In Money & Partnerships

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In solidarity with Gaza, Qatar’s “Queen Mother,” Shaikha Moza, the influential mother of the current Qatari emir and wife of the former emir, delivered a speech at the “United for Peace in Palestine” summit in Istanbul attended by “first ladies” of the Islamic world on November 15, 2023. On the right is the wife of Turkey’s President Erdogan. (Instagram / Mozabintnasser)

Institute for Contemporary Affairs

Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation

Vol. 23, No. 15

  • Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser has emerged as one of the most influential people in Qatar. The “consort” and second of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani’s three wives and mother of seven, she heads the multi-billion-dollar Qatar Foundation philanthropies.
  • The Qatari royal wife/mother vilifies Israel with antisemitic themes. Her foundation supports the Sharia Research Center headed by Prof. Tariq Ramadan and linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • In 2009, a Justice Department Foreign Agent registration form was filed by Fenton Communications in Washington, D.C., for its client, a Qatari woman, Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser. She sought a public relations grassroots campaign in the United States in response to Israel’s military “Cast Lead” operation in Gaza in 2008 against Hamas rockets.
  • The Qatari plan would pitch stories to the university and mainstream press, recruit student leaders on U.S. and international campuses, and lead student trips to Qatar to conduct spokesperson training sessions for students and their media training.
  • An invitation was sent to American students “to attend an international student conference in Doha [Qatar] where you can gain advocacy skills and network with other American, European, and Qatari students – all expenses paid.”
  • By 2012, responsibility for recruiting and training students for BDS advocacy was transferred to the United States for organizations such as the Foundation for Middle East Understanding, the American Friends Service Committee, and Jewish Voice for Peace.

Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser has emerged as one of the most influential people in Qatar. The “consort” and second of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani’s three wives and mother of seven, she heads the multi-billion-dollar Qatar Foundation philanthropies. Because of her involvement with educational initiatives, the Sheikh was appointed “UNESCO Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education.”

It was, therefore, newsworthy when she resigned from her UNESCO post in her November 15 speech: “I was recently shocked by the silence of UNESCO when students are killed and schools destroyed in Gaza. This is absolutely not in line with UNESCO’s history and values.”

The Qatari royal wife/mother proceeded to vilify Israel and its charges of antisemitism against Israel’s detractor:

For decades, we have witnessed Israel spreading fabricated historical narratives, which were refuted by many historians, including Israeli ones. These narratives have taken over the world’s collective mind, and if someone dares to debate any Israeli narrative, he is cast aside, having been accused of antisemitism, which, in itself, is another problematic narrative. By “Semitism,” they mean Jews, having taken a monopoly on the Semitic race, which they attribute to themselves while denying [its application] to other nations, which speak Semitic languages, like the Arabs, the Assyrians, and the Chaldeans.

The Sheikha helps set the tone and message for Qatar. Her association with leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood is one example.1 She effectively heads the “Muslim Sisterhood.”

Screenshot from a video at the inauguration in January 2012 of the Sharia Research Center headed by Prof. Tariq Ramadan (right) in Qatar. The Ramadan Center is affiliated with the Qatar Foundation. On the left is the late Youssef Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and president of the World Union of Muslim Scholars, to which Tariq Ramadan announced his admission. In the middle is Sheika Moza, the president of the Qatar Foundation. Ramadan Is the grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna. He is standing trial for a series of rapes in France and Switzerland.

When did the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) campus campaign against Israel begin?

The infamous Arab boycott of Israel, its supporters, and business partners was launched by the Arab League after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. But following Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority, the League’s boycott campaign faded away.

Some analysts point to the 2001 UN Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, as the catalyst for igniting flames of anti-Israel hatred, boycotts, and activism among non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The NGOs indeed responded, but why have the campuses become such a hotbed for anti-Israel activity?

The plan for the full barrage of BDS action on campus could be found, to a large degree, in a plan deep in the files of the U.S. Justice Department’s Foreign Agent Registration office.

U.S. law defines a “foreign agent” as “any officer, employee, proxy, servant, delegate, or representative of a foreign government” working in the United States. Foreign Agents must register with the U.S. Department of Justice.

The historic Justice Department Foreign Agent registration form was filed in September 2009 by Fenton Communications in Washington, D.C., for its client, a Qatari woman, Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser Al-Missned, the second of the three wives of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, former Emir of the State of Qatar, and the mother of the current emir, Sheikh Tamim.

The Justice Department documents identify the Sheikha as the “UNESCO Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education.”

Sheikha Moza’s Justice Department Foreign Agent file, September 28, 2009.

The Campus PR Plan in Legalese

Fenton reported on its form that it will “provide communications services to the Office of Her Highness on how best to build support for educational opportunity internationally.”2

A copy of Fenton’s contract submitted to the FARA office shows a much more ambitious and detailed “Al Fakhoora” public relations campaign. This program explains the subsequent robust BDS movement on campus.

The Fenton document lists the many services to provide for Her Highness’s campaign in 2009. Only after reading the last line of the proposal, however, does the full menu of services come into focus:

It reads: “Developing campaign related to Electronic Archive of those impacted by Operation Cast Lead3 in Gaza in 2008. [Emphasis added.] The grassroots campaign was the Sheikha’s response to Israel’s military operation against Hamas rockets.

Within the other clauses, note the focus on universities and students [emphasis added]:

  • Developing press materials and pitching stories to university and mainstream press;
  • Assisting in the recruitment of student leaders on U.S. and international campuses, including possible twinning and partnership opportunities with student groups and campuses;
  • Assisting in the recruitment of grassroots supporters, including NGOs and virtual supporters internationally;
  • Developing a spokesperson and leadership development curriculum for student leaders;
  • Sending necessary Fenton personnel, as determined in concert with HHO (Her Highness’ Office), on one to two trips to Doha – to conduct spokesperson training sessions for student leaders and to conduct one to two media training sessions…;
  • Conducting ongoing social and mainstream media monitoring for English-language outlets, Websites, and blogs;
  • Outreaching to potential political partners in the United States.

