Haley key figure in case of Qatari agent

Will pro-Israel champion, Amb. Nikki Haley, enable Qatari agent to secure immunity from prosecution in cyberattack on U.S. citizens? Op-ed.

Robin Owens , | updated: 7:59 PM

Nikki Haley
Nikki Haley

In the latest chapter of ongoing litigation over Qatar’s hacking of prominent United States citizens, an American official with close ties to the pro-Israel community could play a decisive role: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.

Earlier this month, Ambassador Haley announced that she would be resigning from her post at the end of the year. Her surprise exit was received with some disappointment among advocates for Israel, for we had come to prize her activism on behalf of the Jewish state in the United Nations, that most hostile of international forums.

Before she heads into the next stage of her career, Haley will have one more chance to intervene on behalf of the pro-Israel community: blocking diplomatic immunity for a paid agent of Qatar (one of Iran’s closest allies) which hacked and disseminated the private communications of an American citizen.

The legal team of Elliot Broidy, a former vice chair of the Republican National Committee, has accused longtime United Nations official and Moroccan national Jamal Benomar of serving as the ringleader in the Qatari hacks of more than 1,200 individuals, including Broidy and Rabbi Shmuley Boteach. Both are leading pro-Israel advocates in the United States. The Washington Post and Newsweek have called Boteach the most famous rabbi in America.

The suit, filed in federal court in New York, alleges that Benomar "helped to mastermind the dissemination of stolen materials to the media and other third parties and also spoke regularly with senior Qatari officials."

But Benomar has sought to short-circuit the legal process and avoid accountability by claiming retroactive immunity as a Moroccan diplomat. His attorney, Abbe Lowell of Winston & Strawn LLP, in a letter to the court, asserted that he is “immune from jurisdiction for actions performed in the course of his duties.” According to Lowell’s tortured logic, Benomar “specifically counseled Qatar at the request of his home government of Morocco.”

Benomar’s contentions are risible, and Lee Wolosky, Broidy’s attorney has said as much: “To date, the U.S. government has not agreed to extend diplomatic immunity [to Benomar],” Wolosky wrote in a letter to New York’s Southern District Court of the United States. He noted that according to the United Nations, the Moroccan Mission to the U.N. retained Benomar as a consultant or advisor on August 1, 2018, only after the July 23, 2018 filing of this lawsuit.

In short, Lowell’s argument contains “fatal flaws,” Wolonsky contends.

Here’s where Haley comes in: Given her post at the United Nations, it falls to her to decide whether to accord Benomar diplomatic immunity. The U.S. Mission at the United Nations, overseen by Haley, has ultimate discretion over who receives accreditation from the U.N. as a diplomat. Her choice will determine whether Qatar, a leading partner of Iran and enemy of Israel, faces consequences for its assault on the private data of American citizens, or whether it can continue to prey on Americans with impunity.

Jamal Benomar was the architect of an underhanded cyberwar campaign against Americans on behalf of one of the United States’ and Israel’s first-line foes. He should face these charges in court, and not escape under the flimsy pretext of post-hoc diplomatic immunity. Doing otherwise would set a dangerous precedent for the security of American citizens and harm the vital interests of both the United States and Israel.

Pro-Israel advocates in the United States who have long admired Haley s outspoken leadership and courage when it comes to fighting for Israel at the United Nations, have called on her to not to side with one of Iran s closest allies, Qatar.

“As Ambassador Haley moves toward the exit, we hope that she does not chose to provide unwarranted diplomatic immunity to an agent of one of Israel s worse enemies,” said Gregg Roman," Director of the Middle East Forum. “It has been alleged that Jamal Benomar was the leader of a cyber espionage campaign to target and attack Americans. He should face these charges in court. Allowing diplomatic immunity to be abused in this way sets a dangerous precedent for our country that puts all U.S. citizens at risk.”

Robin Owens is a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C.