Friday, May 20, 2022

20-May-22: Jordan's king takes Washington again as we try to get our pursuit of justice noticed

Jordan's Washington embassy published
this proud tweet [Image Source]
Jordan's King Abdullah II spent all of last week in the United States. It was a visit filled with events including a solemn ceremony in which America's Catholic hierarchy paid homage to His Majesty and his wife for Jordan's "religious tolerance, harmonious interfaith, overall peace, and humanitarian efforts". 

Also: top-level meetings in the Congress involving various committees of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. And a lot of media ["Biden reaffirms Jordan's role overseeing Temple Mount", Associated Press, July 13, 2022]

Our own sources inform us that the Tamimi issue came up. But only tangentially and never once reported in the news.

From Jordan's standpoint, the peak achievement was a well-publicized face-time session in the Oval Office with America's chief executive. Here's the White House's official summing-up of the discussions between the two leaders: 

Readout of President Biden’s meeting with His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan

MAY 13, 2022 | President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. met today with His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan and reaffirmed the close and enduring nature of the friendship between the United States and Jordan.  Jordan is a critical ally and force for stability in the Middle East, and the President confirmed unwavering U.S. support for Jordan and His Majesty’s leadership.  The leaders consulted on recent events in the region and discussed urgent mechanisms to stem violence, calm rhetoric and reduce tensions in Israel and the West Bank. The President affirmed his strong support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and cited the need to preserve the historic status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. The President also recognized the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s crucial role as the custodian of Muslim holy places in Jerusalem. The leaders discussed the political and economic benefits of further regional integration in infrastructure, energy, water, and climate projects, with Jordan a critical hub for such cooperation and investment.  They agreed to remain in regular touch and further enhance the historic ties between our countries.

Not surprisingly in view of how things have gone so far with the Biden administration, Jordan's harboring of America's most wanted female fugitive was left off the agenda. 

So too Jordan's ongoing breach of the Clinton-era Extradition Treaty that since 1995 has enabled the US to request and get the arrest and handing over of Jordanian terrorists for trial and imprisonment in the US.

How well did all of this go for the Hashemite Kingdom? Spectacularly well. The post-visit video published by its embassy in Washington has the highlights along with a stirring musical sound track:

The images in the video clip of happy Congressional figures including Senators and Representatives, their advisers, senior officials, as well as key figures in the State Department and the White House make for hard viewing if, like us, you're pressing many of those same people to stand up for American principles, values and laws in order to persuade an extremely well-funded minor state in the Middle East to comply with a binding treaty that no one outside Jordan regards as invalid in any sense.

July 13, 2022: Jordan's king, the heir apparent and their Oval Office friend

As heads of state go, Abdullah is one of Washington's most frequent visitors. This source lists more than forty such visits since he ascended to the throne 22 years ago. 

In June 2020 as the COVID pandemic was raging, there was an incredible blitz of behind-closed door, off-the-record video-conference "briefings" (that's the word the Jordanians use) inside the Congress to leaders and committees. See our post "26-Jun-20: Private meetings with His Majesty and the injustice they conceal" with numerous photos that have never gotten into the news media. Then in July 2021, he spent three weeks in the US including another Oval Office visit. A lower-profile visit to New York took place in September 2021 (video) including a behind-closed-doors off-the-record meeting with America's most senior Jewish community leaders. 

King Abdullah meets Senators John Thune, Mitch McConnell
and Chuck Schumer at the US Capitol May 13, 2022 [Getty Images] 
Plainly the royal team know the scene and advance his agenda with distinction.  

As we wrote here ["26-Apr-22: New legislation seeks to hold Jordan accountable for failure to send the Sbarro bomber for trial in Washington"], some Congressional efforts are underway to impose sanctions on Jordan for its failure to respect the long-standing treaty. This is being brushed off in certain quarters of the US capital ["01-May-22: A Congressional initiative sanctioning Jordan gets some Arab lobby attention"]. But in parts of the media - including some Jewish parts - it's getting modest attention.

