The Middle East Forum, a far-right foreign policy think tank known for its anti-Islam views, is claiming credit for the Department of Justice’s September 14 order to require a subsidiary of Al Jazeera, a media company funded by the royal family of Qatar, to register as a foreign agent.
Mother Jones first reported last week that in its decision, the Justice Department alleged that AJ+, a U.S.-based social media production team of Al Jazeera, conducts “political activities” on behalf of Qatar’s government. Akin Gump, a law firm registered as a foreign agent for the United Arab Emirates—which Mother Jones notes “has long resented the critical coverage it receives from Al Jazeera”—has spent years pushing for the publication to be designated a foreign agent.
National Press Club President Michael Freedman and National Press Club Journalism Institute President Angela Greiling Keane issued a statement in response to the DOJ’s decision, noting that the decision had been issued a day before the White House announced it brokered a peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. The UAE and Qatar have been at odds for years; the nation of Qatar recently accused UAE of discrimination against Qatari citizens in the United Nation’s highest court.
“We object to this mischaracterization of AJ+ which produces news videos and other content in multiple languages for digital distribution, as a foreign agent,” Freedman and Keane stated. “We can only conclude that the Trump Administration is buckling to the demands of the UAE, which wants to suppress independent news gathering in the region – reporting that can expose the systemic inequality, corruption and incompetence of many of the region’s rulers.”
The U.S.-based Middle East Forum is also claiming credit for the designation. Al Jazeera’s designation “culminates a multi-year effort by the Middle East Forum to counter Qatar’s toxic influence campaign in the U.S. through its media arm,” MEF stated in a press release last week. The organization also stated that it “worked closely with congressional offices on this issue.”
MEF has gained attention throughout the years for its staunch anti-Islam positions and its support of anti-Islam extremists’ free speech rights. In 2018, Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative noted of MEF:
In 2018, MEF stated it provided the funding for British anti-Muslim activist’s, Tommy Robinson, legal defense through its legal project. Additionally, MEF organized two “Free Tommy” rallies, one of which turned violent. The think-tank also covered the travel costs of Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) who spoke at one of the rallies in London.
The MEF and Pipes were cited numerous times in Anders Breivik’s manifesto detailing the far-right mass murderer’s motivations for his July 2011 attack that resulted in the death of more than 70 Norwegians. Other individuals cited in the manifesto were Frank Gaffney, Steven Emerson, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer.
Earlier this year, Sam Westrop, a director for MEF’s “Islamist Watch” program, told Politifact that the Middle East Forum policy group met multiple times with White House staff in 2018 and 2019 regarding Trump’s promise to establish a commission on radical Islam.