April 30, 2019 Special Dispatch No. 8039

Elements Close To Qatari Regime Criticize Manifestations Of Qatari 'Normalization' With Israel

April 30, 2019
Qatar | Special Dispatch No. 8039

On March 22, 2019, a delegation of Israeli athletes participated in the Artistic Gymnastics World Cup, held in Qatar's capital Doha, and Israel's anthem was played and its flag was displayed after Israeli athlete Alexander Shatilov won a gold medal.[1] This sparked outrage in the Arab media and social networks, including among Qatari media figures, some of them employed by the Qatari state press and by the state-owned Al-Jazeera channel. These figures wrote, in articles and especially on Twitter, that any display of normalization with Israel is wrong and is a stain on Qatar's honor. Criticism was also voiced by the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS), founded by Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradawi, who is close to the Qatari regime. A statement issued by the IUMS proclaimed that the hosting of Israeli athletes in Qatar constituted a violation of the Islamic sharia because it harmed the Palestinian cause. A tweet by Al-Jazeera commentator Jamal Rayyan in which he defended Qatar's hosting of the Israeli athletes sparked furious responses from Qatari journalists and social media users. They rejected all normalization, and also accused Rayyan of hypocrisy because in the past he has spoken against normalization.    

This report samples some of the responses in Qatar to this affair.

IUMS: We Reject Manifestations Of Normalization With The Zionist Occupiers On Qatari Soil  

On March 24, 2019 the IUMS issued a statement which was, unusually, critical of Qatar's policies.  The statement did praise Qatar for supporting the Palestinian cause, but slammed it for allowing displays of normalization with Israel in sports competitions held on its soil, clarifying that such normalization contravened the Islamic sharia. As stated, the IUMS was founded by Sheikh Yousuf Al-Qaradawi, who also headed it until recently. Al-Qaradawi lives in Qatar and is close to its regime, and his IUMS is supported by the Qatari state.[2]

The IUMS statement said: "The International Union of Muslim Scholars stresses that one of its unwavering principles is the rejection of normalization with the occupiers and the relinquishing of Jerusalem or any other occupied territories under any pretext, by any state. [The IUMS] warns about the grave consequences of normalization for our first and foremost cause [i.e., the Palestinian cause]... and demands that the Islamic ummah unite to protect itself from concessions and failure. The IUMS is following with great pain and concern the developments pertaining to our foremost cause – occupied Jerusalem and Palestine – [namely] the recognition of the Golan as belonging to the occupiers, [Arab officials] attending the Warsaw [conference] alongside the prime minister of the occupying entity,[3] and the hosting [of the Israeli prime minister] by certain Arab and Gulf countries, as well as what is happening in the guise of sports, in Qatar and elsewhere...

"Since Arab and Gulf [states] are rushing towards the occupying enemy and attempting to normalize relations with it, the IUMS regards it as its duty to warn everyone and clarify the position of the sharia to all countries. The IUMS praises Qatar's honorable positions on the Palestinian cause and its support of Gaza, and [its positions] towards all those suffering oppression in the Arab world. However, it condemns the [manifestations] of normalization with the occupying enemy in sports [competitions] on Qatari soil, because every kind of normalization with the enemy is forbidden by the sharia, as well as by common sense..."[4]

Media Figures Close To The Regime: Normalization With Israel Is Forbidden And Disgraceful

As stated, criticism was also voiced by figures in Qatar's state media, who usually tend to praise the regime and its policies. These figures condemned the hosting of the Israeli athletes in Doha, and many also praised Qatari social media users for launching a "Qataris against normalization" hashtag. The criticism was reflected in cartoons in the Qatari media as well.

In an article published on March 26, 2019, several days after the competition in which the Israelis participated, Jaber Muhammad Al-Marri, a columnist for the government daily Al-Sharq, condemned Arab states that host Israeli culture and sports delegations, without explicitly naming Qatar. He wrote: "At a time when our Palestinian brethren are being murdered, expelled and tortured, and when Zionist Arabs are conspiring against [the Palestinian's] achievements and their usurped rights, our poor ummah continues, in the name of peace... to receive Zionist sports and culture delegations, welcoming them with flowers on its soil, raising their flag and lavishing them with all the tolerance and hope for peace that live in our hearts. Have we grown too weak to emulate [Malaysian Prime Minister] Mahathir [Mohamad] and his people?![5] How bad the Arabs, our Arabs, [have become]!"[6]

