produced during discovery for Broidy’s now-dismissed lawsuit against Qatar, Muzin, and others, revealed the ex-diplomat was in constant contact with Muzin and Allaham and made “over 80 calls and texts with at least four cellphone numbers for which extensive public records searching has not been able to identify a registered owner or user … coincid[ing] with key dates in the hack itself and the media phase of the conspiracy.” The records showed Benomar also spoke with Klein and Dershowitz during the same period.
In July, Broidy sued Benomar over his alleged role in the hack. Benomar’s legal team, headed by the superstar defense lawyer Abbe Lowell, is arguing that during the hack and its aftermath, Benomar was a Moroccan diplomat who was serving in an advisory role with the Qatari government. “Mr. Benomar specifically counseled Qatar at the request of his home government of Morocco,” Lowell wrote in a Sept. 28 letter to the judge presiding over Broidy’s lawsuit against Benomar. “Given Mr. Benomar’s employment history, we are looking into what privileges and immunities apply,” a spokesperson for the U.S. Mission to the U.N. told Tablet of Benomar’s diplomatic and legal status in the U.S. Multiple sources indicate that Benomar was in Morocco as of late October. His Oct. 31 statement was “executed in New York” but submitted electronically.
Allaham’s relationship with Benomar soured this past spring. Allaham sent a cryptic WhatsApp message to Muzin on March 18: “I keep on thinking to use ben Brafman for jamal.” During a deposition taken on June 19, Allaham said that this referred to legal representation in a planned lawsuit against Benomar. Allaham believed the Qatari government owed him significant sums of money, but because Qatar was protected from most U.S. lawsuits on sovereign immunity grounds the only way to recover the funds were through legal action against Benomar himself. Eventually, Allaham realized that was also a losing proposition. “The lawyers told me I didn’t have an agreement,” he said during the deposition.
The estimated size of the debt, Allaham says later in the deposition, was $5 million to $10 million, funds that he speculated Benomar might have been keeping offshore.
On June 6, Muzin announced on Twitter that he was no longer representing Qatar. Still, filings on the website for the Department of Justice’s FARA unit continues to list Muzin’s company as an active registrant for Qatar and typically, any change in status in representing a foreign principal has to be reported to the DOJ within ten days. Muzin filed a FARA disclosure for the hiring of an additional subcontractor who signed on to his Qatar account on July 3, over a month after his tweet saying he would stop representing the country.
This is a story told by text and disclosure. What it reveals, one piece at a time, is how Middle Eastern geopolitical rivalries are currently playing out in Washington and beyond. The actors in this drama of influence and persuasion are capable of maintaining complicated loyalties and interests. Doha’s activities clearly cannot be measured only by its public efforts and visible expenditures, and fights between international rivals are no longer limited to the policy realm. A foreign influence campaign could be targeted at getting Congress to approve a few extra Patriot missile sales, but it could also be aimed at the credibility of officials and activists working on the other side. Qatar and its U.S. agents navigated a lucrative and increasingly nasty influence game whose parameters were constantly expanding—a game in which the opinions of American Jews were viewed as one of the most important pieces on the board. The game is not yet over.
Armin Rosen is a staff writer for Tablet magazine.