The Pervasiveness of anti-Semitism in Jordanian Media—and Prospects for Change
September 20, 2017
The Kingdom of Jordan relies on American support to prevent terrorist infiltration from Islamic State and other Salafi-Jihadist threats; alleviate the economic burden strained by a massive influx of Syrian refugees; and achieve a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The U.S. perceives Jordan as a strategic partner—an island of stability in an unstable region. In 2016, Jordan received $1.4 billion in economic and military assistance from the United States. This aid is part of a three-year memorandum of understanding whereby Washington will allocate $1 billion in aid to Jordan annually, up from $660 million in recent years. As a result of Jordan’s unique geostrategic position, the U.S. has refrained from publicly critiquing its human rights abuses.
Lacking natural resources such as gas and oil, the Kingdom relies on financial assistance from the West and military and intelligence cooperation from Israel. While Jordan and Israel were still officially in a state of war, at the request of the United States, Israel sent fighter jets to protect King Hussein from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and an invading Syrian army in 1970. In 1994, shortly after the Oslo Accords, Israel and Jordan signed peace treaties, terminating their state of belligerency which had been in effect since 1948.
During the 1950s, Western intelligence assessments predicted that the King would not survive, and should he fall, the Kingdom would go with him. On the contrary, Jordan has proven quite resilient, and has navigated the Arab Spring uprisings with greater dexterity than its neighbors.
Despite the peace treaty with Israel, the Kingdom exploits the Palestinian issue to divert attention from internal problems. However, critiques of Israel often extend beyond legitimate criticism of specific Israelis policies to defamation against Judaism and the Jewish people.
Jordan’s Anti-Semitism is Counterproductive
Jordan was included in a U.S. State Department annual report on religious freedom as a country plagued with pervasive anti-Semitism. The 2016 report documented that Jordanian “cartoons, articles, postings on social media, and public statements by politicians continued to present negative images of Jews and conflate anti-Israel sentiment with anti-Semitic sentiment.” The State Department also disapproved of the Kingdom’s unwillingness to take “action with regard to anti-Semitic material appearing in the media.”
The following are recent examples of conspiracy theories and anti-Semitic tropes against Judaism and the Jewish people.
On April 27, 2014, Kamel S. Abu Jaber, a former Jordanian foreign minister and director of the Royal Institute for Interfaith Studies, wrote an op-ed in the Jordan Times citing Mein Kampf. He claimed that Zionists have brainwashed Western governments into subscribing to “that esoteric Talmudic myth, placing Zionist interests before and above their own national interests.”
On April 28, Jordanian columnist, preacher, and TV host Monther Abu Hawash published an article in the Islamist-leaning paper, As Sabeel, stating that the Jewish people are wicked and “the enemy of God” and the Islamic faith. Abu Hawash vilifies Jews as “rats who are defiling Jerusalem and destroying the foundation of Al Aqsa,” and who resemble the devil.
Food has also become a political weapon to defame Jews and discredit their connection to their ancestral homeland. On June 25, the private news agency Ammon published an article arguing that mansaf, a traditional Jordanian lamb dish, was created to ridicule Jews because it is not kosher. When Jordanians consume this meal, they convey their hatred towards Jews until Judgment day.
In September 2014, Sheikh Abd al-Mun’im Abu Zant, a former Jordanian MP, recycled a medieval anti-Semitic trope that Jews use the blood of Christian children to prepare unleavened bread for Passover. He added that Jews are “liars” who practice in cannibalism. On December 10, 2014, Jordanian MP’s went on anti-Semitic tirades to protest gas exports from Israel. MP Yahya Mohammad Alsaud said that the government is able to solve the energy situation without resorting to the Jews, “who don’t respect agreements.” MP Mohammed al-Abadi advocated expelling Israeli tourists from the Kingdom. MP Mohammad Riyati recited Koranic verses: “These Jews attacked the prophets.” MP Khalil Attieh insinuated that Israelis poisoned wells, questioning if Israel intentionally polluted the Sea of Galilee.
In December 2014, Jordanian MP Khalil Attieh again revealed his anti-Semitic prejudices by denigrating Jews as the descendants of apes and pigs on Roya TV. Later that month, Jordan’s news site Assawsana published an article requesting that the Jordanian Minister of Religious Endowments order their clerics in the mosques to change their Friday sermons from “Oh Allah, destroy the Jews and those who follow them or are friends with them” to “Oh Allah, destroy the Jews because of their actions.” That way, Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel would not be perceived as a curse against Jordanians.
On June 24, 2015, the semi-independent Jordanian paper Ad-Dustour featured an article by Yasser Zaatreh, a writer and political analyst, praising Palestinian stabbings against Israelis as “heroic.” He encouraged Palestinian unity to perpetrate additional attacks.
In response to an Israeli critique of Jordanians protesting a bilateral gas deal, Adnan al-Rousan went on an ad hominem attack against both the Israeli pundit specifically and the Jewish people generally. On November 8, 2016, al-Rousan wrote that “the Jordanians have been here for a million years or more, while you, oh terrorist nobodies Jews have been here for only a few decades. Your state will disappear very soon Allah willing and your nukes, the UK and the US will not protect you.” He described Judaism as a “fake terrorist religion, the religion of Sherlock, the Merchant of Venice.” Threatening genocide, al-Rousan added, “The Jordanians will reclaim their rights with their hands, and you will eventually pay the price, as you did in Khaybar and in Germany.”
