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Former Jordanian minister: why let Israelis in U.S. media tell us about Jordan's diplomacy?
Jordan should get better at using leaks and other media tactics to strengthen its position, argues Mohammad Abu Rumman.
I’ve been doing a lot of translations of Jordanian media — particularly what it has to say about Jordanian-Israeli and Israeli Palestinian relations — lately.
Last week, my translation of former foreign minister Marwan Muasher’s interview with Radio Balad got quite some attention. (The Times of Israel quoted my translation extensively.) Muasher, who served as the first Jordanian ambassador in Tel Aviv, basically said that the two-state solution is dead, that the real danger is a mass expulsion of Palestinians into Jordan, and that Jordan should pursue equality between Palestinians and Israelis within the borders of the same state.
Today, I translated an op-ed by former youth minister Mohammad Abu Rumman on a slightly different topic. After the recent Jordanian-Israeli spat over Jerusalem’s holy sites, Israeli officials complained to the news outlet Axios that the Jordanian foreign ministry was taking an extreme position. Abu Rumman wrote that the Israeli gripes actually made Jordan’s foreign minister look better. But he wondered why Jordanians had to hear all this from unnamed Israeli sources, and argued that Jordan has a problem getting its own narrative into international media.
The op-ed reflects a global asymmetry in the media that I’ve come to understand a bit more clearly in my research. Other countries follow English-speaking media very closely to understand how they are being portrayed, much more closely than English-speaking countries follow foreign media. That asymmetry means that the people who have the most to lose from how foreigners portray them also have the least means to influence that portrayal.
Abu Rumman sees it as a political problem, one that is possible to solve through political effort. Jordanian officials should treat the media as a “theater” of conflict, he writes, and use leaks as a means to push “official points of view through unofficial channels.” The latter is something Noam Chomsky noted in Manufacturing Consent: rather than strong-arming journalists, one of the most effective ways for governments to influence media is by making reporters compete for access to “exclusive” sources.
Here’s the full translation of Abu Rumman’s article, also available at AmmanNet:
Jordanian-Israeli relations have come under severe strain in recent days due to the settler incursions against Al-Aqsa Mosque and the worshippers inside, Axios revealed. The news outlet carried comments from American and Israeli officials saying that Jordan has taken an “extreme line” on the intrusions, and describing Jordanian foreign minister Ayman al-Safadi as “livid.” While the site mentioned that the Israelis sought the help of the Americans and Emiratis to calm down Jordanian rhetoric, especially Safadi’s rhetoric, Safadi responded that it was Israeli practices stirring up tension and problems.1
Funnily enough, one of the Israeli officials described Safadi as the “Ben Gvir of Jordan,” referring to the Israeli security minister known for religious and political extremism. And it is well-known that Safadi is as far as one can be from these labels — religious and political extremism — but is known for his clear position on Jerusalem and the Palestinian issue. These positions were displayed prominently during the clash between Jordan and the Trump administration over the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem, the “deal of the century,” and the American trend towards fully adopting the extreme right-wing Israeli line.2
It’s an honorable position for Jordan to take, the least it can do in the face of a right-wing Israeli government. Ironically, propaganda from across the political spectrum often accuses Jordan of taking a different line behind the scenes, of appeasement and compromise, but this Israeli “leak” confirms the opposite. Describing Safadi as the “Ben Gvir of Jordan” is a point in his favor and in Jordan’s favor, since it came from Zionist media.3 This old stance against the foreign minister is from the Israeli government, which always complained about Safadi and accused him of being a Jordanian “hawk,” especially during the dangerous Trump-Kushner era and the pressure on Jordan to either moderate its discourse or accept the “deal of the century.”
But the real question is: why are we waiting for the Israeli media to tell us important details about the Jordanian position? Why was it not leaked through Jordanian media instead of Israeli media? This is almost an “eternal” problem for Jordanian officials, because they do not believe in the media, and its vital role in creating leverage and reflecting official points of view through unofficial channels. Media atrophy is a scourge that has contributed many times to distorting and weakening Jordan’s image, strengthening counter-narratives [against Jordan], and mobilizing public opinion in that direction!
At the Aqaba Conference4 — although I am not a supporter and was not convinced by the arguments for holding it — Jordanians and Palestinians were left with whatever Israeli media broadcast and put into the public space. We did not get an alternative narrative, even though [Jordanian] decision-makers have justifications, lengthy explanations, analyses, and narratives regarding what happened at the Aqaba meeting and the strategic and tactical goals that moved Jordan to hold the meeting, including pressuring the Netanyahu government and blowing it up from within, and coordinating with the U.S. administration whose relationship with the current Israeli government is already tense.
The real problem is a lack of awareness among Jordanian officials about the importance of media narratives in building up the country’s diplomatic position. The issue is not only winning over local or even Palestinian and broader Arab public opinion, but rather the very strength of the state’s position. Today, the media and the online world have become a major theater of power, which often outweighs military force.
Jordan has a persistent media narrative crisis. [The media’s] importance for Jordanian policy, foreign and domestic, is underestimated. This crisis is like a “black hole” that has damaged Jordan’s image, internally and externally. It has unfortunately built up to create the impression that Jordan is always sitting in the place of the accused. In short, Jordanian and Arab political forces have been propagating this image for a long time, because officials are unaware of the importance of media, message, and narrative in building up political power.
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Safadi didn’t speak to Axios, but was quoted as telling CNN: “Israel is pushing us into the abyss of violence and undermines the peace treaty with Jordan.”
After an alleged coup d’etat attempt by Jordanian officials in May 2021, the Washington Post reported that the plotters were trying to force Jordan to accept U.S. envoy Jared Kushner’s proposals for a new Arab-Israeli deal, one that may have allowed Saudi Arabia to replace Jordan as protector of the holy sites in Jerusalem.
Although the author of the Axios article was Israeli journalist Barak Ravid, the news outlet itself is American-owned and doesn’t have a particularly “Zionist” focus.
Jordan hosted an Israeli-Palestinian meeting at Aqaba in late February, a decision that was met with a lot of criticism from the Jordanian public. Privately, Safadi said that the Jordanian government “took a lot of heat” at home but had to intervene to avoid the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, according to a leaked U.S. document.