Jordan’s King Hussein was similar to Alabama’s George Wallace, a man whose brutal leadership gave way to penance and reconciliation. But when Wallace died, the media trotted out the horrific film clips revealing the indignities he wrought in the early 1960s. When the king died, however, there was little, if any, accounting the king’s equally horrific history in those very same years.
Nightline’s Ted Koppel foresaw this groveling and warned (Feb. 5): “All you’ll hear for the next few days is how loved and admired he was. Not always.” He remembered the king’s habit of siding with bad guys, such as Iraq in 1991. The king, said Koppel, was “exquisitely polite. Do you think that sometimes distracted people from how, I want to use the right
word, how wily he could be?”
Thomas Friedman, in The New York Times (Feb. 8), emphasized the king’s wonderful twilight which gave us “the hope that is kindled when we see old men changing. There is something about watching these graybeards standing up, breaking with the past…”
But what about that past? From 1952-1967, the king didn’t allow Jews to pray at the Western Wall or even set foot in the Old City. He used Jewish cemeteries for latrines, the Wall as a stable, and the West Bank as a terrorist base. We scanned dozens of major media outlets and other than Sidney Zion’s Feb. 9 column in The Daily News not a single one mentioned this 15-year black hole. Inexcusably, among the amnesiacs was the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), the international Jewish news service. JTA’s obsequious account also ignored the king’s eagerness “to attack Israel” in 1956 — a memory that didn’t elude The London Times (Feb.8) — nor the fact that the king sent his tanks to fight alongside Syria in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
In 1967, his war for Jerusalem unleashed the worst urban warfare since Stalingrad. Or didn’t he? In the Daily News (Feb. 8), Lars Erik-Nelson muses: “At night, from his palace in the hills outside Amman, Hussein could see the lights of Jerusalem, across the Mountains of Moab and the River Jordan. For him, too, it was the Promised Land, his ancient capital. … He loved it enough not to try to destroy it.” Tell it to the dead.
Former Knesset member Elyakim Ha’etzni, a Yediot Ahronot columnist, reported (Feb. 8), “Israel found written orders from King Hussein instructing his men to kill everybody: men, women and children in Motza and Sha’alavim — two Jewish communities situated between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.”
That invasion was just a “mistake,” according to one Nightline correspondent; a “blunder,” according to The New York Times, The Jerusalem Post and USA Today. A “miscalculation,” said The Boston Globe. But if Hitler were thwarted after invading Poland, would reporters call it infamy or blunder? That the king failed wasn’t for lack of trying.
Ma’ariv (Feb. 8) mourned that there “are few statesmen — Israeli or foreign — whose death will arouse such feelings of grief in the public’s heart.” But Hatzofeh, another Israeli daily (Feb. 8), remembered the king’s wars and rejection of Camp David in 1979, which left Egypt’s Sadat on a limb leading to assassination. The editors say, “We, too, prefer to remember his bowing before the bereaved families of Naharayim,” but “can it be that we have lost proportion?”
Only Jamal Halaby, reporting for the Associated Press (Feb. 8), said it without euphemism, apology or excess: “He waged war against Israel in the early years of his reign, but eventually became a champion of Mideast peace.” There is truth in that sentence, on both sides of the comma.