Over at the blog of the formidable Elder of Ziyon, there's an interview published earlier today by Varda Meyers Epstein (who writes under the nom-de-web Judean Rose) in which Arnold Roth gets to do some venting about the frustrations of trying to get get justice for a murdered child. It's here: "Rep. Greg Steube Wants Congress to Push Back at Jordan on Thwarted Extradition (Judean Rose)". And for anyone wanting to acquire a sense of what we face - and the miserable public figures who are responsible for the protracted nature of our battle to see justice done - it has some insights we hope will interest you.

Here's one of the numerous well-crafted questions Varda asked me in our Elder Of Ziyon exchange, with my response.

Varda Epstein: There has to be a sense of betrayal that Israel released your daughter’s murderer from prison, especially since you threw in your lot with the Jewish State by making Aliyah. Your wife is American. Does she feel a sense of betrayal as an American citizen at the lack of will to push for extradition? How does it feel to be doubly betrayed, so to speak?

Arnold Roth: That’s a hard question to answer. Not because I don’t feel those things but because complaining of being betrayed doesn’t go down well or get you far in the court of public opinion. People have a hard enough time with their own problems.

So first about Israel. Yes, we have certainly been betrayed. That’s the right word: we had rights and they were and are being cruelly trampled and with no regard to what this does to our values as a society. Or to people like us.

In this, we are not alone. The same thing can be said by all the other families who experienced the murder or maiming of loved ones by terrorists who were sentenced to long prison terms by judges applying very respectable judicial criteria and then watching as the convicts walked triumphantly free.

That should never have happened. Those who argue differently need to review what they think they know about justice and Jewish values.

But it’s clear to us that Israel as a nation didn’t betray us. It was politicians. There’s much more I would want to say about that aspect but not now. We remain as Zionist as the day we arrived in Israel, passionate and proud to be raising our children and grandchildren in the Jewish homeland.

I’m not an American. But Malki was and so are my wife and children.

Did the US betray us? No, and this is a good moment to say that we get gratifying support from wide parts of American society. But as with Israel, the politicians – except for those who have shown a distinct sense of morality and honor – do what politicians do and hurt us in heartless ways.

From conversations with US government officials, we have the sense – never said to us in this way – that there’s more interest in seeing Ahlam Tamimi slip away and somehow disappear into the desert than in having her stand trial in Washington.

This is not a partisan political thing; we are almost, though not quite, as infuriated by how the GOP has pushed past the Jordan/Tamimi issue as we are by the Democrats. Again, this isn’t about which side of the US divide you stand on.

Much of America’s Jewish community leadership has been unhelpful and cold. Having said that, it’s an exceptionally painful subject that I don’t want to address here. At some point we will because there’s much we have learned on this that we would have preferred never to know. And people ought to know.

Here’s what I want to say about the US government. Other than at the political leadership level, the Justice Department and the FBI have always given us the sense of being with us and wanting the same result we want – Tamimi in a federal court on trial for her terrorism and the deaths she caused. We sincerely appreciate the hard work that has kept the pursuit of the Sbarro bomber going all these years.

This is relevant to something that happened some weeks ago when Frimet and I met with a significant US government figure (hereafter SUSGF). And here’s the only part of it worth raising in today’s interview. We were told ahead of time by our own sources that SUSGF was going to receive a briefing before our sit-down from well-connected officials in Washington. But in speaking with us for an hour or so, SUSGF volunteered half-way through that he/she skipped the briefing. Hence our mild hope of getting some insight into why we have been treated as pariahs for so long by the government of which our murdered child was a national was misplaced. We learned nothing. The experience was a waste of everyone’s time.

There’s no point in sharing my feelings about the governments of the past. But here’s a thought about the current administration.

Speaking in July 2021 during the first of the three official visits to the US made by King Abdullah in the past ten months, President Biden called Jordan “loyal and decent friend… We’ve been hanging out together for a long time. It’s good to have him back in the White House.”

