Samantha Rose Mandeles
In 1995, the current Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani came to power, and in 1996, Sheikh Hamad began the process (completed in 1998) of abolishing the Ministry of Information and establishing the regional news network Al Jazeera in its place. Originally broadcast only in Arabic, by 1999, Al Jazeera had become a 24-hour network, popular all over the Arab world.
When the ‘Arab Spring’ began in 2011, Al Jazeera—as a Qatari government mouthpiece with royal funding—became a primary conduit for Muslim Brotherhood messaging in the Middle East and north Africa. Qatar’s support for the Brotherhood is well-established: the country has long hosted Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yusuf Al Qaradawi; supported Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad Morsi during his short tenure as Egypt’s head of state; funded the Brotherhood’s affiliate in Gaza, the terrorist group Hamas; and hosted much of its senior leadership in Doha. With broadcasts reaching millions, Al Jazeera’s pro-Brotherhood leanings were clear enough that in 2013, as a Gulf News report revealed, the Al Jazeera’s Egyptian Mubasher Misr Bureau suffered the simultaneous resignation of 22 staffers over management’s “bias” toward the Brotherhood. According to former Anchor Karem Mahmoud, Al Jazeera bosses directed staff to favor the Brotherhood in coverage of Egyptian news.
As a pro-Islamist outfit, Al Jazeera has unsurprisingly spread anti-Semitic and anti-Western propaganda throughout the world. Indeed, a set of 2009 US Embassy cables referred to the network as “a useful tool for the station’s political masters,” and the Hoover Institution’s Fouad Ajami wrote in 2001 that Al Jazeera’s “Hollywoodization of news is indulged with an abandon that would make the Fox News Channel blush.” While its anti-Jewish and anti-American slant is most evident in Al Jazeera’s Arabic programming, Al Jazeera’s English-language branches have also served as a “useful tool” for advancing Qatari propaganda.
Founded in 2006 and bankrolled by the Qatari royal family, Al Jazeera English is a major source of anti-Semitic and anti-American fodder—frequently cited by Islamist and anti-Israel activists in the West. However, as Qatar and Al Jazeera have long portrayed themselves as defenders of the Palestinian cause, much of Al Jazeera English’s anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism is disguised as anti-Zionism or anti-imperialism—rhetoric carefully selected to chime with progressive activism in the West.
The Al Jazeera conglomerate has further harnessed Left-leaning audiences in the West with AJ+—an online news platform featuring both quick, easily-shareable clips and longer investigative videos. It broadcasts in English, Arabic, French, and Spanish, and is integrated closely with social media platforms.
Al Jazeera’s array of platforms showcases the media empire’s adaptability—the network shifts its messaging to suit the unique audiences of its various branches. For the Arab and Muslim world, where anti-Jewish, anti-American conspiracy theories are common and often part of normal discourse, Al Jazeera indulges in Islamist accusations of Jewish control and American subservience to Zionists, and predictions of Islam’s conquest of the United States. For the West, where serious citations of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are less acceptable, Al Jazeera replaces motifs of Jewish control with those of Zionist influence; in English, the network attacks American society under the guise of anti-racism and advocacy for oppressed populations. And at AJ+, the network peddles—as media analyst Gilead Ini writes— “what might be called easy-listening progressivism, one-minute video clips meant to demonstrate AJ+’s enlightened values…”
Over the past two decades, the size and influence of Al Jazeera’s network—and with it, Qatar’s ability to influence public opinion—has ballooned. With more than 65 bureaus world-wide, and broadcasts in multiple languages, Al Jazeera has succeeded in branding itself as a hard-hitting example of—in Hilary Clinton’s notorious words— “real news.” For these reasons, it is crucial that the network’s anti-Jewish and anti-American propaganda and duplicity be identified and publicized.
