By Robin Owens
United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley has earned a sterling reputation as a defender of Israel in a hostile international body. Time and time again, she has used the United States’ position on the Security Council to shield the Jewish state from unfair attacks, and vowed to bring the heat to those who target Israel.
Haley will soon leave her post at the United Nations, and perhaps she will run for the presidency. But Israel advocates need to call on her for one more favor: she must quash an effort to abuse diplomatic immunity to avoid a reckoning for Qatar, one of Israel’s most implacable foes, in American court.
Top Republican donor Elliott Broidy is now suing in New York federal court paid agents of Qatar’s government whom he alleges hacked and disseminated his emails. The lead named defendant is Jamal Benomar, a British citizen and a resident of New York who recently retired from a long career at the United Nations. In response to Broidy’s suit, Benomar has asserted diplomatic immunity as a Moroccan national and embassy staffer. Morocco has so far gone along with this maneuver, which would apply diplomatic immunity retroactively and result in the dismissal of Broidy’s lawsuit.
Benomar’s attorney, Abbe Lowell of Winston & Strawn LLP, in a letter to the court, asserted that he is “immune from jurisdiction for actions performed in the course of his duties.” According to Lowell’s tortured logic, Benomar “specifically counseled Qatar at the request of his home government of Morocco.” However, in a letter to the court November 2, Broidy’s attorney, Lee Wolosky, forcefully asserts that Benomar’s “claim to diplomatic immunity fails.”
As the lawsuit has unfolded, it has become apparent that Broidy was hardly the only target in the pro-Israel community. Files that have been released as part of discovery have implied that Rabbi Shmuley Boteach was also targeted by the same group of Qatari hackers. Over the weekend, it was reported that Qatar’s American agents – led by Benomar – specifically went after Rabbi Boteach because of his close relationship with GOP donor and pro-Israel champion Sheldon Adelson.
Ambassador Haley has the power to stop Benomar’s circumvention of the legal process. As U.N. ambassador, she heads the United States Mission at the U.N, which has final say over whether Benomar will receive diplomatic immunity. There are important precedents here at stake and pro-Israel advocates are demanding that Ambassador Haley to intervene forcefully.
We cannot afford to have foreign governments intrude on the private communications of American citizens with no consequences. And we cannot allow diplomatic immunity to be wielded as a weapon against those who advocate on behalf of our close ally Israel.
It is well worth remembering that Qatar represents one of Israel’s greatest strategic enemies in the region. It is a premier funder of the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups, and offers sanctuary in Doha to many of the organization’s exiled leaders. It has also weaponized Al Jazeera, its state broadcaster, to spread disinformation and smears against the state of Israel. Never mind that Al Jazeera was also a mouthpiece for al-Qaeda during the American wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
American policymakers like Haley have so far resisted pressure to take a much harder line on Qatar. It is time for that to change.
Robin Owens is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C.