Pictured: Al-Karak, Jordan. (Image source: Berthold Werner/Wikimedia Commons)
Ibrahim al-Karaki, the mayor of the Jordanian city of Al-Karak, 87 miles to south of Amman, with a view to the Dead Sea, is under attack for hosting Israeli (Jewish) tourists during the Jewish Passover holiday. His critics have accused him of promoting normalization with the "Israeli enemy" and are demanding his resignation.
Although Jordan has a peace treaty with Israel, many Jordanians remain opposed to any form of normalization with Israelis. The same applies to Egypt, the second Arab country that has a peace treaty with Israel and where the "anti-normalization" camp remains one of the strongest in the Arab world.
Al-Karaki is reported to have helped the Israelis cross a valley that is closed to tourists. His other "crimes" include feeding the Israeli tourists and presenting them with plaques of appreciation from the city.
Because of these "crimes," the mayor has been facing a massive wave of condemnations from angry Jordanians accusing him of engaging in normalization with the "Zionist enemy."
"The mayor's actions have sparked anger among many residents, political parties and activists in his governorate," according to a report in the Jordanian newspaper Al-Rai. "They considered that what the mayor did as a normalization step with the Zionist enemy. They also said that the mayor's actions contradict our values and moral, humanitarian and religious heritage, and called on him to apologize and submit his resignation."
Representatives of various political factions and community leaders in Al-Karak held an emergency meeting during which they denounced the mayor for his interaction with the Israeli tourists. At the end of the rally, they issued a statement that said that the mayor "is no longer a representative of the sons of Al-Karak, who reject normalization with the Zionist entity." The statement also called on the members of the municipal council immediately to resign and quoted a verse from the Koran that says: "O you who have believed, do not take My enemy and your enemy as guardians/allies." (60:1)
Shortly after the rally, Al-Karak municipal council member Khaled Bkaeen announced his resignation. He was the first council member to resign in protest over the mayor's "crimes." Other council members, meanwhile, issued statements strongly condemning al-Karaki for welcoming and helping the Israeli tourists. They said that the mayor had acted on his own and did not represent the city when he met with the Israelis.
The embattled mayor has gone on the defensive, claiming he was not aware of the identity of the tourists when he helped them and received them in his city. In a video posted on his Facebook account, al-Karaki apologized to the residents of his city and all Jordanians and denied engaging in normalization with Israel. "We are against normalization and the Zionist entity," the mayor said. "I thought that what I did was a humanitarian act. If you believe that I made a mistake and offended your feelings, I apologize. As mayor of Al-Karak, I did what I did out of a humanitarian motive." He went on to say that he believes in the "liberation of Palestine, from the [Mediterranean] Sea to the [Jordan] River" – meaning that he supports the elimination of Israel.
Despite the apology and call for destroying Israel, many Jordanians continued to call for the mayor's resignation. "The mayor's apology and claim of ignorance do not exempt him from his responsibility," commented Dima Tahboub, a member of the Jordanian parliament. "The only acceptable thing is for him to quit his job so he could be replaced by someone else."
Journalist Rania al-Sarayra, a resident of Al-Karak, also rejected the mayor's apology and called on him immediately to resign. "He should be fired and held to account," she said. "His apology does not change anything."
In addition, scores of Al-Karak residents took to the streets after Friday prayers to protest their mayor's "crimes." During the protest, the angry residents burned the Israeli flag and stressed their opposition to any form of normalization with the "Zionist enemy."
Jordanian writer and political analyst Anis Khasawneh joined the vicious campaign against the mayor. He wrote: "We do not want their tourists, and the Zionists need to realize that they are not welcome in Al-Karak and other Jordanian lands. The mayor must apologize not only to the residents of his city who elected him and made him an important public figure, but also to all Jordanians. It is painful and even shameful for an elected mayor to host Zionist tourists and honor them in the name of an ancient city."
The campaign against the Jordanian mayor is the direct result of anti-Israel incitement in Jordan and most of the Arab and Islamic states. While some of the leaders of these countries may appear to be relatively moderate in their views towards Israel, their people continue to reject any form of normalization with the "Zionist enemy." One of the reasons for this deep hatred of Israel may be attributed to the ongoing anti-Israel incitement by the leaders themselves.
For decades, Arab and Muslim leaders have been radicalizing their people on a daily basis against Israel. They have delegitimized Israel in the eyes of their people to a point where they can no longer be seen talking to or making peace with Israelis. A leader who promotes boycotts and sanctions against Israel will be condemned by his people if and when he is seen talking to or doing business with Israelis.
Sadly, instead of defending his humanitarian action of helping tourists visiting his city, the mayor of Al-Karak has chosen to appease his critics by voicing his support for the "liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea." Even this extremist message has failed to placate his critics, who continue to call for his resignation and punishment.
The incident in Al-Karak comes weeks before the announcement of US President Donald J. Trump's plan for peace in the Middle East, also known as the "deal of the century." One is left wondering how any Arab leader would accept any peace plan with Israel when a mayor is being widely condemned and shamed for being caught on camera in the company of Israelis. In order to achieve peace with Israel, Arab and Muslim leaders need to start preparing their people for peace, and not inciting them against Israel.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.