Al Jazeera Arabic
Al Jazeera’s most vitriolic rhetoric concerning Jews and the United States is reserved for its content in Arabic. A longstanding component of Al Jazeera’s anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism is the broadcasts of Muslim Brotherhood spiritual leader Yusuf al Qaradawi. For more than 15 years, while living comfortably in Qatar, the Islamist cleric hosted an Al Jazeera talk show called “Sharia and Life,” which was, as a Washington Post article noted, “infused at times with…support for the Hamas organization and the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Viewers of the show were invited to call in and pose religious and Islamic legal questions to Qaradawi. His answers were replete with anti-Semitic extremism. In a July 13, 2004 episode, he objected to the idea of including Jews in the Doha-based conference on Islamic-Christian dialogue, saying “The iniquity of the Jews, as a community, is obvious and apparent…” In a June 2004 episode, he insisted, “There is no dialogue between us [Muslims and Jews] except by the sword and the rifle.” And in a 2005 episode, he claimed that “Jewish power” seeks to control the world.
Speeches and sermons given by Qaradawi in other forums have also been broadcast on Al Jazeera. These often echo the same anti-Semitic sentiments: in 2009, Qaradawi used one of his Al Jazeera sermons to condemn “the aggressor Jews, those arrogant plunderers, who act arrogantly toward the servants of Allah in the land of Allah…This is my message to the treacherous Jews, who have never adhered to what is right, or been true to their promises, who violate each time the promises they make to you [God].”
In another Al Jazeera sermon, Qaradawi even asserted, “Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the [Jews] people who would punish them for their corruption. The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them – even though they exaggerated this issue – he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them. Allah willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers.”
Al Jazeera Arabic’s other programming is more of the same. In a 2002 episode of the program “Without Bounds”—which the network characterizes as bringing “viewers closer to today’s current affairs developments through an open interview with an expert”—journalist Ahmed Mansour interviewed former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke. In the episode, both Duke and Mansour claim Israeli involvement in the 9/11 attacks, total control of the American government by Israel, and American complicity in Israeli “terrorism.”
And in 2008, the network famously planned and broadcast a lavish celebration marking the return to Lebanon of Samir Kuntar, a Palestinian Liberation Front terrorist who kidnapped and brutally murdered a young Israeli-Jewish father and his four-year-old daughter and was later released by Israel in a prisoner swap. Speaking with Kuntar on a live broadcast, Al Jazeera’s Beirut bureau chief called him a “Pan-Arab hero.” After widespread condemnation, the network was forced to apologize for this incident, but its proliferation of extremist content before and since then renders this regret insincere.
Other Al Jazeera broadcasts have featured numerous interviews with prominent Islamist clerics from all over the Arab and Muslim world, who incite violence against Jews and Americans. In 2006, an interview with Iraqi Sh’ite cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Al-Baghdadi was broadcast in Qatar, in which Al-Baghdadi insisted that “we will conquer the world, so that ‘There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the Prophet of Allah’ will be triumphant over the domes of Moscow, Washington, and Paris…we will annihilate America.”
Al Jazeera Arabic’s website, meanwhile, publishes opinion pieces that champion an Islamist, conspiratorial worldview. Recent Al Jazeera Arabic opinion blogs have insisted that America’s “political, economic and moral corruption” is tied to Jewish “supremacy,” and that the “Noble Qur’an mentions to us that this supremacy is a sign of the beginning of the end of that corruption and the beginning of the return of Islam to the civilizational scene…”; that the recent wars in Syria, Yemen, and other Middle Eastern regions—and the divisions in the Arab and Muslim world—have all been orchestrated as part of a Zionist-American plot for financial gain; and that much of American political campaign funding comes from the Jews loyal to the “Zionist entity.”
Furthermore, Al Jazeera Arabic’s political cartoons frequently feature Nazi-inspired anti-Semitic content, including caricatures of Jews as scheming, power-hungry, or dour-looking with oversized noses. One January 2018 Al Jazeera cartoon depicts such a Jew stealing the Muslim holy site, the Dome of the Rock, from a young Palestinian boy. A 2016 cartoon touches on the familiar theme of American control by secret Jewish cabals, depicting a Jew being interviewed about the Clinton-Trump presidential race. The Jew is asked, “Who will win?” He answers, “Me.” A third cartoon also emphasizes American weakness in the face of Jewish power, showing a Jewish hand (marked by a Star of David) holding a birdcage in which stands a downtrodden and miserable Uncle Sam. Uncle Sam, meanwhile, holds the UN hostage, held captive in an even smaller birdcage than his own.