March 24, 2019 cartoon in Qatari daily Al-Raya

Jaber bin Nasser Al-Marri, editorial department head at the Al-'Arab daily, tweeted on March 23: "I don't know what is more shameful: the disgrace of [hearing] the so-called national anthem of the occupying Israeli entity being played in Qatar, or the fact that this sacrilege took place on the anniversary of the martyrdom of the Palestinian sheikh Ahmad Yasin, [the founder of Hamas]. Forgive us, martyrs of Palestine, forgive us, our Palestinian mothers in Palestine and in the diaspora..."[7]

Jaber bin Nasser Al-Marri's tweet

Journalist Jaber Al-Harmi, a former editor of Al-Sharq, tweeted on March 23 under the "Qataris against normalization" hashtag: "They are not welcome [here]. Any normalization with the Zionist entity, on any level and under any guise, is unacceptable, unacceptable, unacceptable."[8]

Jaber Al-Harmi's tweet

Al-Jazeera presenter Osman Ay Farah tweeted: "[Must] we repeat this? 'No to normalization' applies to Qatar [just] as it applies to other countries. The 'Qataris against normalization' hashtag is proof that the Qataris object to any kind of normalization. Period."[9] Al-Sharq columnist Ebtesam Aal Sa'd tweeted in a similar vein: "With this hashtag, the Qataris have proved their objection to any form of normalization with Israel... Thank God we live in a country with free speech, and yes, we say once again: #Qataris [are] against normalization, and we shall continue to be [against it]."[10] Dr. Elham Bader, a lecturer on Arabic literature and a former Al-Jazeera presenter and board member, tweeted under the same hashtag: "Regardless of all the justifications and excuses, [Israel's] existence is unacceptable. This entity is a pariah and opposing it is a legitimate right."[11]

Elham Bader's tweet

Cartoon on pro-Qatar website: "Playing Israel's national anthem in Arab capitals" (, March 23, 2019)

Tweet By Al-Jazeera Commentator Defending The Hosting Of The Israeli Athletes Sparks Furious Responses

Jamal Rayyan, a political commentator on Al-Jazeera, defended the Qatari decision to host the Israeli delegation, stating that failing to do so would have resulted in sanctions. He posted on his personal Twitter page: "The playing of the [Israeli] anthem is obligatory, and is not a sign of normalization. Preventing a sports delegation from attending an international tournament entails sanctions and even the canceling of the tournament, and this will also be true of the 2022 [FIFA] World Cup. Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE know that the playing of the [Israeli anthem] in Doha was meaningless, but they are exploiting this affair for cheap and spiteful purposes..."[12]

Jamal Rayyan's tweet

Rayyan's tweet sparked furious responses on social media. Some accused him of hypocrisy, noting that in the past he spoke against normalization. For example, Qatari media figure Muthieb Al-Matrafi presented Rayyan's recent tweet alongside past tweets from 2016 in which he objected to normalization, and mocked Rayyan by calling him Ra'yani, meaning "two opinions."[13] Gazan Twitter user Mohamad Nashwan noted that, when Saudi Arabia refused to host Zionist athletes, it lost the right to host the tournament but gained honor.[14] He too posted Rayyan's tweets from 2016.[15]

Jordanian journalist Ehsan Fakeeh, a columnist for the Al-Quds Al-Arabi daily, asked in response to Rayyan's tweet: "Are there two [different] attitudes towards normalization, that it is allowed and justified when Qatar [practices it] for the sake of sports, yet forbidden to countries that are not Qatar, for political reasons? Normalization is normalization, and cannot be justified or called anything else, no matter what form it takes. It is forbidden to all people, no matter how virtuous they are. Bravo to the Qataris who expressed their position with the 'Qataris against normalization' hashtag."[16]    


[1], March 24, 2019.

[2] The current head of the IUMS, Dr. Ahmad Al-Raissouni, said in a November 18, 2018 interview on Al-Jazeera that Qatar has supported the IUMS since its inception and that Turkey now funds it as well, and remarked: "There is nothing wrong with that and we don't hide it. On the contrary, we are proud of it and we urge all the countries to follow in the footsteps of those two" (, November 18, 2018).

[3] A reference to the US-led Ministerial Conference on Peace and Security in the Middle East, held in Warsaw, Poland in February  2019, which dealt with Iran, Palestine and other Middle East issues.

[4], March 24, 2019.

[5] In January 2019, the International Paralympic Committee stripped Malaysia of the right to host the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships because it had refused to let Israeli athletes participate.

[6] Al-Sharq (Qatar), March 26, 2019.

[7], March 23, 2019.

[8], March 23, 2019.

[9], March 23, 2019.

[10], March 24, 2019.

[11], March 23, 2019.

[12], March 23, 2019.

[13], March 23, 2019.

[14] Probably a reference to the cancelation of a 2018 chess contest in Saudi Arabia over the latter's refusal to host Israeli players.

[15], March 23, 2019.

[16], March 23, 2019.

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