AMMAN - Prince El Hassan bin Talal of Jordan found himself in hot water this week after his participation in a Jewish charity event in the UK last month was exposed in local media.
Hassan, the uncle of King Abdullah II, was in headlines for the wrong reasons after he addressed a fundraising event on November 21 for the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which Israeli figures also attended. The prince was pictured alongside the organization's president, Vivian Wineman, and treasurer, Laurence Brass.
In a country where anti-Israeli sentiment runs high and most of the 7.5 million citizens are Palestinians, the move was viewed as a flagrant disregard for public sensitivities. What added insult to injury is the fact that the event was held less than a week after the end of hostilities between Israeli and Hamas in the Gaza Strip which claimed civilian lives on both sides.
In his speech, Hassan insisted that the Jordanian monarchy will remain in power despite the recent large demonstrations against recent price hikes that have rocked the nation.
“We are not in it for prestige,” Prince Hassan told the British guests. “I genuinely feel we are there for the sake of human dignity.”
King Abdullah was originally scheduled to attend the event, but cancelled without giving a reason.
Anti-Israel activists have called on the royal family to distance itself from the prince's action. The National Anti-Normalization Committee, which lobbies against normal relations with Israel, blasted Hassan.
"We condemn Prince Hassan’s participation as it represents free service to the Zionist enemy and harms national causes as well as the prince himself and the royal family," read the organization’s statement.
"This is a provocation of the feelings of all Jordanians," added the statement, which was overlooked by most pro-government media.
It is rare for the organization to criticize a member of the royal family.
At least one editor at a major Arabic-language daily confirmed to The Media Line that it received instructions from security authorities to ignore the statement about the prince due to what he said was "sensitive times."
Activist Dr. Anis Khasawneh vilified the prince and called for an apology.
"What I find astonishing is that the prince challenges the feelings of Jordanians by collecting donations for Israel. Why does he act in such an arrogant manner?" he asked.
Khasawneh said Hassan was poised to become leader of Jordan in the past and ended up helping the enemies of the entire Arab nation.
Government sources played down the significance of Hassan’s involvement in the event and tried to defend the prince’s action, insisting that his participation was designed to lobby for the resumption of peace talks and put pressure on Israel to commit to its political obligation, as part of a dialogue between religions.
The official, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, said the prince left the meeting before Israeli officials took to the podium to address the audience, and had only "scorning words for Israel’s actions in the peace process."
Although Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994, dealing with Israeli officials remains a social and political taboo, with several lobby groups campaigning against improving ties between the two countries.
At least two major labor organizations also object to normalization with Israel. Opposition parties, including the Islamist movement, draw support from Jordanians who are against the peace treaty with Israel.
Hamzah Mansour, president of the National Anti-Normalization Committee and secretary general of the Islamic Action Front, expressed his disappointment over the prince’s actions.
"I urge all Jordanians - the honorable ones - to end dealing with this enemy. The Israelis have no interest in talking. They only understand the language of the sword," he said in response to diplomatic ties between Jordan and Israel.
"We must scrap the peace treaty because Israel has no interest in making peace," he told The Media Line.
Meanwhile, the National Anti-Normalization Committee has accused brokers of doing business with Israeli firms that buy Jordanian products and sell them under Israeli labels. Figures from the Jordanian Department of Statistics show that exports to Israel during the first eight months of 2012 stood at some $48 million, a drop from $54 million in 2011. Imports increased from $65 million to $69 million during the same period.
In Amman’s bustling central fruit and vegetable market, farmers and brokers had mixed views about dealing with Israel. Some said they would rather throw their produce into the garbage than sell it to Israelis. Others believe they have no choice due to limited markets.
Abu Emad, a 56-year-old broker, said he sells to whoever pays the most in his auction.
"The government did not find us new markets. The Syrian crisis was a disaster for us. Now we have to sell to anyone," he said, before starting an auction of newly-arrived olives.
"The prince did what he had to do. He’s a politician and Jordan cannot survive if officials do not talk to all kinds of people, including Jews," he concluded.
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