Al Jazeera English
Usually, Al Jazeera’s English content is subtler than its Arabic counterpart in its anti-Semitic and anti-American slant. Still, the network has occasionally veered into overt bigotry in English as well. In May 2017, for example, Al Jazeera’s English language Twitter account posted a popular anti-Semitic image about the conniving Jew to accompany an article titled, “Why you shouldn’t trust climate change deniers.”
Al Jazeera later deleted the tweet, and as in Al Jazeera Arabic’s Samir Kuntar episode, the network apologized and called the tweet a mistake. But it is difficult to know (as the Washington Free Beacon noted) how the image—which had apparently been sent to Al Jazeera on Twitter six months earlier—ended up on Al Jazeera English’s feed at all.
This tweet notwithstanding, Al Jazeera English mostly avoids its Arabic counterpart’s fascination with “Jewish power,” preferring to discuss “Zionist influence” instead. A recent Al Jazeera English article, for example, argues that “every American administration over the past three or four decades was subject to major Zionist influence.” Such wordplay is a thin smokescreen for socially acceptable anti-Semitism, in which motifs about Jewish power continue to appear but are passed off as—in Al Jazeera journalist Avi Shlaim’s words— “legitimate criticism of Israeli policies.”
Case in point: In early 2017, Al Jazeera released a four-part documentary film series called The Lobby—a name which harkens to the widely discredited and anti-Semitic text by professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer (“The Israel Lobby“), in which the authors recycle the Jewish-power conspiracy, asserting that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) maintains an unrivaled “hold” on Congress.
The 2017 Al Jazeera series featured covertly-gathered footage of the London pro-Israel community. Al Jazeera made international headlines when it managed to record Shai Masot, a junior diplomat in the Israeli embassy in London, boasting to a British parliamentary staffer that he could bring down anyone he pleased if he or she failed to support Israel.
The documentary presents a London infected with outsized, insidious Zionist control of British government, but Al Jazeera defends the series. The network has kept the Lobby videos available online, placed prominently on the front page of AJ’s Investigative Branch website, and describes the project as an effort to show how “pro-Israel groups are trying to influence Britain’s youth…The evidence raises serious questions about whether accusations of anti-Semitism are used to stifle political debate.”
Al Jazeera also produced an American version of the series, using an undercover reporter who “obtained work at several pro-Israel organizations, interviewed dozens of Jewish pro-Israel activists, won access to donors, hosted minor officials from the Israeli embassy at his home, and shot dozens of hours of video.”
Despite the Emir’s 2017 announcement that the American Lobby would not air, Al Jazeera English sent emails to those Jewish leaders caught on tape, giving them three weeks to respond to the coverage and their roles in it before broadcast. Moreover, clips from the series were leaked at the end of August 2018, and in early November, anti-Israel blog The Electronic Intifada “obtained” and published the full series. It was subsequently posted at other anti-Semitic websites, including The Daily Stormer—a website that even Al Jazeera has termed “Neo-Nazi.”
Even before the Lobby controversy, Al Jazeera English branches faced accusations of anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. In fact, the accusations against Al Jazeera English’s United States branch, Al Jazeera America, were so severe that they reportedly contributed to the station’s dissolution in 2016. In 2015, a former Al Jazeera America employee even filed a lawsuit against the branch and its senior vice president of “Broadcast Operations & Technology,” Osman Mahmud, alleging “a litany of sexist, anti-Semitic, and ‘Anti-American’ behavior…” Among other complaints, the suit alleges that Mahmud once declared, “whoever supports Israel should die a fiery death in hell.”
AJ+ is a prime example of Al Jazeera’s malleability—especially when it relates to anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. Describing itself as “a global news community for the connected generation,” AJ+ is a video-heavy outlet that produces English, Arabic, Spanish and French-language content directly for social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, and Medium. A 2015 Variety article reported that AJ+ is the 9th biggest video publisher on Facebook, with more than 430 million views on the platform in just 90 days. AJ+ also maintains native applications for mobile devices and Smart TV systems, and targets young, left-leaning Americans by focusing on areas of young progressive interest, such as the “patriarchy,” LGBT rights, and even the lives of indigenous American “punk rockers.”