The same day those comments were reported in the New York Times, Frimet and I wrote an open letter to President Biden. It was published prominently in the Wall Street Journal:

The president, a grieving parent himself, pledged during his inauguration speech to write “an American story of decency and dignity.” Is anything more dignified than doing justice? What’s decent about an ally shirking a treaty to appease popular bigotry?

That question is still on my mind. And again, no response has ever come from the White House.

We also wrote a private letter to Secretary of State Blinken six weeks earlier, in July 2021. He has never answered.

Naturally we hope you will read and share the whole thing.

Just ahead of the latest King Abdullah visit to Washington, we put out a media release of our own that had less impact than we hoped - but we're glad for what we did get. 

Here's how the Australian Jewish News reported it today:

Roths pressure monarch | "Ahlam Tamimi's obscene, ongoing freedom in Jordan has to be on the agenda of every meeting the Jordanian monarch is granted." | By PETER KOHN | May 20, 2022

Arnold and Frimet Roth have thrown their support behind draft legislation in the US Congress to compel Jordan to extradite Ahlam Tamimi, a terrorist involved in the bombing of a Jerusalem pizzeria that claimed the life of their Australian-born daughter Malki 21 years ago.
Click to enlarge

The Roths have publicly endorsed a bill by Congressman Greg Steube, a Florida Republican, which would commit Congress to recognising Jordan has an extradition treaty with the US. Malki, 15, was a US citizen through her American-born mother.

The couple’s endorsement coincided with a visit to Washington by Jordan’s King Abdullah II last Friday to meet with US President Joe Biden over a Jordanian bid to increase the Waqf presence on the Temple Mount after recent unrest, a move rejected by Israel, which has sovereign jurisdiction there.

Tamimi was charged with terrorist crimes by the US in 2013 and is on a list of the FBI’s most wanted terrorists. The bill proposes penalising Jordan if it does not extradite Tamimi. Said Steube, “Our US tax dollars will not continue to flow to a country harbouring a Hamas terrorist with American blood on her hands.”

Jordan maintains its extradition treaty with the US was never ratified, but the Roths cite documentation contradicting this.

Tamimi, one of the bombers of the Sbarro pizzeria in 2001 which killed 15 and injured 140, served part of a sentence in Israel but was extradited in a prisoner swap to free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit from Hamas. She is now a Jordanian media personality and remains unrepentant about her role in the attack.

“Ahlam Tamimi’s obscene, ongoing freedom in Jordan has to be on the agenda of every meeting the Jordanian monarch is granted,” Arnold Roth said of King Abdullah II’s US visit.

Roth told The AJN this week that attempts to engage the Australian government through Prime Minister Scott Morrison and predecessor Malcolm Turnbull have so far yielded “frustratingly disappointing outcomes”. He added, “At this point, Frimet and I have stopped knocking on their doors.”
That last paragraph is not quite what Arnold said. It's a condensed version of how he expressed it in communicating with the reporter. Space is a heavier issue in paper-based publications than online. Here's the full (but unpublished) text of Arnold's comment to the AJN: 
It's likely that most Australians, including the Jewish community where we lived before we made aliyah and where Malki was born, will not see this as an issue on which they can play a constructive role. 

But that's not the case. The decision to be decisive is of course one that has to be made by the Americans. But we think it will help if the recalcitrant Jordanians know the world is watching as they keep the fugitive bomber safe and famous in Amman. 

Australia, for good historical reasons, has warm relations with the Hashemite kingdom. That's what brought me to write an op ed in The Australian, five years ago this week in fact, calling on the then-prime minister to in effect have a quiet word with King Abdullah. Mr Turnbull's answer was a very welcome one but the follow up by others in his government was not. The initiative ended up falling by the wayside. 
For the past two years I have made similar efforts with the current Australian leadership via the prime minister's team and DFAT [Australia's foreign ministry] - with frustratingly disappointing outcomes. At this point, Frimet and I have stopped knocking on their doors.
Our pursuit of justice goes on. We hope you decide to be with us.

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