Putting the Plan into Action: Qatar’s Agents on the Ground

The Justice Department files also include correspondence between Fenton’s Senior Account Executive, Yasmin Hamidi, and university students. Her letter opens, “Do you remember that Palestine awareness campaign I mentioned to you back in the summer?”

Her letters leave no doubt about the Fakhoora Program’s audience:

We will be accepting applications from U.S. students in the coming weeks,” Hamidi wrote, “to attend an international student conference in Doha [Qatar] where you can gain advocacy skills and network with other American, European, and Qatari students – all expenses paid. I will be in touch with you when the application becomes available so that you may share it with any progressive students you know who are hard-working and dedicated to Palestinian rights.”4

Hamidi also explained that the Al Fakhoora campaign included university students in Qatar and “students, educators, grassroots activists, and anyone who believes that residents of Gaza and the West Bank have as much a right to an education as anyone else. What started in Doha is growing into a global campaign and students there are now looking to make connections to student activists in the United States.” [Emphasis added.]5

A moderator at Sheikha Mosa’s inaugural Al Fakhoora conference in Doha, Qatar, January 2010.

Hundreds of students from the Middle East and Western universities attended the conference, where they drafted and signed the Doha International Declaration for the Right to Education in Palestine.6

Excerpt [Full text below]: Students from around the world gathered in Doha, Qatar for the Al Fakhoora International Student Conference in January 2010 to launch a campaign to guarantee education rights for students in Palestine. Add your voice to this declaration calling on students and the greater international community to stand in solidarity with Palestinian students. Please sign on and spread the word!

Western and Middle Eastern students at Al Fakhoora conference in Doha, Qatar, January 2010.

In July 2010, Al Fakhoora held another conference on the West Bank in Bir Zeit. According to the Palestinian News Agency, WAFA, “Attendees will build on progress made at past student conferences, including the Hampshire BDS conference in the United States (November 2009) and the Al Fakhoora International Student Conference in Doha (January 2010).”7

Al Fakhroora hit a sandbar when its director, Farooq Burney, was captured on the Turkish Mavi Marmara, the flagship of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, on May 31, 2010. The ship belonged to the IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, considered by some intelligence services as a terrorist organization.8

Soon thereafter, Fenton Communications ended its public relations work with Al Fakhoora and Her Highness Sheikha Musa.9

The efforts to recruit and train college students in the United States shifted to the American campuses.10 By 2012 and 2013, BDS workshops and advocacy summer retreats were hosted by the Institute for Middle East Understanding, where Yasmin Hamidi landed after the Fenton shipwreck, and Jewish Voice for Peace.11

* * *


  1. “Sheikha Mozah is the object of lurid, often misogynistic insults in the Saudi, Emirati and Egyptian media, where she is portrayed as a power-hungry manipulator of weak men.” The New York Times,↩︎
  3. The Israeli army’s Operation Cast Lead (December 27, 2008 – January 18, 2009) was launched after Hamas rockets were fired at Israeli civilians. The Israel Defense Forces responded again to terrorist rockets in 2012 in Operation Pillar of Defense, in the 2014 Operation Protective Edge, and in the 2023 campaign following Hamas’ 10/7 massacre of Israeli civilians.↩︎
  6. Signatures.

    Sign the Doha International Declaration for Right to Education in Palestine

    We, the undersigned student activists from around the world, draw inspiration from the historic role students have played in struggling for justice, equality, and democracy in our societies. We believe that justice for the Palestinians is necessary to support peace in a world free of war and racism. The unconditional freedom to learn for Palestinian students is essential to this vision, so that Palestinian students can fully engage in pursuing their freedom and self-determination. In that spirit, we worked to mobilize the outcry against the most recent atrocity against the Palestinian people: the 22-day military assault on the besieged Gaza Strip. As students, we are particularly concerned by the effects that Israeli violations of international law have on Palestinians’ Right to Education. After 60 years of dispossession and denial of the refugees’ right of return, Palestinian students continue to face significant obstacles in pursuing educational opportunities at home and abroad. Violations of the Palestinian Right to Education include: the complete destruction of 18 schools and damage to over 280 educational institutions in Gaza in 2008-2009; the ongoing siege and other movement restrictions that restrict educational resources available in Gaza and places further movement restrictions on Palestinians; the cantonization of Palestine, preventing students from accessing universities in other parts of Palestine and abroad; the matrix of checkpoints and the Apartheid Wall that restrict travel by students from their homes to university campuses; systematic harassment and arbitrary imprisonment of students and professors; and discrimination against Palestinian students at every level of the Israeli education system. These policies are components of Israeli apartheid and they deny Palestinians of their Right to Education. We will mobilize on a local and international level to protect the universally recognized Right to Education. To do so, we will work to raise awareness on obstacles to education in Palestine through enhanced cooperation between Palestinian and international student and educational organizations. Our initiative aims to isolate Israeli apartheid through events tied to Palestinian civil society’s call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. We call on students of the world to unite and organize to pursue these goals in two concrete ways. In July 2010, universities will send solidarity delegations to an international student forum in Palestine. In November 2010, student activists will coordinate the Palestinian Right to Education Week of action and advocacy on university campuses around the world. Together, international and Palestinian students will work to ensure the freedom to learn for all Palestinians in a free Palestine with Jerusalem as its capital.↩︎




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