Though promoting intersectionality, feminism, same-sex marriage, and punk rock is not part of the traditional Qatari rhetoric—and, indeed, appears at sharp odds with Islamist ideology—Al Jazeera allows AJ+ to cover such topics favorably so that a more sinister accompanying ideological message is afforded legitimacy. AJ+’s branding allows Doha to peddle anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism to a younger audience under the guise of minority rights.
In September, for example, AJ+ tweeted a video called “Why White Feminism is Racist.” In the clip, a pink-haired journalist called Zab Mustefa claims that white feminism’s racism is exemplified by outspoken feminist and Jewish-Israeli actress Gal Gadot—who is then shown telling an interviewer that feminism, to her, means freedom of choice. Mustefa contends that Gadot’s feminism—and indeed, Gadot herself—is racist because she “supports the Israeli army, which oppresses Palestinian women on a daily basis.” Mustefa does not elaborate on how the IDF oppresses Palestinians, or on how Gadot’s support of her own nation’s army indicates racism. Instead, the clip then launches into an interview with Women’s March coordinator Tamika Mallory, who has recently made headlines by refusing to condemn Louis Farrakhan’s extensive history of anti-Semitism.
Casting Israelis—and Israel in general—as racist and oppressive is crucial to Al Jazeera’s broader agenda; the AJ+ branch thus dedicates considerable airtime to covering those aspects of the Israeli-Arab conflict that can be used to portray Israel as an aggressor. One AJ+ miniseries “takes you to the occupied West Bank…where Dena Takruri meets the Indigenous communities resisting occupation of their land…” The films feature “Palestinian kids fighting Israel’s Occupation” with slow-motion footage of young boys rolling old car tires and close-ups of Israeli soldiers shooting.
AJ+ takes similar care to spread anti-Americanism with a similar “anti-racist” slant. One AJ+ video, glowingly tweeted by the branch’s English account, features the well-known Islamist activist Linda Sarsour disparaging the American government for “policies that are going to target communities based on religion and national origin.” Another features short clips of young adults in American-flag-plastered clothes sardonically “bragging” about negative aspects in which (the video claims) the United States leads the world: “Not to brag, but we have the most incarcerated people in the world! God bless the prison-industrial complex…Pew, Pew! We’ve got 90 guns per 100 persons! Sorry, Yemen, we beat you in drones and guns! …Americans consume 80% of the world’s painkillers. Makes sense though, right? I mean, racism in this country is a big pain in the ass.”
Al Jazeera’s Power
In a 2011 interview with American Journalism Review, Judea Pearl, father of Daniel Pearl (the Wall Street Journal reporter murdered by terrorists in 2004), called Al-Jazeera, “one of the most dangerous organizations in the world today. We are talking here about an organization which is committed to weakening the West, and they are doing it under the cloak of ordinary journalism.” Since Dr. Pearl’s interview, Al Jazeera has only dug in its heels, finding new ways of reaching varied demographics all around the world.
As a mouthpiece for Qatari Islamist ideals, Al Jazeera’s strength lies it in the adaptability of its sensationalism; each branch displays a unique approach to distorting news, disseminating propaganda, and boosting anti-Semitic and anti-American feeling. While Al Jazeera Arabic appeals to the Islamist hard Right in the Muslim world, Al Jazeera English encourages reasonable Center-Left viewers in the West to adopt anti-Semitic and anti-American ideas, while AJ+ is firmly focused on giving momentum to extremist views regarding Jews and America within the growing, influential, far-Left movement in the United States. Qatar is pitching anti-Semitism and hatred for America across the political gamut.
Twenty-two years after its establishment, Al Jazeera has penetrated media and online information markets around the globe. With bureaus across the globe, broadcasts in several languages, multiple well-maintained, widely-followed and polished social media accounts and websites, investigative documentary film series, and even podcasts, Al Jazeera—and through it, the Qatari regime—has become a propaganda force with which to be reckoned.
Samantha Rose Mandeles is the Coordinator for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.