Boycotting Their King

The king takes a diplomatic step, while the Jordanian Press Association maintains the purity of the boycott. The king promises normalization, and the JPA determines whether it is realized.

AMMAN - "Since the destruction of the Jordanian peace effort, an action in which the speaker of the Knesset, the Haaretz newspaper and the Al-Jazeera network participated, it was clear that the Olmert government would make every effort to undermine the Palestinian effort by killing nine Palestinians for no real reason," Jordanian commentator Tarek Masarweh wrote on Thursday in the government newspaper Al-Ra'i. Masarweh refers to remarks attributed to King Abdullah of Jordan during his meeting in mid-April with the Israeli "peace delegation" headed by Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik. The king reportedly described Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah as common enemies and described the right of return for Palestinian refugees of 1948 as unrealistic.

By publishing this, Haaretz in particular and the Israeli media in general became the enemy of peace in Jordan. Jordanian publicists blamed Al-Jazeera for quoting the Haaretz report directly without seeking a Jordanian response. And what about Haaretz's blame?

"The absurd thing is that we cannot blame Haaretz for failing to seek a Jordanian reaction, or for not checking with journalistic sources in Jordan. We also cannot blame the Jordanian media for blaming Haaretz without checking the claim with reporters from the newspaper, as is customary. After all, we are in a situation of complete boycott. We, Jordanian journalists, are officially forbidden to speak with you. And, officially, no one will give you a response on behalf of the Jordanian media," a senior Jordanian colleague says. If the Jordan Press Association (JPA) knew his name, it would expel him from its ranks; he would not be able to write in the Jordanian media and would lose some of his social benefits. Prior to traveling to Jordan, I asked a Jordanian friend to speak to his brother, a journalist, about a matter in which he specializes. "I'll give him your telephone number," he promised. "But you know the sensitive conditions." The brother did not call.

The fact that King Abdullah himself gave interviews to the Israeli media makes no difference. The king is one thing and the JPA is another. Such is the case in both Jordan and Egypt. The king takes a diplomatic step, while the press association maintains the purity of the boycott. The king promises normalization, and the JPA determines whether it is realized, or at least its scope.

There is no disputing the depth of the sound official relations between Israel and Jordan, the military and commercial cooperation and the sincerity of the king's intentions in marketing the Arab initiative. But one can wonder about the huge gap between the ambition of this marketing and the attitude of Jordanian marketing channels. After all, we are not talking about an independent system that is free of censorship and acts according to its own judgment only. It is a controlled system that receives its directives from government leaders.

It was enough to read the version of a freedom of information law approved by the Jordanian parliament last week to understand the extent of government control of information. The law authorizes the government to block information in nearly any area - be it purely commercial or religious in nature - and to decline to respond to questions or to provide data. The government must respond to requests for information within three months, but failure to respond within this period automatically constitutes a negative answer.

During the same week, King Abdullah announced the launch of a five-year plan to expand information technology in schools.

The extent of freedom of information in Jordan is not exactly the business of the Israeli media. The Jordanian media's decision to be holier than the pope - that is, than the Palestinians - and not to engage in contact with Israeli information sources can only be lamented. But when the Jordanian king seeks to sell to Israeli public on the diplomatic measure he helped to design, it is logical to expect that the Israeli public would assume that the promised normalization would not remain the prerogative of a draconian press association. It is logical to expect, at least, that if Tarek Masarweh wants to receive a reaction from Haaretz regarding the king's remarks, he would not risk violating regulations that were approved by the state.