March 7, 2021

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Mudar Zahran, Khaled Abu Toameh and the "Jordan is Palestine" conference

Tal Schneider at Globes/JPost writes an op-ed that mentions EoZ and varda (a Hebrew version came out last week.)

After months of preparations, “The Jordan Option – The Ultimate Alternate Solution” conference will take place in at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem next week.

The organizers of the event, right-wing writers and bloggers, want it to carry weight. They invited Knesset member Yehuda Glick (Likud) to take part. Former Knesset member Arieh Eldad is listed among the speakers, which also includes Mudar Zahran, billed as the Secretary General of the Jordanian Opposition Coalition and the representative of six million Jordanians of Palestinian extraction.

According to past reports, Zahran, who has written for the Jerusalem Post, has pretensions to bringing about the collapse of the Kingdom of Jordan and to becoming the next leader of Jordan, replacing King Abdullah II. Hypothetically, immediately after he does so, he says he would make peace with Israel. His writings and ideas have sparked the imaginations of some columnists on the Israeli right: he was interviewed in Israel Hayom, took part in a conference at Ariel University, and had a column written about him in Ma’ariv.

He was recently featured as a commentator on the i24 News television channel broadcast from Jaffa in English and Arabic. He is presented everywhere as the leader of the Jordanian opposition.

Slowly but surely, with his media coverage broadening to English-languages publications, Zahran has consolidated his status.

Within the past six months he has even obtained a meeting with a Likud minister, to whom he expounded his ideas. Eureka, they thought on the right: there’s hope and there’s an opposition in Jordan with an aspiration on par with organizations in exile to turn the Kingdom of Jordan into a secular, modern Palestine. As the Jewish sages said, when someone tells you that he sought diligently and he found, believe him.

A surprising twist in the plot has, however, taken place in the past few weeks. Zahran developed a strange obsession with Israeli-Arab journalist Khaled Abu-Toameh, formerly the Jerusalem Post Arab affairs reporter. Zahran wrote articles attacking Abu-Toameh and smearing his reputation with all kinds of tales. Since Abu-Toameh is well known to many reporters and respected by columnists on both left and right, his circle of acquaintances, especially on the right, started to stick pins in the “leader of the Jordanian opposition” balloon. It was no more than a mirage.

The first was Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick, a promoter of the Jordanian option, and a personal and professional acquaintance of Abu-Toameh for fifteen years. In a long Facebook post she told how she wanted to believe Zahran, to believe that there was an opposition to the king, that there was a chance of establishing a Palestinian state in Jordan.

Glick commented how she had been led up the garden path: “I also cited Zahran and described his vision of Jordan as Palestine,” Glick wrote. “I recommended that President Trump and/or Prime Minister Netanyahu meet with Zahran if Abdullah continues to protect Tamimi from extradition. After I wrote the column, I was contacted by three knowledgeable sources with whom I have longstanding relations.

“They did not coordinate their calls. Each one told me independently that Zahran is not a credible source. He is not a leader of an opposition movement. He doesn’t have an organization. He has multiple websites, they said… I was disappointed because, as I wrote in my second column, I think the best way to compel Abdullah to behave responsibly, as behooves an ally in the war against jihadist terror, is to make clear to him that he isn’t the only option.

“My colleagues effectively told me that despite the fact that we could use an alternative to Abdullah, none exist today, at least none that are better than he.”

Glick has been joined by other right-wing journalists: commentator and columnist Ruthie Blum, Dr Harold Rhode, and Varda Meyers Epstein on her blog “Elder of Zyon” [sic sic], considered a leading right-wing publication.

 Varda certainly brought this issue to the forefront with her last two blog posts here.

Yesterday I was roped into a bizarre email thread between Zahran and his supporters and Toameh’s supporters. Zahran is accusing Toameh having received an expensive car as a gift from an ex-intelligence chief in Jordan. You can see Zahran’s other accusations against Toameh, filtered through his allies, here.

Toameh was also accused of secretly being anti-Israel in an Arabic-language interview. I read the interview and saw nothing of the sort. It showed that he is not a right-wing Zionist, which I don’t think any intelligent person expects him to be.

Most of the email thread deteriorated into accusations and counter-accusations regarding minutiae of who accused which other right-wing Zionist of doing what first.

But Zahran did not come off looking good in this email exchange. After spraying his messages to some 20 people, he then threatened those who stood against him with legal action for sending unwanted emails to him. One scholar who asked politely, twice, to be taken off the thread was directly threatened with legal action by Zahran when he said he supported Toameh – without saying anything bad about Zahran. Even Zahran’s main ally told him to cool it.

In the end, Toameh’s work speaks for itself. He has legitimate questions about the conference and the idea of “Jordan is Palestine” that he has mentioned for years. That seems to be Zahran’s main issue with him. But Toameh is an excellent journalist and Zahran’s effort to smear him makes only Zahran look bad.

On the other hand, we cannot say that Zahran’s work speaks for itself. I have yet to see any evidence that ANY Jordanian supports him. He sometimes gets written up in Jordanian media, often based on Hebrew articles, but that proves Jordan’s paranoia more than Zahran’s political influence in the kingdom.

It does appear that Zahran is using passionate right-wing Zionists to build up his reputation and his power, such as it is, but in reality the idea that he is a credible challenger to King Abdullah is laughable. A leader needs followers, and Zahran apparently has fewer Arab followers than he has thumbs, from what I can tell. (Apologies if he has six anonymous Arab fans.) (UPDATE: Yes, six seems to be the number: )

I have nothing against the conference, however. All options should be discussed, even if they are (as I’ve said before) non-starters. I like the idea of putting pressure on Jordan to take more responsibility for their Palestinian population.

This whole episode is silly, and in danger of getting ugly. Whatever we do, it must be based on reality and facts. An Arab accusing another Arab of not being Zionist enough is, frankly, ridiculous, as are the accusations from both sides on whether a supporter is a sock-puppet or on someone’s payroll. Stick with the facts and the record.

I would be thrilled if a Zionist Jordanian could become the leader of the kingdom. But – I happen to inhabit the real world.

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