Dec 4, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Kushner, Jewish business leaders huddle with Qatari PM

Jared Kushner speaks into a small headset microphone.

Jared Kushner speaks at a conference in March. Photo: Marco Bello/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump organized a private meeting in New York last Wednesday with Qatar's prime minister and a bipartisan group mostly of Jewish businessmen and billionaires, three sources with direct knowledge of the meeting tell Axios.

Why it matters: Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman Al Thani has been a key player in mediating talks between Israel and Hamas during their ongoing war — especially negotiations over the talks over on the issue of release hostages held by the terrorist group in Gaza.

Zoom in: A source who attended the meeting said the Qatari prime minister spoke about his country's efforts to release the hostages in Gaza and answered several questions about Qatar's relationship with Hamas.

  • Sheikh Mohammed also was the leading point of contact for the Trump and Biden administrations on Afghanistan for several years when Qatar hosted a Taliban office.
  • Kushner and the Qatari prime minister became close during the Trump administration, when they led negotiations on ending a rift between Qatar and other Arab nations in the Persian Gulf. The agreement to end the crisis was signed two weeks before Donald Trump left the presidency.

Driving the news: The Qatari prime minister was in New York to speak at a UN Security Council meeting on the crisis in Gaza, alongside several other Arab foreign ministers.

  • He arrived there during the negotiations to extend the ceasefire in Gaza in return for Hamas agreeing to release more women and children it has held hostage since the terror group's Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

The big picture: Qatar has been under increasing pressure and scrutiny by members of Congress and Jewish organizations over the nation's relationship with Hamas.

  • While expressing appreciation for Qatar's role in mediating the deal to secure the release of more than 100 hostages so far, the Biden administration and the Israeli government are signaling they'll press Qatar on the issue after the war ends.
  • Qatar, meanwhile, is increasing its lobbying efforts in Washington, concerned that Hamas' attack on Israel from Gaza — an enclave Qatar has helped to support— could damage Qatar's standing with the U.S. and particularly with Congress.

Behind the scenes: Kushner organized Wednesday's lunch at Coco's, a members-only restaurant in the General Motors Building in Manhattan. Among the participants:

  • Bill Ackman, founder of Pershing Square Capital Management hedge fund
  • Mark Rowan, founder of Apollo Global Management
  • Robert Kraft, owner of the NFL's New England Patriots
  • Marc Lasry, CEO of Avenue Capital Group and former co-owner of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks
  • Daniel Och, founder of Och-Ziff Capital Management hedge fund
  • Barry Sternlicht, chairperson of Starwood Capital Group
  • Dan Senor, author and former adviser to Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign
  • Josh Kopelman, founder of First Round Capital
  • Gary Ginsberg, lawyer, political operative, Netanyahu confidant of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, former VP at Softbank
  • Robert Thomson, CEO of News Corp
  • Josh Kushner, Jared Kushner's brother, founder of Thrive Capital
  • Edmond Safra, a businessman and owner of Coco's
  • Lex Fridman, AI researcher from MIT who also has a podcast

Between the lines: Sheikh Mohammed told the group Qatar's close relations with Hamas and the hosting of the terror group in Doha started in 2006 with the support of the Bush administration, an attendee in the meeting said.

  • He added that the Obama and Trump administrations also encouraged Qatar to continue an open channel with Hamas to try to navigate the situation in Gaza.
  • According to the person who attended the meeting, the Qatari prime minister told the group that the billions of dollars Qatar has transferred to Gaza over the past five years to help pay for salaries, fuel and aid to poor people was coordinated with and approved by the Israeli government.

After leaving Trump's White House, Kushner established a private equity fund that raised money for investments in the Persian Gulf region.

  • A Qatari company invested about $200 million in Kushner's fund, according to the New York Times.

What they're saying: "Many of us came in with a negative perception of Qatar based on what we have been reading, and came away with a more nuanced understanding of the role they have been playing in Gaza, both historically and currently," one participant in the meeting said.

  • "We were impressed by the prime minister's willingness to answer tough questions."
  • Another participant in the meeting said that "it was an intense conversation at times and there was some skepticism among some of us at the end of the meeting."
  • That participant said some of the business leaders still have questions about what Qatar will do about Hamas after the war — and whether its relationship with Hamas will change.
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