On April 9, 2017, Jordanian columnist As’ad al-‘Azouni published an article in Ammon claiming that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi could not possibly be a Muslim, but was in fact an Israeli Rabbi named Elliott Shimon. On May 6, Jordanian attorney Sufian Shawa echoed a lingering conspiracy in the Arab world that the two lines on the Israeli flag represented Jewish ambition to expand Israel’s borders from the Nile to the Euphrates. Writing in Ad-Dustour, Shawa said that as a result of Benjamin Netanyahu’s burgeoning relationship with Narendra Modi, Israel now sought to expand its borders to the Indian Ocean. The author added that Israel is a product of international freemasonry, whose influence controls Western governments.
These attitudes are not marginal but mainstream, cutting across the socio-economic strata of Jordanian society. A Canadian filmmaker illustrates how anti-Semitic texts such as Mein Kamp and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are proudly displayed in Amman book shops and considered legitimate works of non-fiction. In April 2017, the Jordanian Prime TV channel broadcast a three-part series on The Protocols, moderated by Prime TV and Dyar Media General Director Ayed Alqam, who is also a film director and actor. In the series, Alqam said that the Jews are “an ostracized and abhorred people,” well known “for their lying, fraud, and deception, and their sowing of strife.”
A Shift in Tone?
Recently, several courageous voices have deviated from mainstream attitudes with a more positive view of Israel and the Jewish people. Although a minority opinion, this shift in perception offers a glimmer of hope for laying a foundation for tolerance and mutual respect, criteria necessary to upgrade a cold peace into a warm peace, and thus ensuring greater regional stability.
The Center of Israel Studies is an independent think tank in Jordan formed in 2014 to study the history and politics of Israel. Founded by Jordanian political scientist Abdullah Swalha, the Center aims to educate Jordanians on contemporary Israeli issues. “Why is it,” he asks, “that Israeli think tanks know everything about the Arab world, but that Arab think tanks don’t know anything about Israel?” Swalha added, “We don’t see the other side of Israel: Israel as a model of democracy, Israel as a model for prosperity, Israel as a state that respects human rights.”
In a March 2014 interview, Jordanian Sheikh Ahmad al-Adwan announced that Jordanian and Arab media had a religious obligation to stop anti-Jewish propaganda. He said that anyone who calls Israelis by names which Allah did not use is a villain, and that these media outlets “need to act in a God-fearing manner and call Israelis with names Allah used, and the name he gave to their land [Israel].”
In 2015, Jordanian Sheikh Ali Hassan Al-Halabi, director of the Imam al-Albani religious studies center, issued a fatwa forbidding the killing of Jewish civilians and soldiers. “The Jews do not attack anyone who does not attack them,” said the sheikh. “If they [Jews] killed every Muslim they saw, nobody would be left in Palestine. They would all flee to other countries. But all the people there stay put.” However, Jordanians did not respond affectionately to these radical pronouncements, prompting the sheikh to recant his views.
The Future of Israeli and American Cooperation with Jordan
Is Jordan’s policy of strategic military and intelligence cooperation with the United States and Israel sustainable while Amman does little to clamp down on anti-Semitic incitement?
Middle East commentators and pundits suggest that Jordanian anti-Semitic attitudes are linked with the Arab-Israeli conflict, and resolving the conflict would reduce these prejudices. Prior to the 1967 War, this assessment could be true. However, anti-Jewish propaganda has had decades to manifest in Jordanian society. Today, even with an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, it will take generations to change these perceptions.
When pressed about this bigotry and incitement, Jordanian officials may tell their Western interlocutors that Jordan has a free press and these views do not reflect those of the government. Or they can feign ignorance and suggest that these views are for domestic consumption, and should not be taken literally.
However, historical precedents reveal that Jordan is willing and able to respond to media criticism. In June 2017, Jordan revoked Al Jazeera’s license in a show of solidarity with the Saudi-led anti-Qatari coalition. In 1998, Jordan closed Al Jazeera’s office in Amman for four months after a broadcast insulted the Kingdom’s diplomatic relations with Israel. Moreover, Jordan’s “Prevention of Terrorism Act,” enacted in 2006, grants the Kingdom sweeping powers to prosecute citizens for “disturbing public order” and “disturbing relations with a foreign country.” Under these laws, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic criticism technically violates these terms and could be followed by criminal action.
Although there has been some progress, the Kingdom’s toleration of anti-Semitic propaganda violates the spirit of the 1994 peace treaty and actually harms Jordanian and Israeli interests.
For Jordanians, anti-Semitic propaganda prevents Jordanians from achieving their full intellectual and economic potential. It creates an atmosphere where it is far easier to blame societal problems on external actors. Xenophobia and bigotry can have unpredictable consequences. Left unchecked, this propaganda could easily be used as justification to target other minority groups, harming Jordan’s tourism industry and tarnishing the Kingdom’s international reputation as a force of moderation. These hateful attitudes could also one day force Israelis to reconsider the wisdom of assisting their neighbor in water, energy, and agricultural development.
For Israelis, Jordan’s toleration of such prejudice places constant pressure on the King to terminate the peace treaty and reject normalization with the Jewish state. It creates an unnecessary burden on Jordanian leaders to work with Israelis on critical security cooperation and increases the probability of violent attacks by disgruntled Jordanians against Israelis traveling abroad.
 Hugh Miles, Al-Jazeera: The Inside Story of the Arab News Channel That is Challenging the West (Grove Press: 2006), 45.