By Gal Sitty
As the Arab Spring continues to unfold in different ways across North Africa and the Middle East one thing that remains constant among every threatened regime is their use of anti-Israel rhetoric to try to divert attention away from their own crimes.
Early on in each country’s popular uprisings the old regime tends to blame the unrest on “Zionists,” “Israelis,” or “Western agents.” As the old regimes eventually fall the new rising leadership seems to be adopting the same anti-Israel tactics to deflect popular complaints about the slow pace of change.
In Tunisia, the leader of the new “moderate” Nahda party recently said that the “Arab region will get rid of the germ of Israel.”
In Cairo the Israeli Embassy was stormed by violent demonstrators. The embassy staff had mostly fled before the mob arrived, however, the remaining security personnel were nearly lynched by the mob. After ignoring calls from Israel, the Egyptian army managed to save the embassy security guards at the last minute after an urgent request from the US.
However, the regimes that have so far managed to stay in power seem to be worst offenders. Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad went a step further than rhetoric when in May he hired mercenaries to storm the border into Israel. The mercenaries pretended to be legitimate demonstrators protesting Israel’s independence day; however reports indicated that these violent agitators were paid up to one-thousand dollars each by Assad’s regime to storm into Israel.
An Arab country that has so far largely managed to stay out of the international spotlight, Jordan, seems to be making use of the anti-Israel rhetoric tactic almost as an official government policy to distract its residents from the ills which plague their nation. This despite the fact that Jordan has a peace agreement with Israel, which among many other stipulations requires the transfer of fresh drinking water from Israel to Jordan, a desert country that has very little water of its own.
Jordan has not been immune to the Arab Spring. Large scale demonstrations for reform have taken place in the streets of Amman, the capital, but unlike other countries these have remained mostly peaceful. Many of the nation’s residents are frustrated that they are not properly represented in a government that is controlled by a minority population, the Hashemites. King Abdullah and many of the upper level decision makers in Jordan are Hashemites. The majority of the population is Palestinian, and their underrepresented delegation to the parliament has very little ability to effect policy.
As a result, and despite previously warm relations, there has been a dramatic change in the messages emanating from Amman with regards to Israel this year. These statements have been coming from all levels of the Jordanian government. The King, government run media outlets and many high ranking officials have all taken a more anti-Israel stance, suggesting that this new development is a change in policy in Amman. Unfortunately, this new policy takes positions that are not compatible with peace, friendly relations, a free press, open dialogue and democracy.
In referring to the Arab Spring, a movement wholly unrelated to Israel, King Abdullah said that it “was a good opportunity for some to ignore the core issue… that is, the future of Israelis and Palestinians.” In the same interview Abdullah accused Netanayhu of not being serious about peace.
Jordanian Prime Minister Khasawneh, whose two predecessors were sacked as a result of popular protests, recently said that removing Hamas from Jordan was a mistake. Hamas is a terrorist organization that has murdered thousands of Israelis and many Americans. However, Hamas has recently enjoyed a boost in popularity in the Arab World due its deal with Israel to release a kidnapped Israeli in exchange for over 1,000 Arab prisoners, many of whom were convicted of murder. Khasawneh’s predecessors likely did not make such inflammatory statements. They were sacked for reasons completely unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, yet Khasawneh focuses his attention on Israel instead of domestic reform.
The editor of the government run daily Al-Rai implied that the country’s peace agreement with Israel is in danger of being rescinded because Israel has become a “burden” to Jordan. He cited the King’s “diplomatic activity” as evidence to this. This despite previous statements from Jordanian officials touting the “thousands of positive aspects” of the peace agreement with Israel.
Verbally badgering Israel as a political tactic is a policy that only serves to cover up growing discontent and inequities. As the Jordanian population continues to see more of their brethren receive the rights that they all yearn for they will become less and less distracted by the anti-Israel “sideshow” their government is perpetuating. The people of Syria did not fall for these tactics and as a result, today, they received a comprehensive agreement brokered by the Arab League that may finally bring the change they were fighting for. If Jordanian leaders are to improve conditions at home they should focus their energies on making life better for their citizens and cease with their insistence on unwarranted verbal attacks on Israel.