‘Al Jazeera and its media subsidiaries act as alter egos of the Qatari government in ensuring dissemination of the government’s viewpoints…’
(Ben Sellers, Liberty Headlines) As tensions flare on a variety of fronts in the Middle East, a coalition of seven Republican congressmen on Tuesday sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr questioning why one of the Arab world’s foremost propaganda mouthpieces, Al Jazeera, was not registered as a foreign agent.
The group—led by Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Tom Cotton of Arkansas—asked the Justice Department to provide all unclassified material pertaining to the Foreign Agents Registration Act and Al Jazeera, which was chartered and continues to be funded mainly by the Qatari government.
“As such, one can reasonably infer that Al Jazeera is a messaging tool for the Qatari government, and, on its behalf, has engaged in inherently political activities and sought to influence public opinion in the United States,” they wrote.
Although a cable channel called Al Jazeera America, in coordination with former Vice President Al Gore, ultimately shuttered in 2016, the Al Jazeera Media Network, the network now maintains a U.S.-based digital syndicate called AJ+, with a strong presence of followers on social media and Youtube.
“Clearly, Al Jazeera has established and is building a significant reach within the United States,” wrote the congressmen.
They noted that the Al Jazeera sites had released a number of videos promoting anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli views, as well as some that were anti-American.
The network has previously lent its support to Hamas, the pro-Palestinian group that regularly engages in violent conflict with Israel.
“Qatar has not only allowed U.S. State Department-designated terrorist organizations such as Hamas to operate within the country but also has regularly hosted Hamas supporters and its leaders on Al Jazeera,” the congressmen said.
Qatar also maintained support for the Muslim Brotherhood, once deemed a stabilizing and democratizing influence on the region—although the role Al Jazeera played in driving that perception through its global reporting was likely considerable.
More recently, the Muslim Brotherhood’s authoritarian, militaristic influence on governments like Egypt’s has raised questions about whether its interests align with those of the U.S.
The group’s use of violence to enforce Islamic law prompted President Donald Trump to consider formally naming it a foreign terrorist organization in April, after a meeting with current Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
“When the available evidence is taken as a whole, it appears that Al Jazeera’s broadcasts, including AJ+, mirror the policies and preferences of the Qatari government,” wrote the congressmen, “which, together with the state funding and other indicia of agency, demonstrate that Al Jazeera and its media subsidiaries act as alter egos of the Qatari government in ensuring dissemination of the government’s viewpoints.”
Grassley recently introduced a bipartisan bill, the Foreign Agents Disclosure and Registration Enhancement Act of 2019, that he said would help to strengthen the 1938 FARA law, originally passed to stem the spread of Nazi propaganda.
The act, although rarely used since the 1960s, figured prominently into some of the prosecutions during the now-debunked Russia-collusion investigation led by Robert Mueller.
Grassley, the former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who now heads the Finance Committee, raised alarms during the Obama years over the links between members of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign with the governments of Georgia and Ukraine.
Grassley also called attention to the ties between Trump campaign adviser Paul Manafort and the Ukrainian government. Manafort ultimately was charged and found guilty under the FARA law as part of the Mueller investigation.
“Long before Special Counsel Mueller’s team sparked a renewed interest in enforcing the Foreign Agents Registration Act, I was raising concerns about undisclosed foreign lobbying and a lack of FARA enforcement,” Grassley said in a recent statement.
“This bill gives the Justice Department new tools to detect and deter secret foreign lobbying and ensures policymakers and the American public know when influence campaigns are being pushed by foreign interests,” he said.