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King Hussein of Jordan

“Kill the Jews wherever you find them. Kill them with your arms, with your hands, with your nails and teeth.” (King Hussein, Radio Amman, June 6, 1967)

* Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser: Will his majesty make an announcement on the participation of the Americans and the British?… Will we say the U.S. and England or just the U.S.?


King Hussein: The U.S. and England.

Nasser: Good. King Hussein will make an announcement and I will make an announcement.

King Hussein: Thank You. 

(Conversation picked up by Israeli intelligence, June 1967, as Nasser and Hussein plotted to lie about U.S. and British participation in Israel’s sweeping military triumph.)

“After we perform our duty in liberating the West Bank and Jerusalem, our national duty is to liberate all the Arab territories.” (King Hussein, Radio Amman, Dec. 1, 1973)

“The removal of the Israeli occupation from our occupied land, Palestine, is the first and basic condition for just peace…. The Islamic nation and just believers in any religion or creed will not accept the situation of the…cradle of prophets and divine messages being captive of Zionist occupation.” (King Hussein, Amman Domestic Service, July 11, 1988)


There was something so false in the universal acclaim for Jordan’s King Hussein on the occasion of his death nineteen years ago on Feb. 7 – false because most media accounts failed to offer a full reckoning of the Jordanian monarch’s life, with journalists whitewashing or ignoring its many inconvenient chapters and plentiful examples of ugly rhetoric.

And the whitewash continues to this day, with Hussein widely viewed through the fog of history as something of a principled moderate who yearned to be a peacemaker.

In sharp contrast to the late Sid Zion, who in his New York Daily News column noted Hussein’s bloodthirsty instructions to his troops during the Six-Day War, the tone adopted by much of the media in covering Hussein’s demise was reflected in the sugary prose of another Daily News columnist, who wrote (diabetics are duly cautioned):

“Now this great son of the desert is gone, and all the children of Abraham weep. We will sorely miss this brave brother of ours.”

Rarely in recent memory had the passing of a public figure elicited the hyperbole that began spreading across the land once it became clear that Hussein was hours away from death. Typical of the distortions by a media intent on canonizing the king was the statement by the pompous New York Times foreign-affairs sage Thomas Friedman that Hussein “talked himself out of the 1973 war.”

The idea that Hussein sat on the sidelines in 1973 was parroted in many a news story in the days following the king’s death. While it’s true that he was considerably less enthusiastic about going to war in 1973 than he’d been in 1967, when he lost a large chunk of his kingdom after ignoring Israel’s pleas that he stay out of the fighting, he nevertheless was far from a passive bystander.

As Mitchell G. Bard points out in his indispensable Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict, Hussein sent “two of his best units – the 40th and 60th armored brigades – to Syria. This force took positions in the southern sector, defending the main Amman-Damascus route and attacking Israeli positions along the Kuneitra-Sassa road on October 16. Three Jordanian artillery batteries also participated in the assault, carried out by nearly 100 tanks.”

Virtually forgotten in the rush to sanctify Hussein in death was the scorn that had come his way over the years for behavior such as his constant double-dealing in his relations with Israel, the U.S., and his fellow Arabs; his having allowed the desecration of Jewish holy places when Jordan possessed East Jerusalem (gravestones of Jews were used as latrines in army camps, and dozens of synagogues were demolished or turned into stables and chicken coops); his tight-fisted rule over the Palestinians of Judea and Samaria for nearly two decades after 1948; his brutal slaughter of thousands of Palestinians in the infamous “Black September” of 1970; and his support of Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War – support that included circumventing the U.S.-led blockade of Iraq and permitting Iraq to use Jordanian airspace for Scud missile attacks on Israel.

To be fair, the new, more statesmanlike persona he adopted in the final years of his life was, by all appearances, genuine. And an argument can be made that even before then he was the lesser of evils when compared with other, more tyrannical and bloodthirsty, Arab leaders.

His duplicity, though, was second to none. He cooed sweet nothings, whenever it suited him and for a handsome payoff, into the ears of American officials, and frequently made fetching glances at Israeli leaders, only to withdraw his proffered affections when thugs like Iraq’s Hussein, Egypt’s Nasser, and Syria’s Assad came courting.

So to trumpet someone like King Hussein as a prophet, a giant, or a visionary (three of the more popular terms used by journalists in the wake of his passing) was to drain those words of any real meaning. It was a genuine example of Fake News if ever there was one.

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Jason Maoz served as Senior Editor of The Jewish Press from 2001-2018. Presently he is Communications Coordinator at COJO Flatbush.