Across the Arab world, dictators denounce Israel as a way of diverting the masses from their miserable condition. Surprisingly, this devious strategy works as well in 2016 as it did in the 1950s. And it fools educated Westerners as easily as it tricks starving Arabs.
"There is a huge campaign to terrorize the Palestinians," Mudar Zahran says. "As long as the Palestinians fight with the Israelis, no one will turn around and look at what the Arabs are doing to one another." He believes the Palestinian cause is a necessity for Arab regimes, the cornerstone of their propaganda. But who is Mudar Zahran to make that argument? He's a rare character in the Middle East -- a sharp critic of standard beliefs. He's an Arab Palestinian-Jordanian, age 42, who directs the Jordanian Opposition Coalition (JOC) from exile in Britain.
His well-to-do parents were born in Jerusalem and later moved to Jordan. They sent him to the U.S. to study and he came home with two master's degrees from the University of Southern New Hampshire. In the Jordanian capital of Amman, he worked in policy jobs for the embassy of Australia, then for the U.S. embassy. Those positions helped him become a confident and articulate journalist. In the process, they turned him into a politician with an unusual agenda.
He's a Muslim who believes in secular government and Western-style civil rights. He does not believe in the Hashemite Kingdom and Jordan's current ruler, King Abdullah II. His criticism made him unpopular with the regime and he realized he was in danger. In 2010, he successfully sought asylum in the U.K. He's been there ever since, keeping in touch with the opposition, serving as a researcher at the University of Bedfordshire and maintaining a powerful presence online.
His views of Israel are always surprising. He's convinced that most Palestinians would rather have Israeli citizenship than Jordanian citizenship -- Bedouins, too. "The Bedouins in the south of Jordan can't find food for their children. They are dying of hunger while our king is buying Ferraris."
Zahran probably can't go home until the regime changes. In 2013, a military court indicted him for "inciting hatred" and insulting the king, the nation and the security services. If convicted, he could face a 15-year jail sentence.
It's clear that Zahran has created a considerable audience for his speeches and articles. One piece in particular -- an article titled, If Israel Disappears -- aroused interest as it flashed across the Internet.
He says Arabs have wasted seven decades of their existence waiting for Israel's demise. "Since 1948, we Arabs have been taught that all we need to do is get rid of the Jewish state and everything will go well." Saddam Hussein, when he was Iraq's president, adopted the Palestinian flag and flew it alongside his own flag. "We Arabs have put 70 years of our existence on hold while awaiting the glorious day when we defeat Israel and feed the Jews to the fish." But that day still hasn't come. Zahran quotes a fellow Jordanian oppositionist, Emad Tarifi, who remarked, "It seems the fish are not betting on us feeding them Jews."
Instead, Arabs have allowed dictators to impoverish and terrorize the people, in the name of the anti-Zionist struggle. "While Israel made 10 new breakthroughs in cancer and cardiac treatments in the last two years alone, we Arabs developed new execution methods," like death by drowning in a cage, as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant demonstrated.
If the enemies of Israel had succeeded in destroying it, Zahran says, Iran would now have nuclear weapons. Instead, it learned from Iraq's experience in 1981, when Israel's bombers reduced Iraq's Osirak reactor to rubble.
Zahran argues that if Israel were to disappear now, Iran could extend its influence into Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain the next day, since it would not have to fear an inevitable Israeli response. With Israel gone, ISIL would also reach Jordan. ISIL "does not dare enter Jordan for one reason only -- its fear that Israeli jets would catch up with it 15 minutes later."
Zahran believes that Israel is becoming stronger every day through democracy and innovation, while Arab countries are getting weaker through dictatorship and chaos. Speaking as a Jordanian, he says, "We can hate Israel as much as we like, but we must realize that without it, we too would be gone." It's briskly refreshing to come across someone who sees the harsh truth, knows it's dangerous, but nevertheless speaks it aloud.