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Influential Democrat Lobbyist Caught in Qatar Influence-Buying Scandal

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Ezra Friedlander, a high-profile Democratic lobbyist who is working as a consultant for Qatari businessman Hassan Ali Bin Ali (HABA), has been accused of lobbying the White House in favor of the geopolitical interests of the controversial Gulf nation.

Friedlander’s New York lobbying firm – The Friedlander Group – was retained by Bin Ali in 2014 in order to position the Qatari businessman as the “go to” person between the United States and Arab/Muslim world, and specifically to promote Qatar’s ties with the American Jewish community. Bin Ali is close with the Qatari regime, which has often employed businessmen and investors to promote Qatari interests in the US. Qatar’s state-owned sovereign wealth funds and investment vehicles, critics charge, serve the same purpose of advancing regime political and policy interests under non-governmental cover.

The accusations surrounding Friedlander, an Orthodox Jew, resemble a separate controversy in which Qatar’s government contracted with Stonington Strategies’ Nick Muzin — a former senior staffer for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Orthodox Jew — in a lobbying effort to bring Jewish conservatives and other pro-Israel activists on trips to Qatar with the ultimate goal of influencing the Trump administration to soften its critical stance on the Gulf state, which funds anti-Israel terrorist groups such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Qatar has hired numerous FARA-registered lobbyists for a much broader influence-buying effort on U.S. soil, including through Ashcroft Law Firm, Audience Patterns Worldwide, Avenue Strategies, Ballard Partners, Blueprint Advisors, Education Above All Foundation, Gallagher Group, Husch Blackwell Strategies, Information Management Services, Iron Bridge Strategies, James Courtovich, McDermott Will & Emery, Mercury Public Affairs, Myriad Creative, Levick Communications, Lumen8 Advisors, Portland Communications, SGR Lobbying, and Venable.

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Now, Friedlander’s name joins that list. The lobbyist’s reported work for Qatar has irked some of his fellow Jewish Democrats. David Greenfield, who served as a Democratic city councilman from New York at the time Friedlander was retained by Bin Ali, tweeted that Friedlander “is a lobbyist & paid political spokesperson. He is NOT a community leader.”

According to FARA filings, Friedlander started working for Bin Ali in 2014 at a monthly rate of $10,000. The filing states that Friedlander’s duties on behalf of Bin Ali included efforts “to enhance the bi-lateral relationship between the USA and Qatar” and that The Friedlander Group “shall act on behalf of HABA and use his reasonable endeavors to establish HABA as the ‘go to’ person between the USA and the Arab/Muslim world and to enhance the bi-lateral relationship between the USA and Qatar and to positively impel the relationship between the American Jewish communities.”

A report by Al Arabiya last October noted, “A congressional source told Al Arabiya English, on condition of anonymity, that Bin Ali had hired the New York City lobbying firm Friedlander Group, founded by Ezra Friedlander, to mend the bilateral relations between Qatar and the United States.”

Bin Ali, however, wrote a piece denying the Al Arabiya story as “an entirely fictitious and slanderous piece.”

Responding to reports on One America News Network (OANN), Al Arabiya, and several other outlets about his alleged work for Bin Ali and by extension, Qatar’s government, Friedlander said Bin Ali has “never worked for Qatar.”

“It’s inaccurate. I know I’ve seen that before. If you look at the FARA finding, I represented Hassan as a private citizen,” Friedlander said. “It has nothing to do with Qatar. If you know how to read the FARA filing, I was never registered as a representative of Qatar. It’s total fake news. If you’re going to report you should report accurately.”

Asked why Bin Ali retained his services, Friedlander said, “He’s always spoken to me of the desire to see Israel accepted in the Arab world; to see peace. So, I told him I want you to come to Washington and share that perspective with members of Congress. That’s what I told him….I was the one who invited him. And I was the one who urged him to come to Washington.”

Friedlander added, “But it has nothing to do with Qatar. [Bin Ali] never worked for Qatar. He has nothing to do with Qatar. I certainly have nothing to do with Qatar. And even if you watch the [OANN report] again, you will see they never said Ezra Friedlander works for Qatar.”

Friedlander was referring to an OANN news clip which suggested, “Rep. Nadler’s shady ties to Qatar exposed,” citing the Democratic New York congressman’s alleged ties to Friedlander’s firm.

“It’s not true,” Friedlander said of the clip. “Even that article didn’t say I worked for Qatar. They chose their words very selectively…no one reads what they say. It’s junk news. It’s not factual.”

Friedlander has reportedly been a paid consultant for Nadler — the head of the House Judiciary Committee and consequently a leading player in investigations into President Donald Trump’s conduct — for over two decades. He is on Nadler’s payroll for consulting as the lawmaker’s Jewish community liaison.

“Do you know what my work with Jerry Nadler is? Very, very, VERY controversial,” Friedlander said sarcastically. “You have the biggest scoop of the year. I live in Borough Park. Borough Park is a community in Brooklyn that Jerry Nadler represents from Congress. Jerry Nadler does not have an office in the Borough Park portion of Brooklyn. So, he hired me in 2001. He said, ‘Look, I don’t have enough government money to hire a Borough Park liaison to bring me the concerns of the Orthodox Jewish community. You’re well-known in the Orthodox Jewish community. So, I’m going to ask you to please bring me any concerns that people have in the community. And I need you to represent me at events so that people know that their congressman is listening to their concerns.”

Qatar is home to the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader Yusuf al-Qaradawi and its government has close ties to the Iranian regime, which consistently calls for “Death to Israel” and “Death to America.” Al Ayabiya has reported that Bin Ali “is well known by his ties with Tehran. He enjoys close business and personal relations with Iranian parties.”

Friedlander, meanwhile, was in Egypt in February for his firm’s work on lobbying the Egyptian government to award former President Anwar Sadat the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor posthumously “in recognition of his heroic achievements and courageous contributions to peace in the Middle East.”

“Do you think if I was a registered foreign agent for Qatar, Egypt’s President Al Sisi would meet with me?” Friedlander said. “Don’t you think that before they met with me, Egyptian intelligence made research about who is this guy Ezra Friedlander? When you work for a foreign government, you have to register, you have to write who is my client. Hassan Ali Ben Ali is a private businessman. He has no connection to Qatar. None whatsoever. I happen to have a very close relationship with Hassan Ali Ben Ali. I have no connection to Qatar.”

At the same time, the controversies surrounding Friedlander, Bin Ali, and Qatar’s broader lobbying effort come in the aftermath of the Gulf state’s attempts to benefit from the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by using that event as a tool to garner favor with the Trump administration, despite Trump’s increasingly close ties with the Saudis. Around the same time, Khashoggi (who is ethnically Turkish) went missing after he entered the Saudi Embassy in Istanbul, the Qatari government reportedly sent Bin Ali and several other individuals to the U.S. and hired Friedlander and his firm “to mend the bilateral relations between Qatar and the United States.”

Although Qatar’s most notable export is natural gas, the Gulf nation’s critics note that its leading export is actually radical Islam and terrorism. More money goes to the Palestinian terror group Hamas from Qatar than from any other country in the world. In 2012, Emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani pledged $400 million to Hamas. Qatari support for the internationally recognized Palestinian terrorist organization grew after the former emir handed power to his son Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in 2013.

In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt all severed relations with Qatar over its financing and harboring of terrorists, and the Saudis closed their airspace to Qatari flights.

Qatar is also continuously under the microscope in connection with a pay-for-play scheme that landed the Gulf nation the 2022 World Cup. Qatar reportedly offered $400 million to FIFA just 21 days before world soccer’s governing body decided to award the World Cup to Doha.

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