Qatar denies influencing pro-Palestinian student protests at US universities

Qatar denies influencing pro-Palestinian student protests at US universities
Qatar's ambassador to the US has hit back at claims that Doha's agreements with US colleges was in some way influencing recent student protests for Palestine.
3 min read
29 April, 2024
Pro-Palestinian protests have swept US universities with encampments set up [Getty]

Qatar’s ambassador to Washington has responded to accusations that his country was involved in  pro-Palestinian student protests at several US universities.

In a thread on X, Meshal Hamad Al-Thani addressed allegations that Doha was financially backing students who have set up encampments at dozens of colleges in the United States, including some Ivy League schools.

"Regarding media reports alleging some link between Qatar and recent events on U.S. university campuses, it is important to get the facts straight. Qatar is not a large donor to US universities," wrote the Qatari envoy.

"The Qatar Foundation pays the costs for six US universities to maintain faculty and operate campuses in Qatar, educating and awarding degrees to women and men from Qatar and others who wish to study there," he continues. "These are not donations," he added.

"Qatar does not influence these universities, and we have nothing to do with anything that happens on their home campuses in the US" Al-Thani concluded.

Some pro-Israeli activists and journalists on social media have accused Qatar of pouring money into the pro-Palestinian protest movements sweeping the US, and have labelled the protests as "anti-Semitic," a common accusation made to silence anti-Israel rhetoric.

The protests began at Columbia University in New York City and have since spread to more than 60 universities.

US police have detained hundreds of people participating in the protests in recent days and have removed some encampments. They have faced accusations of clamping down on free speech.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week called the protests "horrific" and urged US authorities to crack down on them.

As protests against Israel’s war on Gaza picked up momentum in the US– but before the university encampments were set up – Republican lawmakers had made claims that Qatari funding was "influencing attitudes" towards Israel at elite US universities, according to a Financial Times article in mid-March.

The US House of Representatives' education committee asked Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia to disclose any Qatari donations since January 2021. 

Earlier this month, Qatar also hit back at accusations that it was funding Palestinian group Hamas with tens of millions of dollars a month for the past several years.

James Comer, Republican chair of the US House of Representatives' Committee on Oversight and Accountability, had claimed that the gas-rich Gulf state was paying Hamas – which the US considers a terrorist organisation – $30 million a month since 2018.

Qatar strongly denied the claims, saying that the money was sent for humanitarian assistance to Gaza, with the full knowledge and support of the US and other world powers.

Some Hamas leaders live in Qatar, and this allows Doha to facilitate negotiations and engagement with the US. Qatar is currently working with Egypt and the US to broker a ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel in Gaza.

The only let-up in the Israeli bombardment so far was a week-long truce in November which saw a hostage-prisoner swap deal between Hamas and Israel.

Israel’s unprecedented air and ground offensive and its siege have killed over 34,000 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, over nearly seven months.